[This is a review of Person of Interest season 5, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
For what started out as a somewhat standard procedural with a slight sci-fi premise, Person of Interest showed a remarkable ability to adapt and change over the course of its first four seasons. Although it still incorporated the mandatory crime-of-the-week format to help get it through its 22 episode per season obligation, the series began a slow shift away from revisiting the same premise over and over again to gradually focus on a larger more serialized storyline, incorporating new, compelling characters who could change and evolve along with the overarching narrative. That ability to change and to refocus its priorities gave the show a dedicated following, but may have also led to it being granted a truncated fifth and final season, as the longer the show went on, the more impenetrable its storyline became to new viewers.
But at the start of season 5, Person of Interest doesn’t show any signs that its storyline will be left wanting when all is said and done. Season 4 ended with the team of Harold Finch (Michael Emerson), John Reese (Jim Caviezel), and Root (Amy Acker) on the run from the Samaritan group, carrying a severely compressed version of Finch’s original Machine in a high-tech briefcase. The parting shot was ominous yet thrilling in a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid sort of way, with everyone moving towards the enemy, guns blazing (well, not Finch). It could have been the end of the show, albeit an incredibly ambiguous one that, over time, might have leaned more towards a bad ending for the heroes and an even worse one for the world they left behind.
Thankfully, CBS ordered a final 13-episode season to wrap things up, and while there’s some solace to be found in knowing the show will get to end things on its own terms, the opening salvo doesn’t do much to make it seem like things are going to get any better for Finch, Reese, and Root when the end does come. The brief tease of the team’s new subway digs in ruins and Root’s ill-omened voiceover seems to suggest that standing up against Samaritan is a losing proposition.
Root’s message shares something in common with the closing moments of The Matrix, in that there’s a human on the line in a (seemingly) machine-controlled world. But whereas that film’s final moments were a warning to the antagonistic ones and zeroes comprising the A.I. that wanted wipe out humankind, Root’s communication is directed at those watching, or presumably, those left to find their place in a Samaritan-controlled world. It’s a bit of a game changer for the series, and one that definitely gives the final season an underlying sense that this is certainly the end. Only this time, the audience is left with the question: To what extent is it the end? Given that the title of the episode is ‘B.S.O.D.’ – which many will recognize as Blue Screen of Death – it stands to reason that the PoI won’t be pulling any punches.
You could spend a lot of time unpacking that opening sequence, pondering what it will mean for the next 12 episodes, but also analyzing how important Root has become and how she’s changed since her introduction. Person of Interest has always had a strong cast, often balancing the steeliness of Reese with the nervous energy of Finch’s genius and then using that to play off supporting characters like Taraji P. Henson’s late Joss Carter and Kevin Chapman’s bad-cop-turned-good Lionel Fusco. But the series demonstrated how malleable it was when it not only found room for a great presence like Acker’s Root but also Sarah Shahi’s Sameen Shaw, and then discovered how to turn both into complex characters that weren’t just analogues for Reese and Finch. That said: for the show to intimate a final message to those left behind and for it to be voiced by Root portends some major happenings over the course of this final season.
Again, this expresses just how fluid Person of Interest can be when it comes to its core cast of characters, and how well it can spread out the action between them. ‘B.S.O.D.’ makes a solid showing by spreading a good portion of the hour across Reese, Finch, and Root’s efforts to get back to the subway station while being pursued by a gaggle of Samaritan soldiers. While Reese gets punchy in a back-alley brawl, Finch does an impressive impromptu costume change to evade his hunters. Again, Root gets a big showcase when the SUV she’s in is violently T-boned and a shootout ensues. There’s a nice embellishment to what is the standard volley of hot lead, when Acker worms halfway out the vehicle to kneecap her attackers – as is S.O.P. for the heroes of this show.
Although it easily could, the premiere doesn’t attempt to skate by entirely on action. In addition to the tension created by having the Machine locked away in a briefcase and slowly dying, the hour is interspersed with a series of flashbacks that show Finch interacting with an early version of the Machine he created. There the show demonstrates a willingness to look at the A.I. as something more than a clever device from which a weekly series can be derived. Instead, Person of Interest continues to explore the implications of creating an intelligence with the power to help, but also control and potentially wipeout humankind. But as is shown in Finch’s hesitation and interaction with his creation when he opts to wipe the Machine’s memory, there’s an ethical concern that probes deeper than the potential human repercussions, and ponders whether limiting the Machine isn’t actually doing more harm than good. It’s telling, then, that after nearly losing his creation, Finch comes to understand some of his early fears may have helped create the seemingly untenable situation in which he and his teammates now find themselves.
It is a strong start to the final season that poses several interesting questions. Chief among them: Where the hell is Shaw and what role will she play given the insinuations inherent in the last time anyone saw her? Beyond the more obvious questions about how it will all play out, and whether or not the narrative math of that murky opening shot and voiceover will add up there is genuine concern over the wellbeing of these characters. At any rate, Person of Interest remains a strong series for CBS, and while it seems more like the network is trying to burn these last 13 episodes off, the show is still deserving of the chance to wrap its story up the way it sees fit.
Person of Interest continues next Monday and Tuesday with ‘SNAFU’ and ‘Truth be Told’ @10pm on CBS. Check out a preview below: