And now for something completely different… WELCOME to my Person of Interest reviews. I’m going to be writing semi-regular reviews of one of my favorite shows ever, because it is ending in the next few weeks and I am in denial. Let’s do this.
John Reese: When you find that one person who connects you to the world, you become someone different, someone better. When that person is taken from you, what do you become then?
I have watched the whole show before, so SPOILERS MIGHT HAPPEN. Big spoilers will be blanked out but references and irrelevant spoilers are going to be out in the open.
I have a special kind of love for pilot episodes. They are often very different from the rest of the show, but they are the test episode, and what writers and directors choose to present for that is fascinating to me. This one is especially fascinating for me to rewatch and review because my first impression was not great, so I am trying to balance that out with the fact that I now adore the show.
[Sept 2001] We open on a flashback, with John and Jessica kissing lying in bed. We have a few more glimpses of that same scene throughout the episode. We learn they were in Mexico, that they had been dating for 6 months, and that this was during 9/11.
We cut to the present, where the same man – except unshaven and dirty and clearly unhappy – is sitting on a subway train. Some dudes are starting up shit, and try to start shit with John, but he is not having it, and kicks the crap out of each and every one of them. He is broody and a badass and is clearly dealing with some internal turmoil of some sort. Not super interesting so far, I know, but we’ll get there, I promise. John Reese takes some time to warm up to, probably more time than any other character, at least for me (it’s not surprising, he is a broody muscly bro).
We are then quickly “introduced” to another major character in the show, although we don’t know it at this point: The Machine. We are introduced to the notion that much of this story will be told through surveillance cameras’ point of view, which I will from now on refer to as MPoV for Machine Point of View, through surveillance audio, through computer screens. For those concerned about privacy and Big Brother, this adds a certain paranoid feel to the show; for those really into surveillance and/or technology, it makes it pretty cool: if you pause on those screens you get extra info and hints as to what is happening. For me it’s cool because the MPoV often gives clues to the audience before the characters discover them themsleves.
John (Jim Caviezel) is now at the police precinct, with
Cookie Lyon Taraji P Henson – Detective Joss Carter.
So, am I in trouble?
I really liked the full quote from the unaired extended pilot, though, which started like this: You know it’s funny, best parts of your life, you don’t need a name. You get to be ‘dad’, ‘sweetheart’, ‘pal’. I understand why they cut it, but it’s a pretty interesting and nice quote.
I immediately liked Carter: she cares about helping the guy, but is also concerned. Which she has a right to be. So far we don’t know if he is a good guy or a bad guy. And this is important, because he doesn’t know either, and because the series and John’s journey in particular comes back to this question a bunch of times: are there good guys and bad guys, or is it just people doing the best they can?
The lawyers who got him out of Carter’s sight lead him to Harold Finch (Michael Emerson), who tells the Broody McBroodface that he knows who he is, the work he did for the government, what he is doing right now – which is being a professionally sad man, drinking himself to death. Harold tells John that he just needs a job, and offers him one — as a superhero! More precisely, Finch has a list of people who are in trouble – whether they’re causing it, or about to be victims, he does not know – and he could use some brawn to go with his brains.
John doesn’t buy it, and goes to a hotel to shave and drink himself to sleep. He wakes up tied to a (different) bed, and that’s because Harold is giving him a crash-course (no, not on bondage, although I’d have appreciated that) on what it feels like to be unable to save people-in-distress in time. John agrees to help Harold, if not for anything else, out of curiosity. That’s my guess, anyway.
They follow Diane Hansen (the current person Harold is looking into) and figure that someone is probably trying to kill her: either the gang she is prosecuting – she is a district attorney – or her coworker. Probably. They don’t know shit at this point.
Because this is a pilot, and so far all we know about John is talk, the writers establish John as a Certified (sorta reckless) Badass by having him steal some guns from the white dudes that tried to start shit with him at the beginning of the episode (I love that the embarrassingly inept in this episode are white dudes pretending to be tough shit), get himself out of a car where he was handcuffed by throwing a flashbang grenade and forcing the driver to swerve and flip the car, and then by having John stop some kidnappers with a grenade launcher, which, for a gal who is not particularly hot for guns, looked hot as fuck. He isn’t an assassin though, since he never shoots to kill unless he absolutely has to, shooting knee-caps instead, which becomes his signature thing. Telling anyone that doesn’t know who John and Harold are (which is everyone) that they’re a ‘concerned third party’ also becomes a running gag which I enjoy very much.
We also get to meet Lionel Fusco, one of the corrupt cops, today. John lets him live because he might be useful, and because John sees he is not really a bad guy, whatever that means at this point. You will dislike him for a while, but boy will he make you laugh and worry and sigh and cry. Mark my words.
Again, this is the pilot, so the writers also made sure to introduce and acknowledge another important character that I mentioned earlier, one which differentiates this show from other crime shows and pours a little bit of “sci-fi” (although the technology this show deals with is not exactly fictional) on it: The Machine. Harold Finch built an artificial intelligence after 9/11, to help prevent terrorist attacks. This AI also saw other premeditated crimes, though, so Harold decided to build a backdoor to access that information and work under the radar (the world thinking he is dead and all) to hopefully prevent these crimes from happening. We later discover there are nuances and this is not exactly what happened, of course, but I won’t spoil that for now.
(I never understood how come Harold *very private person* Finch, decided to tell John about all of this. We don’t learn why that might be until a flashback episode in season 3, which is amazing to me. Person of Interest takes slow character reveals to a whole new level.)
While I don’t like that the show is very much a post-9/11 show -in that most events and decisions the characters make can be traced back to that event in one way or another, and that’s overdone, and usually vaguely racist and patriotic, by now – I do like the fact that the first ‘bad guys’ that John and Reese need to stop are not black ‘thugs’ as it looks like at first, but corrupt white cops framing and killing black people left and right. It is a lot more – perhaps way too – realistic, and a lot more interesting to see on what so far looks like another average crime show (Spoiler: it’s not an average crime show). This group of corrupt cops will become the ‘big bad’ of an arc that evolves in very interesting ways and ends only well into season 3. The show still has a lot of racist assumptions and stereotypes at play throughout the show, which I will address as they come up, but it starts off well enough here.
After stopping the bad guys – both the corrupt cops, and Diane Hansen, who turned out to be working with them – John has a decision to make — will he work for Harold?
John: And if I stay?
Harold: Sooner or later both of us will probably wind up dead. Actually dead this time.
I am currently watching the final season. I am scared of how true this might end up being.
Before we go, a brief but important confession: the first time I watched the Pilot I did not even finish it. It looked like another crime procedural, another show about white dudes and their man-pain: one who was the Smart Secretive Dude, and the other was the Aggressive Mysterious Dude, and the idea of both dudes seemed beyond boring to me. Not to mention Yet Another Show About Dudes With *A Past* seemed excruciatingly bland.
I tried again, and skipped no episodes, only because Tumblr told me it’d be worth it (and because of some spoilers from all the way in season 4). I am EXTREMELY glad I did. I knew Michael Emerson and I knew I would probably enjoy his character, but no one warned me about how much and how deeply Jim Caviezel would grow on me – especially since I had been on a strict female-lead TV diet for over a year, and I was having a great time with it. A lot of what I have read as far as criticism of his character – that he speaks like he is trying to be Batman, that he shows little emotion, that he is broody all the time – is both justified, nuanced and lampshaded throughout the show, which shows both self-awareness and very deliberate writing, and acting. There is also a lot of amazing non-verbal stuff that Jim Caviezel does super well, and I appreciate that tons. The show also handles him as a hunky dude really well, by having other characters mock him a healthy deal, by not force-feeding us romantic storylines involving him (except for his past with Jessica, I guess), by making him very respectful of women, and not even in a “chivalrous” (which can be benign misogyny) way, but actually acknowledging that they often are just as capable as he is. I will gush more about the show as I go on, but I can say that it surprises a lot, and the pilot does not do it justice until you get a rewatch.
Okay that’s it, that’s my review. I hope you will follow along with me. I am pretty stoked about writing these reviews, and about what interesting things I will find in re-watching for them.Stay tuned.