In the first episode of the first season of Person of Interest, THIS PILOT RUINED MY LIFE. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to start Person of Interest.
Okay, I’m exaggerating a lot (IT’S MY THING), but holy shit. HOLY SHIT, WHAT A FIRST EPISODE. This was the first one! There are over a hundred more!!! WHAT.
Anyway, first things first: if you’re new here to Mark Watches (which is usually the case when I begin a new show), you should read this before you comment. This is not a normal review website, and I do try to preserve my general sense of ignorance for MAXIMUM ENTERTAINMENT.
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2) You may, however, post spoilers in rot13. You will inevitably see what looks like gibberish in the comments. We use rot13 to cipher all possible spoilers so that y’all can still have a conversation about each episode if you’ve seen the entire show. Please cipher all spoilers.
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And in the interest of transparency: I knew two things going into this show. First, I was aware that Michael Emerson, Jim Caviezel, and Taraji P. Henson were castmembers. So no surprise there! Secondly (and you can use rot13 to decipher this spoiler), I am aware that Gnenwv yrsg gur fubj ng fbzr cbvag gb or ba Rzcver? Be fbzrguvat yvxr gung. V qba’g xabj jub ercynprf ure, naq V qba’g xabj jul fur yrsg, naq V qba’g xabj JURA vg unccraf. Cyrnfr qba’g gryy zr nal zber vasbezngvba, nf V’q fgvyy yvxr gb or fhecevfrq nobhg guvf naq whqtr gur fubj nf orfg nf V pna jvgubhg bhgfvqr vasbezngvba.
That said: oh my god, this pilot. If you’ve been following me for any significant length of time, you know I love analyzing pilots. I’m fascinated by the way in which shows try to grab a person’s attention and then keep it. I’m happy to say that there is no real question in my mind that I’m going to have a good time watching this show, which is a mash-up of a thriller, a science fiction narrative, and a procedural. There are tropes here I love, and quite a few subversions that took me out. I also imagine that Person of Interest is going to make me intensely uncomfortable, and I think that’s where I’ll start with this. With revelations from Snowden and Chelsea Manning now part of our public consciousness, I find that watching this show in 2017 is an eerie thing. Maybe that was intended by Jonathan Nolan and company, and I imagine there is an intentional nature to the voyeuristic tone to this premise. It is no longer a science fiction reality that the United States government and other agents of the state surveil Americans every single day, through cameras and texts and cell phone conversations. While The Machine (I don’t know what else to call it, so it gets a fancy proper noun name!) is the one “invented” aspect of Person of Interest, the show is grounded in a terrible reality. Police corruption. 9/11. Governmental power and oversight. Each of these aspects is combined to give us a world that is virtually indistinguishable from our own.
So far, that is. And while I did enjoy a great deal of what I saw, it’s not a perfect pilot. We’ve got some nice fridging of John Reese’s girlfriend in order to give him ENDLESS MANPAIN. Manpain seems like it’ll be a recurring motif, especially since Finch hints that loss fueled his decision to abandon being rich without a purpose and become… rich with a purpose? Sort of? Finch is, by design, an ambiguous character, one who keeps his secrets very close. We know way more about Reese, who lost Jessica and then “disappeared” from the CIA. At the opening of Person of Interest, he’s homeless and an alcoholic, pulled into the world of Finch and the Machine after royally kicking the ass of a group of white assholes who think they’re hard and street but are – surprise! – all talk. It’s this beating that gets him put under the eye of Detective Carter, played by Taraji P. Henson and CRIMINALLY UNDERUSED IN THIS PILOT. Which I hope is just a structure issue because it’s the first episode, and Nolan had to get a lot of information/plot across in just forty-odd minutes. Like, I was absolutely enthralled by this episode, yet there’s that point where we don’t see Detective Carter for half the airing time! It’s really jarring because we spend so much time with Reese and Finch and almost no time learning who Carter is or her motivations. Fix it, Jesus.
Other than the fridging and the character focus, I found “Pilot” to be compelling, exciting, and kind of scary. There’s a format given to us in this episode that helps me understand why this show could have more than one season. Each case for each story relies on a Social Security number “discarded” by the Machine, which is a person of interest in a crime that will happen. Is “might” a better word? Oh god, what’s the determinism behind The Machine? Is it an immutable future or does intervention change that future? Because The Machine certainly predicted that there would be a high certainty that Diane Hansen was part of some illegal act, Finch recruited Reese to help him stop crimes from being committed. (Is The Machine fed federal, state, and city ordinances? If the Machine’s programmed morality is only based on what’s legal, THIS IS GOING TO GET SUPER CREEPY REAL FAST.) Thus, we’ve got the main character dynamic set-up for us, as well as the case-of-the-week format, too. Finch is the brains, Reese is the brawns, except… well, Reese is also incredibly fucking smart, too. And Finch has got other, secretive shit going on as well.
So the question going forward will be: how much should they trust the Machine? In “Pilot,” the Machine correctly figures out that Diane Hansen was a person of interest. And what a plot twist that was! The show set-up the bitterly rejected man or the “violent” criminal as the possible suspects, only to reveal that it was the attorney who was the ringleader of a group of corrupt cops. Like… that’s a pretty bold move for the first episode. SO IS REESE’S VIOLENCE. Can we acknowledge this??? Because look, it’s not exactly revolutionary ground that a white man is the super-skilled, ex-CIA operative who uses his talents to do something good. But what did excite me about Reese was the tiniest of details: HE SHOOTS PEOPLE IN THE LEG. Constantly! Which gets them out of the way, still acknowledges the violence he deals, and makes it way more shocking when Reese actually kills someone. He’s such a methodical person throughout this episode, and the Slytherin tendencies of his character are what make him interesting to me.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to get to: Reese and Finch – and particularly Finch – inherently trust this Machine. It did not lead them astray here. But can The Machine be wrong? Can its analysis be flawed? Does cultural context or personal meaning factor in to its interpretation of people and their motivations for committing crimes? Like, does it skip over a homeless person shoplifting to eat? And do Reese and Finch care about such distinctions? See, both of them barrel forward within this episode, pursuing their Person of Interest without questioning much of it. What I think might be interesting to explore is if that’s a good idea in the first place, you know?
Whew, this was great. MORE, PLEASE.
The video for “Pilot” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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