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?
"The Devil's Share"
Reese, Samantha Shaw and others search for Simmons, the dirty cop who murdered Carter in the previous episode. Reese—bleeding from previous injuries—crashes into a car with three bad guys in it, quizzes a badly bleeding man, then walks away while flames engulf the vehicle, killing those inside. He later neutralizes about a dozen U.S. Marshals.
He tells a key captive he needs info from, "I'm not going to threaten to kill you. I'm going to kill you whether you tell me or not." And he adds that he can make "the last three minutes of your life last forever." Finch, of course, comes in before Reese shoots, reminding him, "That's not our purpose. We save lives. You save lives."
"Not all of them," Reese returns ominously.
Shaw throws a guy against a bar counter and punches him repeatedly in the face, splashing blood on a picture she's carrying. She interrogates a man chained in the air by his wrists, and we hear that Reese has already broken his legs. Several people are shot, sometimes in the legs and sometimes fatally. A corpse is found—the man used, Shaw says, as "an ashtray" (implying a fiery torture) before being shot in the head.
Characters let loose "b‑‑ch," "a‑‑," "h‑‑‑" and "d‑‑n."
The machine spits out the SSN for Jordan Hester. But Finch and Reese soon learn that "Jordan" is actually two people: One a worker bee at a corner dive and the other a buyer of high-end antiques. One, it would seem, is stealing the identity of the other.
The case leads Reese and Finch to an Ecstasy ring headed by one of the Jordans. Finch is drugged by an evildoer, making him comically high. Reese throws his quota of punches, knocking a few people out and shooting a baddie in the kneecaps. (There's no blood, but we see the fellow writhing in pain.) He also throws a bottle of water into someone's face, but his target thinks it's acid as he screams in psychosomatic pain. Others are threatened and nearly killed. We hear "d‑‑mit" once, "h‑‑‑" three or four times and "b‑‑tard" twice.
Finch and Reese investigate a decorated army veteran who's mixed up in an armed robbery racket. Is he a bad guy? Legally, yes. But in the eyes of the show, the soldier's evil deeds are at least partly justified by the fact that he's putting the money into the college fund of a dead friend's daughter. When a heist goes bad, we see two of his friends betrayed and shot to death (their bodies lie in the street). Reese saves the soldier, though, and instead of turning the robber in, allows him to escape with his girlfriend.
"He's paid his dues," Reese rationalizes. "He deserved a second chance."
We see a corpse pocked with bloody bullet holes. We hear a brief description of how the soldier's friend died. Reese head-butts a trash-talking banker, while the soldier hits the banker's friend in the face.
Reese intercepts private texts and calls from others, and he takes covert pictures of them. Characters drink whiskey and beer; they say "b‑‑ch," "h‑‑‑" and "d‑‑n." The soldier's girlfriend asks him to go apartment-hunting with her, apparently so the two can move in together.