The numbers of Person of Interest

Posted by CB Droege

We’re halfway through the first season of Person of Interest, a CBS science fiction crime drama which follows the story of a man who is recruited to help stop crime predicted by a prescient machine.

When the show first began, it seemed like the mystery was going to be about where the crime predictions originated, but this engima was answered right away.

Indeed, the Bill Gates-esque secondary character invented a machine that taps into the nation’s surveillance infrastructure and analyzes data to determine who is likely to be involved in a violent crime. 

As such, the big mystery of the show actually focuses more on the characters. For example, who is Harold Finch, and how did he create this machine? And, more immediately, what happened to Finch’s original partner on the project, whom we learn has been killed?

If the big mystery is not enough, each episode’s story is frequently compelling. The protagonist gets to meet lots of interesting people, and he’s getting better at playing the role of guardian angel. It’s interesting and refreshing to see a show in which the character is trying to stop violent crimes, rather than simply catch those who have committed them. As much as I like detective stories, this new take feels like a whole new angle on the genre, if not a new sub-genre all on its own.

Of course, it’s not the first story to focus on predicting and stopping crime, but it’s the first one, at least in my experience, to treat the process straightforwardly. So far, they can trust the prediction mechanism. It doesn’t steer them wrong, it doesn’t become a story about trusting machines over men, though that may change.

Especially after the conclusion to the eleventh episode, where we see that ‘the machine’ has the capacity to act to protect itself, with a mind of its own, to a certain extent. The question remains: is it a simple AI algorithm, or does the machine contain a Skynet-esque malevolence which it will soon turn against the society of men it has come to loathe through watching its every minor action?

If so, it may take a few seasons to get there as it’s building pretty slowly. This last episode was the first time we’ve gotten any sense that there is something more going on inside the system.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the show, however, is how dynamic the characters are. The relationship that our protagonists have with the other regular characters is constantly developing. Unlike some other crime dramas, which might spend one episode figuring out how a particular relationship works - then leave it constant from there - this show gives us a different look at each association every time it comes up, with some characters slowly shifting from villain to rival to ally over the course of the season.

Overall, despite the lightness of its sci-fi elements, it’s been an incredibly well written show, with a surprisingly talented cast, and from the numbers it’s pulling, it will likely be around for a while. If you haven’t gotten into it yet, you should catch-up soon.

Person of Interest shows Thursday nights on CBS. A number of back episodes are available on the PoI website.