Given the amount of time we spend watching television and the commitments we make to our favorite programs each week, it's not that ridiculous to compare our relationships with TV shows to friendships. And like friends, the ones you want to hang out with the most are the ones who don't pretend to be something they're not. We like authenticity in our friends and shows, and we're more drawn to the ones that accept who they are and embrace it. We don't have time for bullshit.
The great return of Person of Interest last night reminded me that this CBS drama knows who it is more than just about every other show out there. It's serious when it needs to be, it shoots people when it wants to, but it has a silly side that's just as important to its prime directives as everything else. It's like a secret service agent with one of those squirting trick flowers in its lapel, and that's why it's so darned comforting.
Last night's Season 2 premiere, "Contingency," was vintage Person of Interest amplified, showing off its trademark combination of complex intrigue (where's Harold Finch?), creative action (John Reese plugging a trio of Aryan Brothers with their own gun), and clever innovation (how awesome was that Season 1 "recap"!?!?!) in bigger ways than ever before. Just when you think you have a handle on this show, it winks at you and says, "Not yet, kiddo." I say this in my POI reviews more often than I need to, but it bears repeating because it still amazes me: This isn't supposed to be happening on a CBS procedural.
"Contingency" kept things rolling with the events of the incredi-balls Season 1 finale, "Firewall," with Finch in the clutches of Root (Amy Acker) and Reese crossing his fingers and talking to a security cam, hoping the Machine would lend him a whatever-it-is-computers-have-instead-of-hands. In talks I had during the off-season with the stars and producers, I was under the impression that Finch and Reese would be teamed up again in no time, so I'm giving the series a lot of credit that the two weren't reunited by the end of last night's episode. Too often, pivotal events from season finales are all but erased in the following season premiere in order to reset things and put the show back in its comfort zone. Well, Person of Interest just put on a suit of porcupine quills, because so far, Season 2 is anything but comfortable for its leads.
Instead, we got a Machine-centric episode that detailed its relationship with Finch and explained why it wasn't spitting out Finch's latitude and longitude to Reese. And what an awesome relationship it is! Throughout Season 1 we've knew the computer was getting smarter, and that info was delivered in the simplest of ways. The interstitials of watching the computer work—locating a crook, finding some floor plans, etc.—slowly got more and more complex until we were looking at something space-aged, with detailed 3-D effects and calculations whizzing by like a high-speed freeway of numbers. But it wasn't until last night that we got concrete proof that the Machine is a complex artificial intelligence system, capable of thought and reason. I don't know if it really changes the show that much, because we already figured the Machine was more than just a social-security-number-retrieving system, but to watch it work and think was a statement by the show saying, "This is how it's going to be now."
How fun were those flashbacks? Even the opening webcam view of Finch peering into the Machine and asking it to identify him ("Admin" is computer speak for "Daddy") brought new life to the Machine and added to its character. It was as if Finch were treating it like a child in training to become a calculating assassin, teaching it how to behave and even scolding it when it became too attached. The Machine cares (or, at least, cared) about Finch at one point enough to focus all its processing power on keeping Finch safe. The "Stay" text messages following the awesome Blackjack excursion to keep Finch from being run over were downright moving, for God's sake, and Finch's stern reprimanding of the Machine to keep its eyes on everyone, not just Finch, showed the capabilities of the Machine to understand and Finch to maintain his unwavering mission to make his creation the best at what it was built for. This episode was some of the best work the show has ever done, and it's the most personality a box of nuts and bolts has had since Wall-E.
All this conditioning of Senor Maquina to keep its eye on the prize (oh, just saving the world one person at a time, NBD) made Reese's task of finding Finch that much harder. The Machine, trained not to prioritize Finch, gave Reese the number of a new person of interest (unbeknownst to Reese), and there we had our case of the week while still keeping up with the story of Reese trying to find Finch. Have cake, eat cake, producers.
This led Reese to stumble upon Leon (Ken Leung), one of the greatest POIs the series has had, thinking Leon had received word on how to find Finch. But Leon was just an accountant who'd skimmed off the top to the tune of $8 million from the Aryan Brotherhood, forcing Reese to realize that Reese is the Machine's mysterious "contingency plan." Even with Finch out of the picture, the Machine will continue trying to make the world a safer place. Only this time, it was Reese who was taking weird phone calls. Reese's realization that he was going straight back to work was priceless.
The rest of that case was pretty straightforward: Reese said some awesome things in his labored-breath murmur (Reese: "You know, the guy who owned this badge probably would have made that deal. But I'm not him." Thug: "So who are you?" Reese: "The guy who shot him and stole his badge." BOOYAH! Now you're all getting shot!), Reese shot some guys, and Reese spoke Dutch to a dog. Wait, what? Yes, Person of Interest cherishes its silliness, and the scene in which Reese commanded White Power's newly acquired attack dog because he knew from his special forces days that the particular breed was exclusively trained in Dutch, was pure ridiculousness. But it was also so in line with the spirit of the show that it was awesome. And that's the fine line Person of Interest marches on defiantly, that balance between gritted teeth and tongue-in-cheek humor, and it does it so sparklingly well that you can't help but ecstatically laugh and clap your hands. This is pure entertainment, no more, no less.
So does Reese have an attack dog now? If so, the dude will be unstoppable. Just a man, his dog, and his stubborn computer friend making America a safer place! But who will take care of Bear while they're in Texas? These are the important questions.
The other part of "Contingency" involved Root and Finch sitting across from each other at various tables, with Root proving that she's the other side of the super-intelligent computer genius coin to Finch's well-intentioned vigilante. Root is crazytownbananapants, an insane outcast in the packaging of the girl next door. If I've got this right, she's similar to Finch but solves the same problems in a different way. Whereas Finch looks to protect the innocent and vulnerable, Root prefers the same results to come from the opposite approach: She seeks to punish the wicked ("We're just bad code," she said, getting some amazing nerd-cred dialogue). Their two ideas will often intersect—sometimes protecting someone means hurting someone else—but their intentions are miles apart. Finch good, Root evil. I'm not entirely sold on Acker in this role, but because I am in love with her (it is humanly impossible for anyone not to be in love with her), I will ignore any issues I may have because she's so gosh-darn cute and she's earned a role like this.
Root's intentions with the Machine are clear, but not quite crystal. She's interested in "freeing" the Machine and accused Finch of handing it over to the most corrupt people imaginable (the government). But what does she mean by freeing it, exactly? Does she just want it to get out of the clutches of the government for all to see? Is she going a little too far with this anti net neutrality thing? Does she want to use it herself for her own plans? Or, as she says, is she simply bored with life as it is and so wants to see what happens if it's "released"? I'm not sure, all I know is that not only did she give that tax-evading, adulterous rich lady a bad case of the shakes, she also went after her man with a syringe to the neck. This woman can hold a grudge.
One scene I'll retrace my steps over and over on was the one with Reese, pursued by angry white folk with swastika tattoos, negotiating with the Machine to bend its rules and put him on the path to find Finch. Reese put the Machine on the spot, telling it that if he dies, no one will be able to take its calls and save the world, and that was enough for the Machine to cough up Root's social. Well, more specifically, her past life as a runaway teen in Texas. It was a corny scene (Jim Caviezel having a one-way argument with a security cam) that was also tense, perfectly encapsulating what this show is all about: batshit craziness that's so damn fun to watch. It's good to have you back, Person of Interest.
– I'm a little undecided about how the computer gives Finch numbers—through the Dewey Decimal System—but given Finch's love affair with books, it makes sense, doesn't it? "Finch, you sly dog."
– Finch's Verizon-esque "Can you hear me now?" tests with the Machine in flashbacks to 2002? HILARIOUS.
– As for the also-awesome Blackjack scene, was the computer just using basic Blackjack strategy or was it doing something else? I couldn't really tell. And I love that Finch went all-in and didn't take the Machine's advice at the end, because he isn't in it for the money.
– I love it when the action takes place out of view, and Reese calmly walks out. Last night it was a shot of the exterior of a building, a racist thug crashing out the front window, and John, Leon, and Fusco strutting away. It was very reminiscent of a famous scene from Steven Soderbergh's The Limey, one of my favorite movies.
– Fusco and Carter were relegated to doing Reese's busy work and showing up in the nick of time to save his life. I like the characters on a personal level, but I'm wondering about their relevance to the series other than acting like Reese's gofers. But strangely enough, I'm not that concerned with exploring their backstories or giving them their own threads, because Reese and Finch and the Machine are still very strong. If Fusco or Carter died, I don't think it would be a big loss.