Person of Interest is only two episodes old, so let's not get too excited or disappointed by the show's inconsistent quality so far. After a pilot that introduced us to America's new badass and delivered a surprising amount of action, Thursday's "Ghost" essentially served as a second pilot, and gave us a better idea of what to expect from the series. The lesson it taught me is that I shouldn't expect awesome guns and insane action every week, but I can look forward to some unexpected humor and flashbacks that slowly explain the mysteries of our two central characters. Oh, and one more thing: Person of Interest, despite what creator Jonathan Nolan told me, is very much a procedural.
The person-of-interest-of-the-week in "Ghost" was a teen girl named Theresa who was assumed dead after her father took his family on a vacation... TO DEATH! It was later revealed that the family was murdered by a hitman, hired by some real estate jerks and the father's business partner to force them part ways with a tract of land that's now worth millions of dollars. But the girl was spared because the assassin "don't do kids." She'd been in hiding for two years, but because she was the sole heir, Johnny Real Estate wanted her dead so the land would eventually end up in his hands. At least, I'm pretty sure that's what happened; it was all slightly complicated and procedural stories tend to make my ADD kick in. Reese and Finch ended up taking care of business and the girl was saved and everyone went home happy—except for all the people Reese beat up along the way.
That's all fine and dandy, but in terms of a case-of-the-week, it never really grabbed me. Shady real estate deals don't get my blood pumping, and I noticed a few plot holes here and there. More importantly, I didn't see how the case connected thematically to our heroes. That's what separates good procedurals from bad procedurals. Good procedurals make sure their cases tie in to everything else in a poetic way (watch tonight's Fringe for a fantastic example). Bad procedurals just let the good guys catch the bad guys. There are way too many smart people involved in Person of Interest to make me think it will end up in the bad category, so I'll give the cases a few more tries before I start ignoring them completely to get to the tasty center of the show.
And in that tasty center is an action series that undid the top button of its shirt somewhere between the pilot and the second episode. The reveal of Mr. Finch working as a cubicle monkey in his own company was pretty hilarious, and it made a big impact because it was so unexpected. Reese, meanwhile, dropped some action-hero one-liners with a smirk, showing there's a softer side to our calculated killer of people's ability to walk without limping.
That's a tone that I hope Person of Interest maintains. A little levity goes a long way in a series like this, one that relies on us believing that a billionaire would partner with an ex-CIA killer and use government-grade Google Maps to find people in trouble. But it has to be done with the right amount of delicacy. Person of Interest is also a serious look at the effect of information technology has on the real world, and making things too much of a hoot could dilute some of that bite. If the show can continue to walk that line as it did in "Ghost," it should be fine.
Detective Carter (Taraji P. Henson) got a promotion in importance in the episode as well, and now it's clear that she's about to enter an incredibly complex relationship with Reese (and consequently, Finch). She wants to catch them, but she's not even sure what they've done. And because he delivered Theresa to the authorities, Carter now knows that Reese isn't a bad guy. Her participation in the show still seems detached, and it's hard to think of her as anything other than a third wheel at the moment. But this is a cat-and-mouse game that's just beginning, and, like the cases-of-the-week, I expect the Carter storyline to get very interesting very quickly.
To me, the most interesting part of this show, besides watching Reese do a walking-and-punching-and-shooting tour of the Big Apple, are the characters' mysterious pasts. "Ghost" gave us a peek at Finch's backstory in 2002 and 2007, and BAM! Lost reunion! Turns out Finch's old boss is Goodwin (Bret Cullen), who was the first person to wonder why nobody was doing anything to help the people identified by Finch's computer program as "in danger." And the final scene showed a bronze bust of his head in the lobby of Finch's building, memorializing his death in 2010. How did he die? What happened to his relationship with Finch? Did Finch kill him by pushing him off the top of the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island? Who knows!
The second episode of Person of Interest gave us a new look at the series and brought in some elements I really appreciated (more humor) and some I didn't (a stale case of the week). But nothing happened to thwart the potential of the series, so consider this person still... interested. (Feel free to *groan* in the comments section for that one. I deserve it.)
Notes... of Interest!
– Building tension on television can be done in many different ways. Breaking Bad, TV's current leader of getting us to grind our teeth, likes to use gorgeous shots and phone calls. Person of Interest loves elevators.
– A few shots of Reese walking into a place (building or elevator), kicking butt and shooting people, and emerging unscathed without ever showing us what actually happened inside is cool. But three times in the first two episodes is a bit much.
– I'm really hoping that Reese wears the ski mask more often when he's doing Reese things. It really ups his badass quotient and vigilante coolness. Plus it can get pretty chilly in New York.