Airtime: Monday and Tuesday at 10PM on CBS
Episode: Season 5, Episode 01 (S05E01)
Tweetable Takeaway: #PersonofInterest shifts from procedural to serial to begin its final season.
I love this show. I love it. This is the first time I’ve ever really talked about PERSON OF INTEREST in public so prepare for a minor onslaught. I always say this series is a sci-fi serial masquerading as a cop show and that it tricked a bunch of normal people into watching something weird. That bit of deception makes me happy, but the cat is out of the bag at this point. “B.S.O.D.” starts off the final season of Person of Interest with unabashed science fiction abandon.
I generally hate procedurals. I can’t deal with them. There are only so many ways to die in a hospital and so many crimes that you can commit on a cop show. Person of Interest was always the perfect blend of case of the week and genre serial because it could use the Machine as its framing device. Even in the fourth season when Samaritan, a second artificial super-intelligence, is brought on-line and wages war against the Machine the show was still structurally a procedural at heart. The fact that every episode’s case was used as an excuse to go off on a tangent about the ethical implications of technology was what made it watchable at all.
The other thing I love about Person of Interest is that it never hits a sour moralistic note with me. Most procedurals I’ve had the misfortune to partake of like to cram normative worldviews down your throat. The shows exist primarily to give you a fluffy, inconsequential break from reality without challenging you in any way. Person of Interest is a show that is deeply concerned with morality but never unduly judges people for their life choices. The cases of the week range from a women being blackmailed with sex tapes, to a doctor who happens to be a lesbian, to a dude accused of stalking who is actually being stalked himself. It never goes for the lazy option and has only made me uncomfortable in its blanket judgements maybe twice. I love that about this show. I find it impossible to turn off the media criticism part of my brain when I watch things. I’m always analyzing what a show is saying about society and the agenda it’s trying to push. With Person of Interest that part of my brain isn’t off, but it never has to engage on the defensive.
That’s enough poetical set up. Down to “B.S.O.D.” First of all, structurally this episode was quite different than usual because there was neither a case nor the Machine to frame it. The characters were on their own. It also felt more cinematic than usual with heavy use of slow motion and close-ups. Because flashbacks were always plausible within the narrative because the Machine ostensibly had access to all of the backlogged data, inserting them into this episode was a bit more overt. They still fit the narrative well, because Harold is a very private character and it’s best to understand his moral complexities by watching him work through some crisis of judgment. But without the Machine accessing that data, it felt a little clunkier. That said, all of this worked in the episode’s favor. Even without the case to justify it, the plot managed to get in plenty of gunfire and explosions which is always part of the draw. Because this is the last season, I’d expect them to largely chuck the cases (especially with the Machine off-line) and concern themselves with concluding the narrative. If I have my way, the series will complete its transition from procedural to serial so that it can wrap everything up.
On to the characters who are the best part of this show. I have two character types: research nerd and emotionally stunted weaponized human being. Person of Interest not only has two of each, it pairs them off so that they perfectly complement each other. Reese is the lethal extension of Harold’s omniscience, while Harold is morally upstanding without being insufferably self-righteous about it. Harold is one of those rare squishy perfect creatures who hits just the right notes of compassion and self-deprecation to keep his moralizing from turning him hatable. No one likes a genius with a superiority complex, but a compassionate recluse is something else entirely. Root I could go on about for days. Root falls under the same “nerd” type as Harold, but she’s ruthless and single-mindedly obsessed with the Machine because she recognizes it as better than human. The character who pervades the entire story is the Machine herself and “B.S.O.D.” is more a love letter to the Machine than anything else. Harold truly recognizes the Machine as a living entity and vows to be more responsible for his actions in the future. I was particularly fond of Root saying that she loved the Machine as super-human because its moral code was a “reflection” of Harold. Root’s expression of friendship is hilariously whacked out but that’s why it’s so charming. Root loves, but it’s weird love. I also liked Fusco’s encounter with the Feds. It neatly wrapped up the long-running mafia plot while suggesting Fusco is being menaced by Samaritan.
I have a long history of falling in love with super computers and artificial intelligences. Give me a book or movie with a kindly robot, super computer, or artificial intelligence and I’ll be a goner. The Machine is always presented as so caring and benevolent that it’s heart-warming. Text on a screen making me “aw” might be evidence of one of my own particular weaknesses but this series does a fantastic job of setting up the Machine—a pervasive omniscient presence largely represented by onscreen graphics—as a likable character. The flashbacks in “B.S.O.D.” were meant to make the Machine more of a vibrant character and they do the job admirably. They up the stakes of bringing her back on-line successfully so that the emotional climax of the episode is deeply satisfying. That she was feeding Harold condolences for his father’s death is reminiscent of Facebook’s ill-conceived notion to present you with ancient posts, except in a more compassionate and contextualized way. I’m not a tech expert, but I’m fairly tech savvy and all of the jargon and technical specifications in this series are usually spot-on. If they’re not 100% accurate they’re at least accurate enough that I don’t scream at the TV about how wrong it is.
Yay, I’m excited and a little flail-y. I still need to get the hang of organizing my Person of Interest thoughts. Overall, the plot was good, the ethical techy stuff was just as phenomenal as usual, I still love all the weird little characters and their weird moralizing, and the future looks bright. It’s always nice when a series you love knows that it needs to wrap things up. We can get right down to it.
Dana Leigh Brand | Contributor