TV Theory: Person of Interest

A friend of mine, after reading some of my articles where I mentioned being burnt out, recommended that I dive into the well of things I already have an opinion on instead of trying to constantly chase “new” content and keeping up-to-date with recent news. And he’s right: the fast-paced internet world really does get into my head sometimes because you really need to be on top of things. For example, everyone and their mother is currently writing articles on Apex Legends because that’s the current new hotness.

And sure, I could cobble together something about Apex Legends as a free-to-play battle royale shooter and how it’s affecting the industry. But I don’t really care that much about it. It’d be a lot of me staring at my computer, trying to come up with ways to make an interesting point that someone has made already somewhere on the internet.

So instead of being trendy, I’m going to take this time and talk about one of my favorite TV shows of all-time: Person of Interest.


Meet Mr. Finch and Mr. Reese.

When I started watching PoI in 2011, I was pretty much watching it because of Michael Emerson. He’d just come off his standout role as Ben Linus in Lost and considering that character was one of my favorites and I have a modicum of actor loyalty, I tuned into PoI when it debuted. It starts out as a pretty standard CBS procedural with the plot that Harold Finch (Michael Emerson) has created The Machine – an AI that watches through cameras/electronics and feeds the government information to prevent terrorist attacks.

The Machine is a “closed system” which means no human eyes ever see the raw data, they only get “numbers” to investigate. The numbers are sorted into “relevant” and “irrelevant” – relevant goes to the government as they are relevant to national security, while irrelevant numbers will still lead to violent crimes, but not terrorism. Finch decides to enlist the help of John Reese (Jim Caviezel) to help investigate and protect these irrelevant numbers.

The general mystery and plot from the show comes from the fact that Finch and Reese never know if the numbers are going to be the victim or the perpetrator of the crime. The procedural aspect is that each week there is a “person of interest” that Finch and Reese investigate and each episode revolves around their particular situation. The supporting cast is rounded out with Detectives Carter (Taraji P. Henson) and Fusco (Kevin Chapman) who first cause problems for the duo but are eventually won over to their side as they’re protecting civilians. Eventually Amy Acker and Sarah Shahi join the cast as cool characters in their own right, but I won’t spoil anything more than that if you intend to watch the show.

The show plays with flashbacks in some episodes to give us more information on our protagonist’s backstories. But it does so in a unique way – usually showing The Machine accessing old camera data and scrolling back and forth in time to let the viewer know exactly when everything is taking place. Using the viewpoint of the Machine to switch scenes keeps the viewer invested and makes them (or at least me) feel like a part of the universe they’re watching.


This is the view through The Machine.

The reason I love this show so much is that while it starts out as a pretty bog-standard procedural, eventually it becomes a complex, serialized story where side characters (villains, anti-villains, and anti-heroes) keep popping in and out and a delicate tapestry of plotting is weaved by the writers. The first three episodes are the slowest of the series, but episode 4 is what hooked me personally and episode 7 is where it really takes off. Season 1 overall is the weakest season (obviously, due to it having to establish a lot of the groundwork for future season) but seasons 2-5 are a wild ride of entertainment that keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

It’s hard to explain about why this series is so good without giving away a lot of the plot twists. Villains you think are going to be the Big Bad are routinely outsmarted or removed by Bigger Bads, and villains you don’t think are a big deal turn out to be very important. And just when you think you’ve got the procedural cop show genre of the show figured out, it brings out a curveball that switches up the genre and format of the show entirely. They never quite get rid of the Person of Interest “we’ve got a new number” investigation per episode, but a lot of times the PoI at the beginning of the episode becomes just a framing device for the larger plot.

It also tackles a lot of questions about surveillance states and the lack of privacy as technology improves, as well as how artificial intelligence could change the world. There’s an episode revolving around a company releasing a voice-activated Alexa-like device which came out only a few months after the Amazon Echo released. There’s a season-wide plot about a terrorist group who wants to stop the government’s invasion of privacy. The show remains very topical as it ran from 2011-2016 and ran plots with a lot of similarities to Facebook, Google, and the like.


Did I mention there’s a very good boy named Bear that’s also a part of the main cast?

I’m currently about to finish up a series-long rewatch as I finally convinced my girlfriend to watch the series with me after a false start or two. The pilot episode didn’t really hook her, so many months later I got her to watch episode 4, which led to episode 5, and eventually she got on board and was excited as me to find out what happened.

At one point while watching an episode, a recurring villain popped up and my girlfriend exclaimed out loud, “Ugh, this asshole!” I turned to her and said, “I guarantee you’re going to be saying that a lot while watching this show.” And it was true, because it got to a point where she was saying it nearly every episode – and sometimes more than once in the same episode, referring to different people! The way Person of Interest expertly entwines entirely different narratives into compelling television is something that hasn’t really been done in any other show I’ve watched, barring maybe Justified.

It’s also a show that got a proper end – while the showrunners had a seven-season plan, they were only able to get five seasons but were still notified before the fifth season that it would be the last. It gets wrapped up properly and has a very satisfying ending (in my opinion). It’s a show that’s so enthralling that it will go by very quickly – my girlfriend and I probably knocked out all five seasons in a month and a half due to always having a bad case of “one more episode”-itis.

Person of Interest is primarily an action/thriller show, but it’s not the action scenes I remember (although there are a few that do stand out as impressive). It’s the characters that just keep coming back, the plot twists that blew me away the first time, and the mystery of what comes next after each episode just seems to escalate further. I wish it had been as much of a water cooler show as Game of Thrones because I had nobody to talk about it with while I watched it as it aired. And BOY is there always stuff to talk about after each episode.

Person of Interest is currently on Netflix and all five seasons are available to watch. It’s one of my top 5 shows (and several episodes are on my top 150 TV episodes list). Give it a chance. You’ll really love it if you do.

*All screenshots taken from Google Image search.