I wrote the following about three weeks ago, just before the "shelter-in-place" order for Ohio came down. For those of you who are looking for some appropriate binge-watching material, I would like to offer this:
You are being watched. The government has a secret system, a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it. I designed The Machine to detect acts of terror but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people, people like you. Crimes the government considered “irrelevant.” They wouldn't act, so I decided I would. But I needed a partner, someone with the skills to intervene. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You'll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number's up... we'll find you.
-- Harold Finch, Person of Interest, Season One opening narration
So began the CBS dramatic series, Person of Interest. Its primary protagonist, Harold Finch, is a billionaire hardware / software engineer, who has mostly single-handedly developed and deployed the world’s first “ASI”- Artificial Super-Intelligence – otherwise known as “The Machine.” As described in the above narration, The Machine was designed to ferret out the kinds of untoward events which were anticipated from the fallout of 9/11. What we quickly discover is that this superrich genius is no stereotypical geek, more in love with his creation than he is with the people it is designed to protect. Indeed, Finch is aghast at the “irrelevant numbers” which The Machine’s handlers haven’t deigned to pass on to the authorities for surveillance and either protection or apprehension. His conscience fully engaged and with a device with near-infinite research means at its disposal, he goes in search of competent assistance and finds John Reece, an ex-CIA field agent who has become a victim of his employer’s intentions, despite his dedicated performance for them. Finch offers the sullen and disaffected Reece “a job,” and after some persuasion, this loaded weapon on two legs accepts the offer and thus begins a five-year roller coaster of “numbers” rendered from The Machine – people who may be victims or perpetrators … or both – for Finch and Reece to decipher, untangle, and solve.
As their adventures proceed, additional parties come into play on both sides of this dynamic equation. On one side are New York City police officers. First we meet Jocelyn (“Joss”) Carter, a by-the-book detective who knows the city and her business well. Not much later, Lionel Fusco, also a detective, and while he has fallen to the dark side of the city streets, Fusco is slowly but surely reclaimed by The Machine’s operatives and turned not just into an asset but a full member of The Machine’s family. Not long after one Sameen Shaw, sociopathic hit-woman and the enigmatic “Root,” a.k.a. Samantha Groves, find their way to the team.
On the other side of the ledger there are multiple opponents, the first of these being “HR” – renegade cops who have taken it upon themselves to right the city’s wrongs outside of the usages and practices of Standard Operating Procedure. There is also The Brotherhood, a formidable city gang with a leader who tends to get underestimated, based on superficial appearances, yet has the intelligence and cunning to control a great deal of the underground dealings in the Five Boroughs. Mention must also be made of the singular personality who is Carl Elias and his followers, some late of the “Five Families” and not at all to be trifled with.
But the most dangerous of The Machine’s adversaries is personified by one John Greer, head of Decima Technologies. He and his organization also wish to harness the power of artificial super-intelligence for their own purposes, though with far more hostile and usurping intent than that with which Harold designed his Machine. Therewith we learn about a competing multiprocessing monster, known as “Samaritan,” and the game is emphatically afoot.
I originally watched Person of Interest when it first was aired on CBS, though I suspect more than a couple episodes were missed in the process. That’s problematic for a series like PoI, because it is organized as a continuing arc, each vignette contributing to the overall puzzle, which is an exquisitely detailed and nuanced conundrum, or so I more fully appreciated when I recently binge-watched it over the past several weeks. Having experienced it in that fashion, the individual threads of character and plot development pull far more closely together, giving me the kind of full appreciation the writers and producers wanted PoI to have.
In fact, it is the characters which really make Person of Interest the riveting show that it is. Each of the major participants get their backstories told in sufficient fashion that we truly get to KNOW them, get their motivations and thought processes, though I will confess that I never fully understood “Root,” and if there was an odd fillip if not flaw in the warp and woof of PoI, she has to be it.
That notwithstanding, Person of Interest has left a lasting impression on me for being dramatic television entertainment of the first water and which I heartily recommend. If you haven’t seen it, it is available on DVD, Blu-ray and Netflix.
Oh, and if you’d like a sample, try the following: