Last night Person of Interest ended its 5-year run, which had seen more than its share of ups and downs, with a solid final entry that was a satisfying farewell to the show. Early entries in the fifth and final season had been so weak and droll that I hadn’t held out much hope that it would get the conclusion it deserved but, happily, I was wrong and the sendoff was note perfect.
And that's how we roll on #PersonOfInterest I'm satisfied.
— Michael Emerson (@MichaelEmerson) June 22, 2016
One of the reasons I was drawn to Person of Interest in the first place was its unique take on a God-like artificial intelligence. Though the approach POI took should be obvious the temptation to make an all-knowing AI declare war on humans has made more than one show (and film) devolve into a shoot-em-up, man-vs-machine mess. Instead of revisiting that POI made the machine more Machiavellian in nature, choosing to move humans around the global chess board while flying under the radar. While it seems instinctive that a brilliant super computer would choose this path rather than employing brute strength and heavy machine guns to eliminate mankind, many writers seem to eschew what would be a logical plan for anything that fancies itself a God, instead sloppily embracing a computer-wipes-out-man-with-giant-missiles plotline. But the POI approach makes more sense, after all what good is being God if you kill all your worshippers? The machine in POI didn’t despise humans, it just assumed it knew better, devalued the concept of free-will and hoped humanity would just fall in line so long as they were sufficiently entertained and fed. But humanity, like Captain Kirk in I, Mudd, declared that a gilded cage is still a cage. Pockets of resistance cropped up and the machine, convinced its intentions were noble, became confused at the pushback.
Along the way the show examined everything from privacy issues to the concept that people would easily become loyal sheep following a shepherd so long as their bellies were full and their televisions working. The idea that while privacy was slowly being eroded by the machine, while most people didn’t care a wit until they were affected, was the most interesting and poignant arc the show had though, sadly, also the briefest.
Undeniably compelling characters and exemplary acting saved the show many times when the writing went off the rails but, in my opinion, the exit of Taraji Hensons Joss Carter was a wound the show couldn’t survive. As interesting as Reese was his darkness needed the guidance Carter always provided, talking him down from bad places where he may have reverted to his previous, more ruthless self, Carter was an outstanding foil and her keeping Reese in check provided some of the shows most touching moments and made the Reese character intense and logical. Without her Reese had to be written as though he became a beacon of self-guided virtue overnight. Without the drama inherent in the not knowing if Reese might fly off the handle at any moment without Carters soft-yet-firm touch to guide him the show became stale and the Reese character was forced to evolve in an unbelievable way.
Adding to that problem was that Fusco, brilliantly portrayed by Kevin Chapman, was a character so similar to Reese that together the three of them made sense with Carter as the level-headed conscience of the group. Without her it became 2 antiheros with dark pasts and something that felt very done before. As the show drew to its conclusion it steered in the direction of making Harold a similar “gray area” type of character but thankfully course corrected before that arc became silly. Throw in a “please pay attention to how edgy we are” lesbian romance with Shaw and Root that was out of the blue, out of character and just plain weird and the final season had all the makings of a train wreck.
Thankfully it recovered and gave us the ending fans had been clamoring for. I won’t recap it all but Harold makes the excruciating decision to destroy the machine along with its more powerful adversary, an AI named Samaritan who had intentions of ruling the world from the shadows. In the end Reese goes out fighting like a hero, which is as it should be, Shaw and Fusco walk away relatively unscathed and Harold limps back to an old love he has hidden from for decades in service of keeping her safe.
I generally don’t like it when a show ends by sort of blowing up the universe. In other words when a show ends, Cheers for example, it’s nice to imagine the characters are still out there, carrying on business as usual, without our prying eyes watching them. Norm still goes into the bar every evening and Sammy still yells “Norm!” when he enters, Cliff still bores new customers with made up facts and Carla is still delivering service with an attitude. Frasier took the opposite approach, which I loathe, and scattered all the characters to the winds. Would it have been so bad to end the show and let us imagine that Niles and Frasier are still meeting for coffee each morning at Café Nervosa, that Daphne and Martin are still quibbling with each other over physical therapy sessions, just without our watching them? Let us imagine the Cranes in the same glorious apartment having the same witty banter, why blow it up?
With POI, a show that had clearly lost its way and gone on a little too long, I didn’t mind it as much. For all the potential the show had it quickly eroded a lot of our faith in the writers over the last season and a half and, coupled with Carters demise, the show was effectively finished last season. So why not go out with a bang? Perhaps Bones writers should watch this finale a few times, this is what a show does when it knows it has told all the stories it can; it ends it with some dignity and goes out with style. It doesn’t limp along with stale character arcs or desperately put characters in wheelchairs for a ratings boost. Don’t make the fans call Jack Kevorkian Bones, put yourself out of our misery.
Anyway, I digress. The very end of POI, the final minute, is a little troubling. Shaw answers a phone call, presumably from the machine which has found a way to escape its “death” and we get a slow shot of Reese’s grave implying something, though I am not sure what. We never saw the missile hit the building Reese was on, we saw an explosion from a distance and made an assumption. So if there is some chance the writers are considering dragging this thing out of mothballs with a spin-off or TV movie, please don’t. We assumed Reese was dead, leave him that way. As for a Shaw and the Machine style show, it would be a travesty. You had a good run, know when to say when.