Friday, September 30, 2011

Person of Interest: "Ghosts"

Welcome to week 2 of our Person of Interest blog with Chris Doran, who has graciously agreed to join me week after week to discuss J.J. Abrams' latest effort. This week, I'll let Chris go first!

Well, Nikki, I thought tonight’s episode got off to a promising start with our first peek at the new credits sequence. Very high tech, very sexy – and it took all the relevant information from Michael Emerson’s monologue last week about The Watching Machine and condensed it down to under a minute! The short scene that followed was a blueprint for what this show COULD do well – play with our expectations and deliver a little wry humor to go with the action sequences. Jim Caviezel forces his way onto an elevator, flashes that killer smile and the audience thinks the man with the flowers is in trouble. Well, he is … but not in the way that we expect. Bonus! A lawyer joke!

Sadly, the scene that immediately follows brings the enthusiasm to a screeching halt. Srsly? Caviezel following Emerson on the streets of New York while talking to him on the phone? The dialogue is painfully dull, the tension non-existent, and even Emerson’s disappearing act can’t liven things up. This scene, like the alley scene with guest star Natalie Zea in last week’s pilot, appears to have been spit out by TV Procedural Central. Unfortunately, there are a few of those in this week’s episode. Person of Interest needs to lean on its strengths more or pretty soon The Watching Machine will be coughing up Reese & Finch’s social security numbers.

But wait! Is that backstory I smell cookin’? The timeline shifts and LOST fans immediately recognize Goodwin –er, Brett Cullen as Ben –er, Emerson’s partner way back in 2002. Finch has yet to acquire his limp, The Machine is taking shape and optimism abounds that it can be a force for good. Good luck with that, fellas! As if this shout-out to Emerson’s previous series isn’t good enough, the next interlude serves him up to us standing on a pier overlooking a marina. Desmond, look out! That milk carton won’t stop a bullet!

… Um, Nurse Ratched, I think it’s time for my medication now. Over to you, Nikki! How did you find our second installment?

Haha! I definitely had my “oh my god, it’s Goodwin!” moment, too. (Oh, this show just won’t let go of the shackles of Lost, will it?) I wonder if “Our Founder” died in 2010 because he was impaled on a spear?

You know, I actually liked this week’s episode more than last week. I watched last week’s a second time and found the dialogue even more stilted the second time through, but this week’s wasn’t as bad. Sure, it had some wincey moments:
• The hitman looming towards Ben and Teresa at the end, holding up his gun, and… getting hit with a hail of gunfire EXACTLY the way he had half an hour earlier in the Laundromat. Seriously?
• The fact that Reese could take out two hitmen in an elevator but a kid on a skateboard evades him. Sigh.
• Michael Emerson’s walk. What… was that?! He changed the limp entirely, and now it’s not just a limp a la House, but more like he’s got a steel rod jammed up his ass that’s made his entire body rigid and unmoving, and he turns his entire body to the side instead of moving his head. I said to my husband, he moves like Pee-wee Herman, the way Pee-wee would always have his arms bent at the elbows with his hands limply hanging around his shoulders, moving his body rigidly from side to side and acting like his head didn’t turn. But maybe I was just getting Pee-wee vibes from that new haircut. (He was also wearing new glasses.)
• Why was Finch in the hotel room with the girl sans gun or the two bodyguards he had with him last week?

But overall, I really enjoyed this one. It moved away from the more mundane courtroom drama of last week’s (I remember being disappointed that the person of interest was a lawyer because it gave the episode a distinctly Law & Order feel) and to a family. The mystery was interesting, and while the solution was a little pat, I really liked the reunion between the aunt and Teresa at the end.

And the use of Roisin Murphy’s “The Truth” was FANTASTIC at the end. I’d never even heard the song before and immediately looked it up.

What did you think of the visual cues we got for segues? I thought they were a lot tighter this week, and they’ve developed that style for shifting from one scene to the next that seems to mark most Abrams shows (like the overview of buildings in Alias or the buildings with the block letters over them in Fringe).

Well put, Nik. While the scenes themselves lacked a bit of the visual flair of the pilot, the segues were fantastic. These drive the premise of the show extremely well and carry us past some of the slightly creaky elements with great panache. I’m sure it would be distracting but I would actually like to see some more monitoring to get a sense of how The Machine is parsing the data and screening out the “irrelevant” information.

The bits of plot surrounding this week’s case were more or less successful by turns. Scenes of Reese surveilling the uncle were a bit blah while Finch interviewing the aunt was more interesting. Ultimately, the story is Theresa’s and things move a bit better when we’re with her. It was hugely enjoyable to see Reese get his butt kicked in the Laundromat (it was getting a bit stale to see him so easily overpower/outgun opponents) even if gunplay did save his bacon. Overall I see the show settling into a bit too much of a well-worn groove with the case-of-the-week elements.

Mr. Finch remains the more compelling character. Reese’s discovery of his “double life” as a Cube Nerd was interesting and the later flashback to another scene with Brett Cullen definitely had me wanting more of this kind of thing in future episodes. Did I ever tell you that I once saw Brett Cullen at the Long Beach airport? I resisted the urge to bother him and just reveled in my private LOST Geek Moment. I’ll save a few last thoughts and ask you how you feel the series is progressing. Getting better? Showing promise to break out of the formula? Tell us, O Goddess of the Nitewatch!

I’m the same as you: I’ve had spottings of famous people up close and I tend to keep my distance, because I’m always worried that if I walk up to them and say something and they’re total jerks, it’ll be a ruined experience. I tend to just revel in being close to them, like when I was in a customs lineup next to Stephen Fry last year. ;)

I thought Caviezel was excellent last week and really carried the show, with Emerson being a great sidekick. This week it was Emerson who carried the show, and Caviezel came off as a bit formulaic and dry. I think the cop who is tracking Finch is so separate from the story that every time I see her I go, “Oh yeah, right, she’s in there, too.” So they need to fix that if she’s going to be essential. Maybe she’ll be like the cop in the first season of Angel, who was hovering around him, trying to figure out his secret (even becoming a love interest) only to be dropped when she just came off as annoying.

So I think next week we really have to see both of the key players come to the fore. Lost’s first true masterpiece was in the third week, fourth episode, with “Walkabout,” so here’s hoping next week gives us the jawdropping excellence. For this week, I liked the laugh I got from Finch’s dry, “Guess I could use the miles,” when Reese says he booked the entire floor of the hotel. I thought moving the person of interest story to something more personal worked a lot more than the lawyer story did last week.

But mostly, I was intrigued by the backstory, as you say. Why wasn’t he limping back then? What happened to him? Does it have something to do with the Machine? I was so intrigued by the idea that this very wealthy man who owns a software company is so isolated that he actually pretends to be one of the office drones working for him. There were definitely elements that were added in this week that hadn’t been present last week, as if they showed the pilot and responded to audience requests and altered things. Among them:
• Give Finch severe scoliosis on top of the limp.
• Make Finch evasive, so where he sought out Reese in the first episode, now he keeps away from him as if he’s keeping secrets.
• Give Finch a darker backstory.
I half expected him, after dumping the box in the lobby when he was talking to Reese, to go through the revolving door and walk away, limpless, a la Keyzer Soze in the Usual Suspects.

Okay, let me finish with a few Random Thoughts:

- We get another peek at the ASR (Awesome Server Room), this time tracking from a wide angle to the flashing LED on a specific server, the inverse of last week’s shot.
- From the looks of the hotel room where Reese brings Theresa, I’d be a little suspicious of that “$50 cheeseburger”. Does that come with the $20 fries or the $17 side salad?
- I have GOT to get that cool “Wiretap Established” app for my iPhone. I don’t even care if it WORKS. I just want to walk into offices, stare at the screen for a few seconds and say, “Yep, it works. We’re good here” and walk out.
- We went almost the entire episode without Reese shooting someone in the leg. Then, at nearly the Last Possible Second, he takes out the hitman with a shot to the knee. An almost sober night for the Legshot Drinking Game.
- I’m with you on Michael Emerson’s “limp”. He’s got to get some therapy or something. The poor man will need a body brace before the end of the season.

Overall, I think POI needs to find a way to integrate Taraji P. Henson into the main storyline more effectively and tighten up the scripts for the weekly case stories. That and ratchet up the direct connection to the Watching Machine. Who is running it now? What were the circumstances of Mr. Finch’s departure from active involvement? I feel that the show needs to step up its game or more viewers will be clicking over to the post-Steve Carell-Office. Thanks for sharing the blogverse, Nikki! See you next week.

Thanks, Chris! Tune in next week, where Finch will either be dragging his leg behind him or in a wheelchair, and Reese will, I hope, show the same charisma he had in the first week’s episode. I’m looking forward to it!


Page48 said...

I can't take any credit for spotting these myself, but apparently POI is shaping up to be a treasure trove of Bad Robot Easter Eggs. From the Pilot, this "Lost" nugget, and this one for "Fringe" fans. I have to start paying more attention in future episodes to see if I can catch any of these on my own.

As for "Alias" fans, for now we'll have to settle for Jack Bristow being the new Charlie in "Charlie's Angels", a show that has "cancel me" written all over it.

And, while I'm on the subject of "Alias", who can forget this lighting up the TV landscape 10 years ago tonight (minus the Greek subtitles in my neighbourhood)?

Fred said...

A much needed improvement. The introduction on the elevator reminded me of the preview of Bond films before the intital credits. It seems Nolan has taken a page from Daniel Craig's Bond that the hero can get the crap kicked out of him. A welcome sign of realism.

Glad to see Finch involved as more than just a "here is your misssion Mr. Reese" a la Mission Impossible. And the touches of humour in the dialogue was a relief from the more seriousness of the show. Michael Emerson's airmiles quip was delightful. (What is it with cubicles in offices and J.J.Abrams? Is this a symbolization of the compartmentalization of our times; or is it that J.J. just like The Office so much? It certanly fits the show's theme of "need to know".).

Chris, I agree with you that Finch is becoming the more compelling character. I get the feeling that the backstory of his limp will involve the machine forecasting the probability of the government wanting to do Mr. Finch in, but at the time, Finch was letting the machine erase the information. Hence, why he is now considered deceased, and why he retains the "irrelevant" information through a backdoor. Somehow we know Bret Cullen's role will be deeper than just the voice of conscience for Finch--perhaps one of the last few who know of the machine.

And I am of still the same opinion, that the red light of the LED on the Awesome Server indicates a sort of HAL relationship. Is the server with all those wires conscious?

Finally, agree with Nikki, they need to make Finch less Peewee Hermanesque in his movements.

Gillian Whitfield said...

I thought that this episode was much better than last week's. But so far I haven't had that, "This is AWESOME" feeling. It's more like, "This is pretty good, but it isn't AWESOME." Yet. I agree with Nikki. Lost didn't get that "OMGWOW," factor until Walkabout.

Don't get me wrong, I really like Person of Interest, and it's a rather, ahem, interesting show and it has real potential to be an amazing show (then again, I said that about Flashforward - - remember that show? - - and look how long THAT lasted) especially if Michael Emerson is a main actor.

I think that this series is one that will get better as the season progresses.

Word verification: terph - A profanity used by grass. "Oh, terph it!"

Anonymous said...

I liked the subtext in Michael Emerson's line during the office scene- Finch looked over at the manager (who'd told him, earlier, that he had to work quicker, unaware that Finch was really his boss) as he told Reese, "...some people would be fired..."

What a great reading by Michael Emerson!

Annie said...

Thanks for sharing that Lost nugget Page48! I never notice those kinds of things

I enjoyed this week, I thought it was an improvement over last week's ep and I'm started to get more excited about the show. But, in past years I've also been excited about Flash Forward and The Event, and we saw how those turned out :)

Emerson moved SO stiff in this episode though, it was distracting to me. I hope that lightens up in the future. I was really excited to see Goodwin again!

I didn't like Reese all that much last week, but he was growing on me this week. I hope we start to see more of his backstory soon. I thought it was a little lame how they got rid of the bad guy at the end. Reese just magically showed up in time? Even though as the bad guy was entering the hotel, Reese was in the process of hitting the other guy's car with a dump truck? For the most part I liked this episode though!

Stephen 'Socks' Bowron said...

Definitely a better episode, I didn't feel the need to surf the internet during - not that I did last week, I just wanted to =P

Benry's hair was clearly the highlight of the episode.

At the moment it feels far too procedural. I mean procedural to the point where we're not really at the point where we're even able to empathize with the characters. I know it's still early days but some shows' characters are good enough to capture everyone's heart/hatred from the get-go.

I'll obviously not judge whether the show's got anything yet but I hope it picks up soon. *cough* Walkabout example *cough*

Suzanne said...

I am enjoying the show so far. I think it has potential to get really good. My favorite part was Finch's story by far. I liked the whole office duplicity and the back story with "Goodwin." Somebody mentioned on another forum I read that they think one of the photos that "Goodwin" (I don't know the characters name in this show) was looking at when he confronted Finch was a photo of Reese's girlfriend from the pilot. If that is true, there is strong potential for some really good conflict in future episodes.

I also noticed that the bust with the dedication on it in the office building lobby near the end of the episode was Finch's partner's likeness. Again, this opens up some really good potential for back story.

Lastly, I think we could end up with more serialized stories if the government somehow begins to figure out what these two are up to. The fact that Finch mentioned that only eight people know about the machine (or something to that effect) indicates that we might start to get some conflict in that area in the future.

Nikki Stafford said...

Page48: Yay, those are brilliant! You know, I had an inkling something like that would happen. This week there was a scene outside and I was immediately scanning the crowd for one of the Observers... I was SO convinced one would be there as a nod to the other show. I've also been watching for Oceanic ads and such, but these were great. Now that I know the easter eggs are there, I'll continue to look for them! ;)

Page48 said...

Nikki, you won't have long to wait for that Observer to show up on POI.

I scanned "Fringe" pretty closely this week looking for POI Easter Eggs (turnabout is fair play, after all), but I came up empty.

This week's POI did sport a sign that said "Section 47", though.

The Question Mark said...

Wow, Chris & Nikki, you guys covered pretty much exactly the notes I had in mind, which makes this a whole lot easier for me 'cause I can just reiterate :P

-Yeah, why did Finch not have a gun in the hotel room?! He went there to protect Theresa...exactly how was he planning on doing that without a weapon? Was he gonna...CHASE the bad guy away?!

-It was indeed very refreshing to actually see Reese get hit. Humans are interesting; untouchable god-men are not.

-GOODWIN! Yay! Maybe Finchamin killed him because they were both after the same woman, a certain lovely blonde lass...

-Reese's 11th hour save in the hotel at the end bugged me. Exactly how quickly can this man get around New York City? Last I checked, that place was nothing but traffic jams.

All in all, a better episode than the pilot. This could shape up to be good stuff. Nikki, if your Keyser Soze prediction becomes reality, I will be a VERY happy viewer! Let's hope the procedural-ness dissipates soon!

Linda said...

I agree with all that episode two was far better than the pilot, which I unfortuntely fell asleep through! And ROD at least in my area for some reason is not repeating the pilot (sigh).
I'm sticking with this show, it has plenty of potential..yes it was sure good to see Goodwin, wonder who will turn up Lost next week?

LT McDi said...

This is first of the new shows I will now make a point of keeping up with.

Certainly improved from the pilot which had the unenviable task of laying out all "the rules" of this TV world which can be kinda dull. don't get any better a deal than you did on The Island. Nice to see yah though.

Got some backstory, got some eyebrow raising tv action ( I never get why people complain about implausiblity on's TV..of course it's implausible) and we got a nice little ending and a bit more mystery.

As has been pointed out Lost wasn't Lost, Fringe wasn't Fringe etc until they had built on what their pilots got started. I hope this show gets the same chance cause the "bones" of interesting show are there.

Anonymous said...

I'm really starting to like this show--Michael Emerson could read the phone book and I'd be fascinated!
As for Lost easter eggs, anyone catch the Virgin Mary statue at the end when they went to retrieve the "evidence"?? And the date of 9/22 in one of the flashbacks?

Austin Gorton said...

Hooray! I'm not as far behind as I feared I was.

I definitely liked this episode more than the pilot, though the best stuff is still happening on the fringes, away from the case of the week.

Viewing this through the lens of a superhero story helps liven up the case of the week, though. There were a few moments in this episode that were downright Batman-esque, and the opening in the elevator was a classic, "here's what the hero can do, and now the story..." scene.

I too was a little put off at the change in the Reese/Finch dynamics that apparently happened between episodes, with Finch suddenly much more secretive than he appeared to be in the pilot, but ultimately I like the dynamic better (and there's some neat thematic resonance with the guy who built the machine that watches everyone not wanting to be tracked down).

Greatly enjoyed the flashbacks and the little Lost nods. As long as the show continues to sprinkle some of that mythology stuff into each episode, I can tolerate the more by-the-numbers cases.

@Nikki: I half expected him, after dumping the box in the lobby when he was talking to Reese, to go through the revolving door and walk away, limpless, a la Keyzer Soze in the Usual Suspects.

I wonder if the limp is fake (for Finch, not just Emerson)? Something he does to keep his distance from other people and to make him look weaker? Is it giving the show too much credit to suggest that accounts for the change in the limp?

...yeah, probably. After all, if the limp is fake, he probably would have dropped it to help save Theresa and himself at the end there.