Monday, January 7, 2013

Person of Interest

Person of Interest
Episode 11: 2πR
By: Carlos Uribe

Person of Interest is a drama about preventing planned crimes before they happen.

Spoilers Ahoy!

A major part of any television series are the core characters. These are the people that are necessary for the series to function. They will never permanently die or be written off because removing them from the show will break it. Their life might be in danger and they might even disappear for an episode or two, but they will always be back because this is really their story. An easy example of this is the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That show isn't about slaying vampires but about one particular hunter: Buffy. She might temporarily die or leave the show for a while but she will always return to save the day. She has to because otherwise the show itself will change. The only time she could have permanently died is in the final episode of the series. Buffy might be the main character in her show but she could be temporarily removed in order to show what happens when she's removed from the show's universe. It goes towards showing her importance to the community and her absence goes towards emphasizing her central importance to the show. It doesn't matter how good her friends might get at vampire hunting, they're still going to need Buffy to come in and save the day. Person of Interest is a show with a small cast for a television series. There is Fusco, the corrupt cop trying to be a good guy and his partner, Carter. Carter is the cop who wants to uphold the law and save lives but is now finding these two desires to be in conflict. The two main characters are truly Finch and Reese. Finch is the computer genius who built the machine that allows the series to work. Reese is the CIA operative that Finch needs in order to deal with any actual danger. The question becomes who are the core characters. It should be noted that core and popular characters can be two different things. The fans might like Fusco but he could be replaced. The evidence lies in that when Carter was brought on, she started to do a lot of what Fusco used to do for Finch and Reese. Carter herself is replaceable as the series could bring in another similar character and still work. This leaves Finch and Reese.

What happened when Finch was kidnapped by Root? Reese was met with an urgent desire to immediately rescue his boss. Reese is loyal to Finch because he provides him with a purpose. The series shows us that Reese will be able to receive numbers in case something happens to Finch but it doesn't matter. Reese isn't interested in saving lives unless he's doing it with Finch. The entire first episode had a weekly case but it was completely about Reese's quest to get the machine to help him. Did Reese need Finch in order to protect the guy? Not really but that never comes into the mind of the viewer because it's about getting him back. Finch's use to the team is somewhat brought into question when they require that guy in order to temporarily hack into a computer system but that's only because Finch's skills were being used elsewhere. Finch's absence is never truly felt even when he's not a part of the action. He is without a doubt a core character of the show. His position might be replaced by another computer guy but this is his story. This is important to note because it is a completely different approach to how the series handled a captured Reese from a captured Finch. The latter completely dominated the episodes until Reese was able to rescue him while the former seemed to fade into the background.

Reese has been captured by the federal police but he largely spends the episode waiting to be released. Finch largely delegates the task of freeing Reese to Carter, but he has had a plan that would have apparently freed him regardless. This means that Carter spends a few scenes in the episode breaking the law in order to tamper with the evidence. This all works to make it so that the FBI don't know who is the man that they want. Without any proof, they would in theory have to free him. The head FBI agent isn't willing to give up so easily as he decides to hold the men under the Patriot Act. He plans to use Carter to interrogate him. This is good and all but it was largely developed as a sub-plot and Reese's presence wasn't even felt throughout it. It might have been about rescuing him but it was always more about what Carter is doing in order to accomplish that goal. Contrast this to when Finch was kidnapped. Not only was his conversations with Root a highlight of the episode, but he dominated the action when he wasn't even on the screen.

Take this episode's weekly case. Finch has to protect a high school student from danger. There are a couple of potential threats. One of them turns out to be a complete red herring and the other isn't really resolved. The kid runs into trouble with some drug dealers and they threaten to kill him if he doesn't pay by the deadline. The deadline comes and passes and he never makes a payment. The show kind of forgets about this and never properly resolves it. The only reason that Finch is able to save the high school kid is because he's suicidal. He was planning to kill himself. I could have sworn the machine didn't track suicides but this kind of felt like a cop out. The question of: what will Finch do without his partner in crime isn't really answered. How would Finch have dealt with the drug dealers on his own? Fusco can help but he can only do so much. What's worse is that by refusing to really tackle that question, it makes it feel like Reese isn't an essential part of the show. Having a weekly case built perfectly for Finch to solve might have seemed like a good idea to reinforce his role on the team but it came completely at the cost of Reese's place. 2πR makes the ultimate mistake of making it seem like Reese isn't a core character because he really is. Person of Interest is really just as much about Reese as it is about his boss. That this episode undermines that is a major weakness for the episode. When Finch was taken by Root, his absence was a presence in-and-of itself. When Reese is in jail, his absence from the weekly case isn't felt.

It's not that the episode was bad. The weekly case was largely strong as it did have some surprising twists. The major problem with the weekly case being the unresolved drug dealer threat. It did have some strengths such as featuring Finch as a high school teacher in a hostile region. Carter's mission to rescue Reese helped pace the episode and at least told the viewers that the writers haven't forgotten about this core character. It's just that Reese is so absent from the episode that it makes one forget that he's one of the main characters of the show.

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