Person Of Interest’s first regular-rotation episode of the season—the episode in which the series settles down into its standard weekly groove after the two-part season première—confirms that it’s developed into one of the best action shows on TV. For a long stretch of its first season, everything that was good about the show somehow only made it that much more disappointing. It had an ambitious premise that tapped into, and made ingenious use of, post-9/11 paranoia about both the threat of anarchic criminal behavior and the dangers posed by a massive government surveillance operation set up to combat it. But the show seemed to defy expectations that it was going to develop into something bigger, and the hints about Reese’s and Finch’s mysterious backstories began to seem like window dressing on a case-of-the-week procedural crime show.
It’s still a case-of-the-week show on some level. But the slow, steady accumulation of detail and incident has begun to pay off in major dividends. The show now has a fair-sized catalog of recurring characters who once made a ripple in the heroes’ world and can now generate a tingle by popping up again. A presumed-dead woman steps into the light and the viewer thinks, “Uh-oh, she’s bad news.” (Translation: “Yummy, she’s back to start some shit!”) And the hard-won working relationships between Reese and Finch (an Carter and Fusco), have a basis in shared feats of secret heroism that makes them emotionally involving. In the early episodes, it seemed likely that Fusco, the charmless corrupt cop who was blackmailed into helping Reese after he’d failed to kill him, would eventually be knocked off, presumably after another attempt at treachery, probably when a more personable fifth-wheel character was being prepped to make an entrance.
Instead, the show has used Fusco to add shadings to its uncomplicated vigilante-superhero moral compass by having the debased bad cop rediscover the pleasure and simple pride that comes from helping desperate people in need, thus establishing itself as a show that does believe in the possibility of redemption. Sometimes, the show manages to get viewers to care about these people at an almost childlike level. There’s a scene in tonight’s episode where Reese prevails upon Fusco to keep an eye on a woman he’s been guarding, so he can take off and do some investigating. When Fusco shows up for the hand-off, the woman giggles at the sight of him, and Fusco indignantly assumes this is because he’s not as physically impressive as Reese. But the woman assures him that she was just giggling because he looks like her uncle, who, she says, everyone refers to as “the Stud.” It’s ridiculous how satisfying it is to see Fusco beam at this, and what a relief it is that that this gruff, stocky man has been spared having his feelings hurt. But it’s little satisfactions like that which can turn the weekly rituals of a formula TV series into a weekly pleasure.
That the action itself is so perfectly crisp also works in the show’s favor. A show like The Walking Dead goes for broadly staged, big carnival effects, with the actors running rings around a crowd of slow-moving extras, impaling them through the eyes with one quick, fast thrust—then proceeds to the next setpiece. The violence on Person Of Interest tends to be more in the tradition of B-movie directors like Don Siegel and Phil Karlson: A quick surgical strike, which makes its impact by getting the staging just right and the timing precise enough for maximum shock. There’s a choice of how this works in the opening of tonight’s episode: We see one of the show’s trademark montages of New York as seen through the eyes of various security cameras, as voices are heard discussing the imminent demise of someone who presents a problem to certain ethically impaired individuals. Then there’s a cut to an overhead shot of a man being hurled out of a high window, then a return to security footage—the face of a man collecting money from an ATM machine, as seen from the ATM’s point of view, just as the falling body smashes through the roof of the car parked behind him.
This week’s potential target is the beautiful, 21-year-old daughter (Paloma Guzman) of a politically ambitious Brazilian diplomat. The danger to her is connected to the fellow who went out the window, but it takes Reese and Finch a long time to put that together, because they automatically assume she’s a target because of her father’s enemies. Reese gets close to her by getting hired as her bodyguard, which he pulls off by first framing her current bodyguard for shoplifting, and then showing up everyone else who applies for the job by picking their pockets and stealing their IDs. At first, the show allows us to think that the daughter, who’s seen insulting the incompetent first bodyguard while burning a hole in her father’s bank account on a shopping spree, is a “spoiled little bitch,” and Reese tells Finch that “the way Sofia treats people, it’s easy to believe that someone would want her dead.” But Reese has just misunderstood; as soon as Sofia has spent enough time with him to recognize that he’s a real man and worthy of respect (unlike the douchebag Reese frames), she shows herself to be very sweet, albeit a bit of a wild child. The only thing that can even tempt her to disobey Reese’s instructions is loyalty to her boyfriend, whom she slips away to meet. Three guesses who turns out to be the chief villain trying to arrange for her to be murdered.
At the end, Sofia is not only safe, but has had the deep satisfaction—which is shared by the audience—of seeing Reese scold her piece-of-shit boyfriend for his bad behavior by practically hanging him upside-down by his throat over the ledge of his penthouse apartment. As Bart Simpson said when dumping a firecracker down the toilet, I have a weakness for the classics, but when material as unoriginal as this—right down to Sophie, who’s going home to Brazil with her father, asking Reese if he’s ever thought of relocating, and Reese, with the faintest of smiles, saying that “New York’s my home—for now.”— works this well, there’s nothing to do but marvel at how well-executed it is. Person Of Interest has even managed to add a faithful dog to its regular cast without making me gag. Considering how much talent goes into the average hour of television, and what networks pay people to exercise their talents, meat-and-potatoes genre fare as satisfying as Person Of Interest is now is really the least viewers ought to expect. But as anyone who’s seen much of the current fall TV season knows, the networks have been managing to mostly serve up a lot less.