While I’ve sung my praises for The Good Wife in another article on this site, there is one other network drama that I would consider to be on par with prestige cable dramas and head and shoulders above its network competition. That show would be Person of Interest (which I’ve talked about a bit before when I started it). This show turned what could have easily been a long running and cheesy procedural drama with sci-fi and serialized elements into what can be considered a television science fiction epic. It has honestly gotten that good as of late, and it doesn’t look like it will be slowing down any time soon. While I’m delighted that this show has improved as much as it did, I also have a nagging fear that perhaps the writers will cave into the demands of a certain type of fan. You see, there is a significant amount of viewers out there who just want Person of Interest to never try and be anything that’s ambitious and just stick to the “Case of the Week” structure. They want a show where Finch and Reese go through the same routine case after case, week after week, season after season, until eventually the show is 12 seasons old with 4 different spin-offs distinguished only by the different cities that get added to the end of their titles. Person of Interest: Miami, Person of Interest: LA, Person of Interest cross-overs between the original show and Person of Interest: SVU (where a team goes out to stop sex crimes before they happen). The scariest thing about these demands though would be how easy it would be to meet them, to just give up and release regurgitated trash in place of interesting and unique content. This show peaked in ratings during the times where it was more of a procedural than a serialized drama, and now that it has shifted in the opposite direction the show has taken a hit in viewership. This is so depressing because the show is now better than it’s ever been.
Person of Interest has opted out of the approach of being a static and motionless series, and instead became one that is seriously focused on its world-building. This is a show that really wants to build its own mythos, and it’s doing just that in an engaging and stylish fashion (I get a special kick out of all of its flashback sequences). Ever since the season 2 episode “Relevance”, the world of Person of Interest and its technological mythology has widened beyond levels I never thought it’d approach. New characters, new plots, and a whole new universe were born then. On top of this is the risks it is willing to take. The fact that these character’s could die at just about any point creates a sense of tension few shows could achieve. A willingness to axe off even the most beloved series staples and threaten our heroes with some truly terrifying villains is another thing that separates Person of Interest from its competition.
Speaking of villains, the central antagonist of this show, which revolves around an omniscient AI, is yet another omniscient AI known simply as “Samaritan”. Samaritan is the show’s biggest threat (and one that it has patiently been building up to since the second season), and it is also one that was brought about by the British and appropriately sinister villain portrayed by John Nolan (the uncle of the show’s creator). Samaritan isn’t the kind of threat that the procedural viewing public is used to. It forces our heroes to hide like rats, it creates an uncomfortable tension due to its all seeing eye, and it is as subtle as it is diabolical. There are many people who watch this show who aren’t accustomed to that kind of tension. They are used to villains who are all bluster, villains who only threaten heroes superficially, villains who really don’t have any effect on them whatsoever. With Samaritan watching, the show’s stars are constantly looking over their shoulder, constantly assessing their situation, making sacrifices, and moving forward only after a great deal of thought. The consequences are all the more real because the show has already demonstrated the destructive power of this nemesis at numerous points (most notably in the recent and phenomenal episode titled “If-Then-Else”). To complicate matters further, Samaritan is the kind of destructive force that accomplishes a great deal of good despite its arrogance. This is the kind of villain that forces you to think about the impact it has on this show’s expertly crafted world, and therein lies the problem for many viewers. Most people don’t want to think when they watch shows, and if Person of Interest‘s fall in ratings coinciding with its rise in quality is any indication, this is proving to be a problem. My hope in all of this however, is that this show will not lose its way.
Several years from now, people are going to remember Person of Interest in one of two ways. Either as a modern sci-fi epic that is considered a must-see show along the lines of Firefly or Battlestar Galactica, or as “that show that’s been on for way too long and was good for a little bit many years ago”- in other words, a joke. The direction the show is on now is the direction that will lead it into becoming something that is truly great, something that is immortal. A show reaches immortality when it is great enough to be remembered long after it has ended, a show becomes a brain-eating zombie when it has far overstayed its welcome. What certain fans want for the show is to cripple it, to put it on an endless cycle of “catching the bad guys” week after week just so they can have some mindless entertainment every Tuesday night; however, if the show’s last episode is any indication (an episode centering almost entirely around a former antagonist instead of the show’s stars), that isn’t going to be happening. Person of Interest is absolutely committed to telling its story at the moment, and I could not be more appreciative. I am not saying that having any traditional procedural episodes is awful (sometimes they are a nice break from the action of the main plot), but I am saying that those should all play back seat to the serialized plot that is being built. Long after the show is over, people are not going to be talking about that one episode where a married couple hired hitmen to kill one another, they’re going to be talking about the technological “War of the Gods” that took place. Just as this show’s characters believe in the omniscient artificial intelligence known simply as “The Machine”, I believe in the show’s creators and their ability to overcome the adversity of the expectations of certain viewers in order to create something truly great.
Quote of the Day:
“One day, I realized all the dumb, selfish things people do… it’s not our fault. No one designed us. We’re just an accident, Harold. We’re just bad code. But the thing you built… It’s perfect. Rational. Beautiful. By design.”
– Root, Person of Interest