Person of Interest: Firewall

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not trying to kill you.”

I like to think I’m too good for CBS shows, although I’ve only seen a few episodes of any of them. Despite (or perhaps because of) that fact, I think of CBS as a station for old people who enjoy watching Mark Harmon solve the same case every week. But over the past nine months I’ve gradually fallen into like (not love) with Person of Interest, which manages to work moments of hilarity, maturity, and poetically painful loneliness into its procedural person-of-the-week structure.

For me, PoI’s success rests largely on its cast. Jim Caviezel as John Reese is delightful to look at, but Michael Emerson’s Harold Finch is the center of the show (the way I watch it). From his dapper fussy elegance to his extreme paranoia, he is a man who places a series of defenses between himself and the world. The most heartbreaking scene of the season, a few episodes ago, revealed that even the son of his apparently-dead business partner (I think of him as Goodwin) didn’t know what Finch did for a living. And the second most heartbreaking moment came just last week, when Carrie Preston (Emerson’s real-life wife) revealed, unknowingly, that Harold let her think he was dead in order to keep her safe.

Against that sketchy emotional backdrop, each week brings us a new paranoiac’s fantasy: a person whose number is up and will either kill or be killed, and who must be tracked through a combination of shoe leather (Reese) and masterful hacking (Finch). The weekly plots vary from wonderful to dull, and PoI has done a good job of slowly building more complexity into its characters and their interactions, including Taraji Henson’s Carter and Kevin Chapman’s Fusco.

Those interactions exploded this week, as each character’s weakness was tested. Finch’s weakness is his desire to help people from a distance, and Reese’s weakness is women-in-peril, which befits his role as a knight errant. Mysterious villain Root managed to exploit both heroes in different ways. In the B-plot, Carter’s uneasiness with her role on Team Vigilante collided with Fusco’s desire to be seen as a good guy rather than a dirty cop.

Amy Acker’s Root, like Paige Turco’s Zoe Morgan (or Enrico Colantoni’s Elias, sadly missing this week) excelled in the guest-starring role. I noticed that her last name was “Turing,” but thought it was just a fun in-joke on a show about an all-powerful, nearly-human computer that can see everything. It was great fun to discover she was evil, and she’s a wonderful potential foe whose role will, I hope, be developed more next season.

And though it all, great suspense. Trapped in the most heavily surveilled block in the world? Check. Die Hard-esque show down between numerous sides? Check. Delightful incorporation of numerous cameras, cell phones, laptops, and other electronic devices of miraculous accessibility? Check, check, check.

As well done as that suspense was, the explosions and gun fights aren’t this show’s strengths. Its maturity is. No teenage drama, comings-of-age, or shipping here. (Although I do hope Finch someday reunites with his fiancĂ©e.) Just desperately lonely people living miserable lives attempting to keep other people safe in order to atone for their sins. The gun-fight with HR and the car explosion felt necessary for a finale, but the cliffhangers that matter for me are more understated: Will Reese find redemption? Will Finch open up to anyone after the trauma of being abducted? Is The Machine just a machine, or is there a person behind it? Does it matter?

PoI might refuse to answer some of those larger philosophical questions, but it also might just go there: J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan have decent pedigrees in Big Ideas. A bit more Big Ideas, and bit more willingness to push beyond the boundaries of the case-of-the-week, and even just a little bit more Amy Acker might move this show from the list of shows I like to the list of shows I absolutely love.

Three out of four machines.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

11 comments:

Matthew L said...

Josie, glad you like this show. :)

I love this show. It gets better, IMO, episode to episode with a growing mythology in both the flashbacks that reveal how things developed to the overarching mythology that governs the present time plus the continuity they throw in tying in things that happen in earlier episodes in later episodes, e.g. the evidence stolen in Mission Creep ties into Elias.

Plus you can see little nuanced changes in the opening credits of the show, as the season progressed, notice how Reese is classified at the beginning in a white box and how he is classified at the end as someone who knows about the machine and is marked in yellow as an asset.

As to the episode, I think it was a great finale. Loved the return of root, Zoe returns, Reese confronting HR and the FBI task force, Carter and Fusco finding out about each other, lots of great moments.

But my favorite moment has to be the ending when Reese walks up to the camera and tells the Machine that it's going to help him find Finch and the phone rings.

Suzanne said...

Thanks for reviewing this show. I have really been enjoying this show for all of the great reasons you and Matthew have cited. It keeps getting better and better. You are right when you say that Finch is the heart of it and he keeps me watching. Love Amy Acker, too. I didn't remember about Root until just now while reading this. That makes it even better.

Billie Doux said...

My DVR is backed up and I finally got to this finale. And I loved it, pretty much for all the reasons you stated, Josie. Although there have been some missteps and a few slow episodes, they've gradually added complexity, interesting characters whose motivations aren't totally known, and the leads are both compelling. And now, Amy Acker! I agree that Michael Emerson's character is their biggest asset. And I loved the way Carter and Fusco finally found out about each other. And I loved the ending. (Dan said out loud, it's f---king Skynet!) I'll definitely be watching next season.

celticmarc said...

A 3 ? Nah, a 5. Mind blowing season finale. On the edge of my seat, event with the following paragraph.

Vintage spoiling : after I discovered who was playing Root, I was watching closely at our shrink to see if she'd be showing signs of deception. None. Played the damsel in distress up to the end.

Beautiful review Josie. You like this show; I love it. And now, I'll start on the 2nd season, eventually catching up with everybody.

"You created God, and now, you're gonna help me shut it down."

"we should grab a drink sometime. My treat."

ChrisB said...

How I know I have read too many reviews on this site. I started to read this one and was about halfway through the third paragraph. I thought to myself, 'this reads like a Josie review, not a sunbunny review.' Looked at the author -- and what do you know. LOL

I am completely caught up in this series and understand why so many people have recommended it to me. As you say, Josie, it is much more about the people involved than it is the case of the week. Both Finch and Reese are fascinating to watch, but what raises the show about the norm is the supporting players as well.

Thought this episode was a fantastic way to end the first season. Tense, exciting and a twist that I never saw coming. Loved it. Now, the long wait until the DVDs come out this summer for the second series.

celticmarc said...

Chris,

My previous comment can/could be applied here as well. Do NOT wait up for the next DVD set. It was my original plan, but after such a brilliant start, I decided to plunge again in the 2nd season. Glad I did. But I still hate being interrupted by commercial breaks.

(parenthesis : when I was a kid, I was (and still am) fascinated by the technological aspects of sci-fi. But today, the human interrelations is the (way) better part. And once again, the best example is the rebooted BSG) (the original Thunderbirds STILL look good today)

sunbunny said...

Silly Chris. Saying "too many" when you mean "just enough." I don't know why the CBS Gods feel that it's necessary to keep PoI from us. All of their other shows are online. It's incredibly frustrating.

ChrisB said...

Marc -- I would love to watch the second series and catch up with it, but can't find it anywhere. How did you find this fall's episodes?

I can't understand why CBS isn't streaming this. Doesn't that just increase their numbers or am I missing something?

celticmarc said...

Chris

CBS do not stream in Canada AND outside the USA. (as weel ass the other stations; duh !)

I go the "other" way : torrents....I could get a DVR but I prefer this path.

celticmarc said...

gee whiz !!

...as well as....

sunbunny said...

CBS just does it to be mean. Because they can.