In 2011, J.J. Abrams attached his name to a project created by Jonathan Nolan that served as a 5 season-long cost/benefit analysis of artificial intelligence (AI) and government surveillance. Person of Interest was born. The plot for the show can be best sewn up by the voice over in the opening credits:
“You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know, because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people; people like you. Crimes the government considered ‘irrelevant’. They wouldn’t act, so I decided I would. But I needed a partner, someone with the skills to intervene. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You’ll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number’s up… we’ll find you”
Fresh off of the ending of Lost, the show cast Michael Emerson to play Harold Finch, a government employee who developed a machine that could track everyone. The machine used social security numbers to track terror organizations and mass crimes but Harold found a flaw. The machine would disregard numbers of people who were at risk of homicide but not on a mass level, deeming them insignificant. Harold finds this decision morally reprehensible and decides to change the machine to help protect these unaccounted for numbers, changing the machine to send these numbers to his personal computer. He hires John Reese (Jim Caviesel), a CIA black ops agent and the man the machine dubs its primary asset. Together they seek out these numbers as the machine gives them and attempt to save lives. The one caveat is that when the machine gives Harold a number, he does not know if the person is a criminal or a victim.
As they pursue these numbers, Harold and John become the target of a police investigation as they show up at the scenes of many crimes. Having no other option and seeing the long-term advantages, they enlist the help of Detective Joss Carter (Taraji P Henson) and Detective Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman). These two are never fully read-in on the operation but help John and Harold in serving the greater good. As the show hits its later seasons, their group is joined by Root (Amy Acker) who is a hacker that can also communicate with the machine and Sameen Shaw (Sarah Shahi) a former Assassin for the Intelligence Support Agency. Throughout the course of the show, John and Samin become aware previous employment was for a corrupt government entity run by the original machine.
Each episode features a new number that the machine sends out and is either a victim or a perpetrator. When another private entity develops a secondary AI, they become a larger threat than the week to week enemies the team faces. This new machine called “Samaritan” is also out for the greater good, the greater good that doesn’t think about the millions that it tramples on to achieve that good. This sets up a new rivalry with the concept of a utopian humanity vs realistic human condition. Samaritan believes that the world must evolve to certain ideal conditions while Harold believes that humans still deserve a choice in the matter.
Part of what made this show a success was the relationship that the characters had with the viewers. They were flawed but likable. As a viewer, you developed a vested interest in what they were doing: early on saving individuals who are in danger and later on battling for free will.
Whats next for the cast and crew? Henson has entered her second season as Cookie Lyon on Empire. Caviesel has nothing set in stone but a second Passion of the Christ has been rumored. Nothing is in the can for Emerson either but he has spent a lot of the time concurrent with the show doing voice work for comics and cartoons. Shahi is set to play Nancy Drew in the upcoming CBS show Drew. Chapman will continue to portray law enforcement as Captain Hauser in the fall series A.P.B. Acker has landed the lead role in the upcoming feature film The Energy Specialist. Nolan has created the new HBO series Westworld and Abrams continues to be successful at everything he chooses to do.
Person of Interest died Tuesday, June 22nd, 2016. It is survived by its Director, Executive Producers, phenomenal cast and crew, and fans around the world who spent 5 years in support and helped the show win “Best Crime Drama” at the 2016 People’s Choice Awards.