Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"Person of Interest" Year Four

I'm very late with this one, since the fifth and final season of "Person of Interest" has already premiered.  I actually dropped the series over a year ago because I simply didn't have the time for it, but then the most recent season popped up on Netflix, and I found myself back in the world of the Machine and its human assets.  I should note that I marathoned the whole season in the space of a week, which is not the best way to watch this series.  Even though it has a lot of ongoing story arcs, it still follows a procedural format for most installments.  Watching multiple episodes in one sitting made "Person of Interest" feel far more repetitive and formulaic in than in previous years.  The show's new status also contributed to that feeling. Spoilers ahead for everything up to the end of the third season.

When we last left our heroes, they were being forced to assume new identities in order to stay out of the reach of the newly ascendant artificial intelligence, Samaritan.  Cut off from all resources and each other, they spent the break laying low.  Harold becomes a professor.  John gets a badge and works narcotics.  The first part of the season sees them slowly rebuilding, working to solve each week's number while juggling their new lives.  Samaritan and its forces continue to grow stronger.  One of their new allies is Martine Rousseau (Cara Buono), a violent enforcer on the same level and Shaw and Root.  There's also a new crime boss operating in Manhattan, Dominic (Winston Duke), who takes over the local villain role previously filled by HR.  There are also encounters with several parties who haven't chosen sides, like gifted teenager Claire Mahoney (Quinn Shephard), and grifter Harper Rose (Annie Ilonzeh).  John also gets a new love interest, Dr. Iris Campbell (Wrenn Schmidt).

In the early seasons of the show, the complaint was always that the episodes hewed too much to the usual case-of-the-week structure.  Fans were happier as "Person of Interest" became more serialized and more focused on the story of the Machine.  So John becoming a cop feels like a big step backwards, because so much of his attention is taken up with solving cases again this year, and beating back a too-familiar street-level threat.  Dominic and his Brotherhood aren't remotely as interesting as HR or even Season Three's Vigilance.  Harold and Root don't feel a hundred percent, since both have been deprived of their usual dazzling array of technological tools.  And then there's Shaw, who has slowly but surely grown to be one of my favorite players as Sarah Shahi's comedic powers have grown.  Her role this year involves far too many spoilers for comfort, but I'll just say I sorely wanted more of her than we got.

What does work in a big way is Samaritan, who embodies all the scary, menacing things about artificial intelligence and mass surveillance that "Person of Interest" finally stopped skirting around last season.  It's disturbing to see the way that Samaritan so quickly and invisibly affects human affairs, setting up gigantic projects, manipulating events on a whim, and coldly dispatching any witnesses.  It's actually more effective the more visible its actions are, showing the extent of the system's power.  I wasn't impressed with all the material involving Samaritan's minions - Greer has far too little to do - but the new A.I. has proven to be a very effective villain.  I also like the way that the show used a few episodes apiece to highlight recurring characters Elias and Control, showing us a little more about what makes them tick.  And hey, Zoe Morgan is back!

I wish I could have been excited about any developments concerning the regular cast, but there aren't many.  Perhaps signaling that it really is time for the show to go, it should be noted that there were very few episodes that used flashbacks, which were a mainstay of earlier seasons.  John was the only one to really experience any growth, getting a late bottle episode to work out some personal issues, and a low-key romance to complicate his life a bit.  Most of the big mysteries and conflicts involving everyone else have long been wrapped up.  Arguably, the major character to have had the most development this year was the Machine itself, particularly in the already famous "If-Then-Else," which gives us a look at what goes into the Machine's decision making process.

So for a variety of reasons, I didn't enjoy the fourth season of "Person of Interest" as much as the others.  I did enjoy these episodes, but in that way that you enjoy any long running show because you've grown fond of familiar characters and their familiar foibles. Though the quality is still decent, the sense of novelty and daring has worn off, and the seams are showing.  I'm looking forward to the final run of episodes, and hoping for a good end.

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