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'Person of Interest' second look

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Last week, we were introduced to the crime fighting duo of Jim Caviezel and Benjamin Linus Michael Emerson on CBS’ Person Of Interest. I was intrigued by the pilot and thought it nicely tiptoed the line of presenting its heady premise — two men fight crime based on information generated by a machine that sees and hears everything — without falling too deep into it’s high-concept plot. I had assumed that the story would venture into Minority Report-esque questions about the moral ambiguity of preemptive action, but so far the show has avoided that whole argument by proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the Bad Guys really are bad guys and intend to do bad things to good people. POI deals with premeditated crime — not spontaneous crimes of passion — so in these days of electronic correspondence and surveillance, I suppose it’s plausible that an eavesdropping machine could sort through the din and generate information on what individuals were about to do. Course, maybe that’s just me being paranoid… moving on.

If you haven’t watched last night’s episode, tread carefully. There are some Spoilers ahead.

Episode 1 showed us Mr. Reese (Caviezel) shooting out the legs of a gang of dirty cops. I wondered if the extremity shot would become Reese’s signature take down, but no more than five minutes into episode 2, Reese proved that he can shoot to kill, quickly dispensing two goons in an elevator. It was a nice opening sequence and we got the first hint of Reese’s personality, as he threw a quip over his shoulder while walking away.

Backing up, the episode started with a new credit sequence, flashing the show’s signature “surveillance of the world” images while Emerson monotonically explained the premise. It was way to expository for my taste and completely lacking in excitement, which set the whole episode on a bad track. Maybe it’s missing an orchestral track like the opening of 24, minus the ticking clock.

After giving the goons the shaft, Reese got a call from Mr. Finch (Emerson) about a new case. “Your machine kicked out another number? Somebody else is going to be involved in a crime…” We get it. There’s a machine that gives us bad guys, and this guy shuts them down. This time was different though, in that the Social Security number belonged to a girl named Teresa who died, along with her family, two years ago. Or did she?

Of course she didn’t, and after cloning a skater’s phone with his BlackBerry — apparently there’s an app for that — Reese finds the girl. You know she’s “street” because she carries a razor blade and wears hooded sweaters. Finch takes her under his protective wing while Reese shakes down a string a low-lifes, eventually unfolding a plot by a corrupt real estate developer to claim Teresa’s multimillion dollar inheritance.

This, ultimately, led to the best thrill of the episode. Reese barrels into Mr. Real Estate’s towncar with a semi-trailer, then races across town to save Finch and Teresa from a hit man. He arrives just in the nick of time, taking the bad guy out with a well timed shot in the leg — hey, there it is again — followed by two considerably more fatal shots to his side.

That was plot A. In the meantime we gained some insight into the character of Mr. Finch, courtesy of two pre-limp flashbacks that showed the origins of “the machine” and a trip to Finch’s old workplace where he hides in plain sight as a low-level employee named Harold — Finch’s actual first name? Probably not — at the company he owns. At least, he hid there until Reese came snooping around, prompting Finch to fire himself.

Sidenote: Does anyone wonder if there’s going to be problems with the machine in the future? It’s already capable of monitoring our communication and Finch continually talks about “teaching” it how to sort crimes as relevant and irrelevant to national security. Those ominous black drives are about one relevant moment away from becoming self aware and viewing the human race as insignificant.

All in all, for a series constructed as high-concept, last night’s episode felt oddly formulaic. Compared to the dark gritty feel of the pilot, the broad daylight action of episode 2 lacked the same tension. Reese’s fistfight in the laundromat was cool in that someone was finally capable of fighting back, but it was also a little too choreographed and the jerky camera made it hard to watch. The two key protagonists are still hard to connect with, seeing as how one is a guarded philanthropist with a mysterious background and the other is a ruthlessly efficient mercenary with a mysterious background. Meanwhile, the show’s third star, Taraji P. Henson, still doesn’t seem to have anything to do. I think what the show needs is a Big Bad, like a Mob boss behind a series of crimes that Reese would need his police buddies to help track down over the course of the season.

I’m hopeful that the post-9/11 ideas of security vs. privacy and the uncertainty of villain or victim can make for some very engaging discussion and drama as the season progresses. Creator Jonathon Nolan — brother and frequent collaborator of director Christopher Nolan — certainly knows how to spin a good yarn. So far, however, the show feels like it’s still waiting to begin, like it knows there’s a good place to go but it’s still deciding exactly how it wants to get there.

How about you PopWatchers? What did you think of last night’s episode, and the series so far?

Read more:

Ken Tucker’s review: ‘Person of Interest’ and ‘Prime Suspect’

Michael Emerson to Terry O’Quinn: ‘I won’t quit you either!’

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