When Person Of Interest is firing on all cylinders, it’s kind of like that three-dimensional chess set that Bruce and Dick used to break out on quiet nights at stately Wayne Manor. The show has a whole slew of producers and executive producers listed in its credits, and God knows who has done what in shaping it over the course of its first season, but it’s worth pointing out that, of the best-known of its co-creators, Jonathan Nolan has a proven knack for using attitude and mumbo jumbo to make convoluted action stories seem more cerebral than they probably are, while J. J. Abrams has a reputation for using suggestive obfuscation to make a jumble of set pieces seem like a part of a larger whole.
There have been times when their talents have seemed to cancel each other out here; the show has often seemed to be straining to make some big statement about the need to balance security with privacy rights in the post-9/11, 24-hour-surveillance world. The statement seldom feels fresh or urgent enough to seem like anything but filler while we’re waiting for Jim Caviezel to kick somebody else’s ass. But if the show hasn’t become as great as its pre-release hype wanted it to be, it’s continued to grow more interesting and compelling, especially in the second half of the season. Its real appeal is to the paranoia junkie lurking inside many a thriller fan. Its creepy, eye-in-the-sky atmosphere, nailed down by the constant P.O.V. shots from various surveillance cameras, gives it its own special texture. What keeps its from freezing over is the fact that its hard-bitten, suspicious characters really do want to do some good for other people, despite all the evidence they’ve taken in that the age of heroes is over.
The season finale begins with the paranoia level jacked up to the rafters and then just keeps going higher and higher. The number that Finch’s machine has spit out belongs to a psychologist who caters to the rich and powerful —which, in Person Of Interest’s world, translates as “people who are sure to feel uncomfortable about knowing that someone has been taking notes on their guilty secrets and weaknesses and will feel no compunction about doing something about it.” Usually, Finch and Reese would begin their new assignment with a cryptic five-minute conversation in which they acknowledge that they’ve yet to establish whether the subject of their investigation is a potential victim or the person they need to protect someone from, but as soon as they pull up a photo of the psychologist, the thought that she might be the perp goes right out the window. “She’s a lot prettier than Fusco,” Reese says admiringly. Actually, given that the psychologist is played by Amy Acker, she’s a lot prettier than anybody.
Reese gets close to the doctor by becoming her patient, a bone-head move from his and Finch’s perspective but one that’s plainly irresistible from that of the writers. Their session together makes for an early high point, with Finch shouting into Reese’s earpiece, warning him not to talk too much and give himself away, while Reese mostly just sits there and listens while Amy Acker gives a detailed, impressively accurate description of his life, talents, and motivations (“You see the world differently from most, don’t you? A threat around every corner.”), as if she were reading from a comment card taped to his forehead. Being understood at first sight isn’t the most reassuring experience for Reese. “You seem a little agitated right now,” Acker tells him, after he’s raised his eyebrows slightly and twiddled the fingers of his left hand. For most people, that might count as a little agitated. For Jim Caviezel, it practically qualifies as a wall-eyed fit.
The extended big set piece here comes in a swank hotel where Reese has taken Acker after rescuing her from a pack of crooked cops who’ve been hired to carry out a murder contract. The rescue scene is an early excuse to discharge Reese’s duty to act like the Terminator for a few moments of violent bliss every episode; he slams one guy’s head into a metal post while yanking his gun out and pumping lead into another man’s leg with the quick bluntness of someone unjamming a stapler. In the hotel, things are complicated by the arrival of an army of FBI agents who are looking for Reese. He and Acker gingerly move through the corridors, with the FBI approaching from one direction and the killer cops coming from the other, while Carter, who’s in a room at police headquarters where the action is unfolding on banks of TV screens hooked to the hotel’s security system, furtively sends Reese text messages to direct his actions. Meanwhile, Carter is paying attention to her partner Fusco, who is also sending furtive texts —to Finch, of course, though at this point, Carter and Fusco still aren’t aware that they serve the same masters. That revelation finally arrives tonight, at the end of a scene that begins with Carter pulling her gun on Fusco while he’s sitting on a toilet. It’s nice to see that a set-up like that can have a happy ending.
The season ends with most of the show’s loose ends still flapping loose, and a major cliffhanger involving Acker’s identity and the whereabouts of Finch. But it’s seeing Carter and Fusco freed to work together —they actually come riding to the rescue, guns blazing, at the climax —that gives the episode its biggest thrill. There’s a beautiful little moment at the end when Fusco, who’s long suffered the indignity of having his partner, like everyone else in the world, think that he’s dirty, flashes her a self-satisfied little smile across his desk, while she looks at him as if he were a kid whose cockiness is both appalling and endearing.
Person Of Interest has devoted some of its recent episodes to humanizing Reese and Finch by revealing what shame they keep bottled up inside and what losses they’ve suffered, and while some of this has been effective, the show might be bloodless and ice-cold if it weren’t for the characters on the margins, who aren’t as free of doubt and technical perfection as its heroes. Few series characters have been introduced in as imperfect form as Kevin Chapman’s Fusco, but over the course of the season, he’s grown from a singularly charmless, one-dimensional corrupt cop into a man relearning how good it feels to do good, and in the process, turned into the heart of the show. Fusco knows that he's useful as an undercover man among corrupt cops because he looks the part, but that doesn't mean he has to like it, and when he tries to tell Carter about Reese and Finch, saying that they "seem to know when people are in trouble, and they help them," and adds, "and me, too, sometimes," the way he says those last three words can break your heart; he sounds as if, even after saving lives and taking a bullet for a kid, he isn't sure how much credit he's allowed to take. If you want to be on the cutting edge, you can go ahead and start complaining now about Chapman being snubbed by the Emmy voters, instead of waiting until the nominations come out.