Person of Interest

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TV Series Review

There's something suspicious about Santa Claus.

Oh, sure, he seems nice and all—a right jolly old elf, really. But I'm not sure if I like the idea of him watching me while I sleep, or knowing when I'm awake, or somehow knowing if I've been bad or good. It makes me wonder … is my dog a North Pole informant? Are my houseplants keeping notes on my movements? If St. Nick wasn't such a saint, and if he didn't live on a sheet of lawless international ice up north, I'm sure his habits would stir a great deal of discussion about civil liberties.

Which brings us, oddly, to Person of Interest. Because you can really think about this sci-fi drama's massive, information-gathering machine as a computerized Kris Kringle, or perhaps a binary Big Brother. It sees all, knows all and watches our every move—ostensibly for our own good.

Makes you feel safe, doesn't it?

We don't actually see much of the machine in question. Developed by brilliant billionaire Harold Finch, the computer is in the hands of the government. It's tasked with sifting through humongous piles of bits and bytes that make up modern-day society: our texts, our posts, our smiling visages when we take money out of the ATM. The machine's looking for terrorists, mostly. At least, that's what it's designed to do. But to find them, it's been told to sift through everyone else's stuff too, like a shopper burrowing through a tub of DVDs to find the last copy of Big Fish.

So why let all that good, juicy info just go to waste? Why not secretly design the computer to search for non-terrorist but still criminal activity too? In fact, why not go after people who look like they might be involved in a crime? Hey! What if you could use the computer to stop murders before they're actually committed?

Finch thought through all those things before he designed a back door into the computer's software, telling it to spit out a Social Security number every time it detects a murder about to take place. The number might belong to the victim. It might belong to the killer. Finch doesn't know. All he knows is that the person is involved somehow.

But Finch isn't exactly a man of action. So he partners with a spook named John Reese, a former special ops military man and (perhaps) one-time assassin. "I don't like to kill," Reese tells a potential informant, "but I'm very, very good at it."

Thankfully, in this new gig, Reese is out to prevent murders, not commit them. So while we see that he could kill, he doesn't (or, at least, he doesn't very often). Not that that stops the dead bodies from piling up around him like dirty clothes around a hamper. Rarely does an episode of Person of Interest go fatality free.

That makes violence one of the bigger content concerns on this show. Passing references to sexuality pop up as well, and language can be harsh. But in the end, it's the premise itself that poses the biggest quandary for discerning viewers. And it's not so much the Santa-impersonating computer that's at issue, either. After all, the machine's just doing what it's told. Rather, it's the questionable decisions made by the human beings privy to its digital output.

Finch, you see, is using his creation illegally to thwart crimes before they happen. Reese is wanted by police himself, apparently in connection with several unsolved murders. And every mission involves breaking a slew of civil laws (through eavesdropping and wiretapping) and moral ones (through cheating, lying, stealing and potentially killing). So instead of turning itself into a deep rumination on the lines we draw between privacy and safety, Person of Interest ends up being more of a visceral salute to high-tech vigilantism. While the script sometimes asks probing questions, the answers the bad guys almost always get are complete dead-ends.

So is that really the kind of thing that'll get you on Santa's "nice" list?

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Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

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Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

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Episode Reviews

PersonofInterest: 11-26-2013
PersonofInterest: 3-29-2012
PersonofInterest: 10-6-2011

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Genre

Drama, Crime

Author

Cast

Jim Caviezel as John Reese; Michael Emerson as Harold Finch; Kevin Chapman as Detective Lionel Fusco; Amy Acker as Root; Sarah Shahi as Samantha Shaw; Enrico Colantoni as Carl Elias; Taraji P. Henson as Detective Carter

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Network

CBS

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Reviewer

Paul Asay Paul Asay