Monday, October 17, 2011

Person of Interest: Episodes 3 & 4

So, last week Chris Doran and I were in N’awlins at the Lost conference, where I was a keynote and Chris was in the audience, but participated so vocally and brilliantly during every discussion that more than one person asked, “And WHY aren’t you presenting??!!” We’ll get him up there if there’s a second Lost conference, that’s for sure.

But it was after last Thursday that it occurred to me that we’d missed an opportunity to watch Person of Interest together and do a video blog on it. Fortunately, we have a good reason for not having done so – we were watching Pearson Moore and Sarah Clarke Stuart give their featured talks on Lost, and both did great jobs. (Plus, after missing my flight on Wednesday, I arrived on Thursday and was dead tired that night and would have looked like death warmed over on the video…)

So here we are this week to cover two episodes in one. I’ll go first!

Nikki: I’ll be honest, Chris; partway through the third episode I was thinking, “You know, maybe I should email Chris and ask if there’s another show we could blog about together, because I just don’t know if I’m going to last much longer on this one.” “Mission Creep,” the third episode of the inaugural season, had plot holes so big you could fit the Lost island in them and dialogue that fell FLAT. But there are always these moments in there that make it worth continuing to watch. And then I saw “Cura Te Ipsum” – with that spectacular, open-ended final scene – and it renewed my faith in the show and made me really look forward to the following week. In fact, I had a similar uplifting moment in that last scene in “Mission Creep,” where we go back to 2006 and Reese is talking to his former lover. She asks him to tell her to wait for him, and she will, but he just stares at her, stonily silent, and she tells him that would be the strong thing to do and walks away, and he says quietly, under his breath… “Wait for me… please.” There’s this intense vulnerability in him in that scene that I want to explore.

The problem is, J.J. Abrams is really drawing out this story, and I need to know more about these characters now if I want to feel more invested in them. The first flashback I had of Jack and Kate and Locke, I was completely emotionally attached to them. By the end of the first hour of Breaking Bad, I cared about Walter and his family. It only took a couple of episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer before I felt like these high schoolers were my besties. But I still don’t have that connection to Reese and Finch. And while Ben Linus was that long, drawn-out character that I didn’t know a lot about until about a season and a half after first meeting him, there were so many characters I was already invested in that that wasn’t much of a problem.

Are you finding a similar thing or are you more attached to these characters already?

Chris: HA! This is yet another time, Nikki, when you and I arrive at the same point, having taken completely separate paths to get there. It is probably significant that we were in N’Awlins for the LOST Conference and talked about everything under the sun EXCEPT our plans to continue blogging on Person Of Interest together. After a brief discussion this week on how we would each watch two episodes of the show to catch up and then blog on both of them, I watched the first of the two … and found myself having some of the same thoughts that you mention. You know that strange moment when you are riding the up escalator and momentarily focus on someone riding the down escalator and then have a brief feeling of vertigo where you need to grip the handrail to steady yourself? (No? Just me?)

Watching POI at this stage, I find myself riding the up escalator, wanting to like the show, hoping to see more of Michael Emerson and learn more about the overarching mystery of the Watching Machine. Instead, I find the show riding the down escalator, working harder to establish its procedural credentials and settle into the well-worn groove it appears to be striving towards. Curiously, “Mission Creep” is perhaps the show’s most seamless episode, finally blending in Taraji P. Henson’s Detective Carter and giving Jim Caviezel some dramatic scenes to play and show some of the subtlety that makes his acting style so compelling in better material. Flashes of his backstory, offering a parallel to the episode plot concerning returned soldier Joey and his long-suffering girlfriend, are well played, each glimpse offering a bit more of the scene and finally allowing us to connect with Reese on an emotional level.

Yet at the same time, “Mission Creep” disappoints me, as it seems to finally reveal the path that POI is laying out in full detail. The weekly case, hints of interesting backstory, little pieces of serialized plot that pique the curiosity, and Reese and Finch taking turns fading into the woodwork as that week’s episode focuses on the other character more fully. In the meantime, the case du jour plays out like ratatouille of recycled storylines from other, perhaps better, scripts. Not bad, not good, just sort of … blah. In the meantime, other new shows on the fall docket, ranging from the more familiar Prime Suspect (up against POI in the same time slot on NBC, and itself a remake of the beloved BBC series starring the brilliant Helen Mirren), to the edgy Homeland on Showtime cable, are cleaning POI’s clock when it comes to engaging the viewer, establishing strong characters and interesting stories and making me wish we were blogging on one of those INSTEAD!

Well, THAT was a long way of saying “yup, me too”! May I just add, by the way, to those who were not fortunate enough to be in attendance at the LOST Conference, that you missed a number of fascinating and informative presentations, ranging from the fabulous Jo Garfein of the JOpinionated blog to a number of grad students and professors sharing their passionate views on the themes and perspectives of the show we all love? All topped off by the hilarious and amazing Nikki Stafford herself, delivering the Keynote Address and inviting all concerned to share their own thoughts and feelings on the controversial finale of the series! A wonderful time was had by all. Back over to you, O Hostess With The Mostest!

Nikki: Well, of COURSE we thought similar things on this. It’s rare that we don’t (well, except for that pesky Lost finale, but that’s for another blog!) Here’s my main beef with POI right now, and I’m trying very hard to not let this post turn into a typical snarky post over at Television Without Pity: Finch is Ben Linus. In the first blog post I joked about the similarities, but it’s one of those, “Oh, isn’t that funny, hahahahaha! Oh look, it’s… still, um… happening, haha… ha? Uh… okay, why isn’t it stopping. Ha.”

At the beginning of “Mission Creep,” Reese comes in and Finch says, “Don’t you kno-o-o-o-o-ck?” exactly how Ben would have said it. Now, the thing is, it’s still Michael Emerson and he has a very specific way of delivering dialogue, but in this case it just seemed so Ben. But then there’s that moment in the next episode, “Cura Te Ipsum,” where the detective comes to see him after analyzing the tapes from “Mission Creep,” and he stares at her and gives her a point-blank lie, with that pursed-lip look that Ben Linus always had… when he was giving a point blank lie. Finch is the man behind the curtain, the one with the limp who the island doesn’t think is special, so instead he’s manipulating the special one (Locke-Jack, the guy with the difficult past who also wants to fix things) and having him do things instead. But he won’t reveal why.

It’s just starting to feel samey. Part of me thinks, it’ll get better. It’s J.J. Abrams. It has to get better. And then my husband reminds me of Undercovers and I go, “Oh. Right.”

In the fourth episode, I found that whole Lionel subplot (the bad cop) distracting. He’s moving over to be the guy inside who will watch the detective, and to me, I just find that a little boring. Isn’t it far more interesting when she catches them unawares, like she just did Finch? Watching him have to squirm out of that scene was fun, even if it was too Ben-like.

All that said — and that’s a lot of negativity we’ve spilled here — I think the fourth episode has been by far the best. Linda Cardellini is a fantastic actress (I’ve been a huge fan of hers since Freaks & Geeks), and that scene with her and Reese in the diner was great. (But, to repeat the ongoing Lost connection, I have to admit I chuckled when he told her she has to let it go). The detective has called Reese the angel of death, but I think he’s actually an angel of mercy.

And like I mentioned, that final scene with Benton begging for his life, and Reese egging him on and finally leaning over the gun and telling him that it’s up to him to tell Reese what to do… and the screen fading to black, was surprising. I like being surprised.

Problem is, this show isn’t doing it often enough for me.

Chris: At the risk of being redundant, I’ll go ahead and agree with you yet AGAIN, Nik: “Cura Te Ipsum” was perhaps the show’s strongest episode to date. The ending in particular was powerful and hints at the possibilities that must have been apparent in the network’s decision to move ahead with the show. (well, aside from the fact that wunderkind J.J. Abrams was involved, Michael Emerson and Jim Caviezel attached and an open drama slot in prime time against NBC’s strong comedy lineup) The tone was consistent, the plot marched forward in an internally consistent way (as with the prior episode and unlike the uneven ones preceding it, to some degree) and I could see that the weekly case was now starting to break down into one of two categories: the Race Against Time to identify the bad guy and Stop Him Before He Kills Again, or (as in these last two episodes) the drive to have Reese get close enough to the Good Person About To Go Horribly Wrong and steer them back to the Straight And Narrow. I'm calling this one Touched By A Caviezel.

The problem is that, unless the viewer is immediately sucked in by the central conceit (and the Watching Machine is a bit tricky in that regard) or the characters are either cute and cuddly or compellingly bad and fascinating (I’m looking at YOU, Breaking Bad!), the basic attraction to a show must be that it is, at the very least, entertaining. It has to hold your attention, suspend your disbelief and either engage your brain or titillate your senses. When you find yourself paying more attention to the plot holes than the plot, or getting irritated when the characters perform an action not because it seems organic to their motivation but rather because the script seems to demand that they do these things, you’ve got trouble – right here in River City. And that starts with a “T” and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for “POOL”.

Um. Sorry, I totally went and had myself a Robert Preston flashback from The Music Man. What was my point, again?

Ah, yes. POI is doing a much better job of telling us what kind of show it wants to be. My issue is: I don’t think that it wants to be the kind of show that I want to watch! Where’s the paranoid “Everyone Is Watching” vibe from the pilot? Where’s the rest of Finch’s compelling backstory with the Watching Machine? (I waited two whole weeks! Gosh, I’m an impatient bastard, aren’t I? That was a rhetorical question in case you were wondering.) Oh, I don’t want to be a Nattering Nabob of Negativity, either. There may be a rewarding series yet to emerge from the professionally-executed formula we’re seeing here … but I’m afraid that another week or two of this and I will be changing the channel on Person Of Disinterest.

Say, when did I turn into Debbie Downer, anyway? How’s about that snazzy black outfit on Detective Carter? How’dja like them sharply dressed Mexican Drug Cartel operatives who spend their money on clothes instead of better apartments? Why do you suppose that there are cameras EVERYwhere except outside the Police Station where Reese crashes the Villain Du Jour’s car? Do you think Jack will operate on Ben now that he’s seen his x-rays?

Oh, wait …. Take us home, Nikki!

Nikki: I’m really hoping that we find out that Finch has reunited with his female childhood friend. You know, the one who came to Dharmaville and was his only respite from his drunken dad and they carved little wooden dolls for each other? (Oh come on, J.J., take the opportunity to wrap up some plot threads left over from Lost! At least it would give us a more compelling reason to tune in! I mean… what happened when Finch was taken to the Dharma temple?!)

I’m with you. Our venture might only last another week or two, and there’s just too much GOOD television on right now to bother with the bad. I need to stop looking for the Lost numbers every time they jump to a security screen… like when they did it here:

Incidentally, I swear every time they go to the screen, at least one of the numbers is 16, 23, or 42.

I need to have dialogue that isn’t wooden. Like in “Cura Te Ipsum” (which is Latin for, “cure-a dis show!”… that might not be right), when Reese says Cardellini’s sister took too many sleeping pills. To which Finch responds, solemnly, “These weren’t accidental. She… committed suicide.” I half-expected the brass band to play, “Duh-duh DAAAAAAAAAAAH!” Um, Finch? The rest of us were two steps ahead of you on that one. You really didn’t need to spell it out for us.

I’m already tired of the ever-changing limp, and now that we’ve seen him using it alone in his apartment, it’s unlikely it’s fake. (Oh, and there’s that whole spinal x-ray we saw… speaking of which, really? ANOTHER Ben Linus spinal x-ray?)

Sigh. So… AMC was advertising this new show last night called Hell on Wheels that looks good. Starts November 6. Maybe we should try that one! Or Once Upon a Time begins October 22 (and DAMN YOU, Canadian television, no one picked up Grimm! I wanted to watch both shows and compare them…) So… we do have options. I’m thinking we give it until next week and that’s the do-or-die episode.

How about everyone else out there? Are you still tuning in?


Annie said...

I'm kind of on the fence about this show too. I want SO badly to fall in love with it, but I keep getting frustrated with the huge plot holes and the flat dialogue. I'm still planning to keep watching in hope that we'll see some improvement.

If you all are looking for another show to blog, you should definitely be checking out Homeland- it's by far my favorite new show this season!

Ashlie Hawkins said...

I just realized today that my DVR stopped recording POI (I think I got confused and deleted it when I took off Prime Suspect). Now I'm not so upset about it. I'll give it another shot though.

Gillian Whitfield said...

Sigh, I want so much to enjoy Person of Interest. I don't even REMEMBER what happened in "Mission Creep." Was that the one where he joined the gang to keep an eye on their person?

I enjoyed "Cura Te Ipsum," but again, it still hasn't been at the same level of awesomeness that Lost was at at episode four.

Am I going to keep watching it? Most likely. I'm on the fence like Annie is. If it gets worse, I'll probably give up on it.

If Terry O'Quinn guest stars on the show then that will make my life. Alan Dale is allegedly guest starring from what I've heard, which would be pretty awesome, too.

Also, I have full intention on watching Once Upon a Time, and I may or may not blog about it.

JS said...

I decided to stop watching with Mission Creep. I do not need any more procedurals in my life. Though I do like watching Taharji.....

Page48 said...

POI is take-it-or-leave-it TV for me. I lean heavily toward a more sci-fi/fantasy show for the most part, or at the very least, a shameless serial.

I'm convinced that somebody got to JJ. Maybe compromising photos of Bad Robot or something. He built his reputation with "Alias" and "Lost", but since then has steadfastly refused to launch a full-fledged serial TV show. "Fringe" wasted a year and a half on magic dragons and big worms each week before capitulating and becoming at least a part time serial.

Then, with "Undercovers", he sucked the life out of the spy genre that he himself perfected a decade earlier.

Now, he's unleashed a case-o-the- week procedural in POI. Like "Fringe", it could morph into a serial/standalone hybrid (sometime in 2013?), but if that's the plan, WTF is he waiting for?

And, like I mentioned a few weeks ago, missing from the usual JJ recipe is a nubile hottie. Surely Walter Bishop's fart jokes weren't enough to keep me interested until "Fringe" came to its serial senses after 30-odd episodes. Thank you Anna Torv.

JJ makes a big deal out of talking about his Mystery Box every chance he gets, but surely the mystery with JJ these days is what happened to the mystery?

I saw the "Homeland" pilot and can't wait to get caught up on the subsequent episodes.

Of shows yet to air, "Once Upon a Time" is on my list for various reasons: "Lost" personnel, Jane Espenson, and Robert Carlyle chief among them.

Further down the road, I'm looking forward to Kiefer and Gugu in FOX's "Touch" and ABC's international thriller, "Missing" (which sounds a lot like Liam Neeson's "Taken" to me). I'm not sure I buy Ashley Judd as a kickass former CIA agent, but the show itself is filmed on location in such far-flung places as Istanbul, Moscow and Berlin, which all sounds very inviting.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

This is the show I watch On Demand when I've finished watching everything else and I feel like watching TV. I only watch it at all because of Michael Emmerson.

Lisa(until further notice) said...

Barely hanging on. I watch 25 other shows weekly, and that's about to increase when Bones starts again. Add to that the Buffy/Angel rewatch. I NEED A REASON TO CARE. And right now, the only reason I'm gonna stick for a little while longer is Michael Emerson and Jim Caviezel. Although I agree that Emerson's character has become a little too Benry for my liking.

yourblindspot said...

Count me among the unenthusiastic. 'Fringe' took a while to find its footing too, but even their earlier episodes weren't this kind of slog to get through. I haven't done away with the DVR timer just yet, but I do really need the space on my hard drive...

Suzanne said...

I am feeling about the same as everyone else. The pilot had me feeling enthusiastic and hopeful. Now, I am feeling a sense of dread that this show is just too episodic for my tastes, so I won't be able to hang in there for too much longer. So far this season has proven to me yet again that if I watch a new series one of two things is bound to happen; I will fall in love with it only to watch it be canceled after several episodes (My So Called Life and Freaks and Geeks; yes, showing my age) or I will be sorely disappointed in my picks for a new season of viewing (Ringer and Person Of Interest, so far this season). Hence, I rarely invest in a new show these days; I just wait to hear from blogs like yours, Nikki, to see which show makes for a good investment of time and obtain it on DVD or via streaming.

By the way, I was fortunate to find out from my brother, a reliable source on TV, that Lost was awesome after it had only been on the air for about three episodes. I jumped on the bandwagon and watched it straight through from that point forward including the reruns of the early ones I missed. It hooded me immediately; Person of Interest is not even in the same league as Lost, IMHO.

Christina B said...

Nikki, SPACE picked up Grimm. It premieres Oct. 30!

I'll be blogging about that one for sure.

Nikki Stafford said...

ChristinaB: Oh YAY!! That's fantastic, thanks for letting me know that!! ;)

Oh my gosh, I don't think my PVR can handle Sunday nights anymore. ;)

Dusk said...

Because of time conflicts away from the TV, I've only been able to see the the whole Pilot and snatches of the others, it's a bummer to hear this.

Grimm sounds intresting, and if it gets shown on Sundays that will be better for me, but it will highly unlikley take me away from one of the 3 shows I Will Not miss, Supernatural. Even though I have good and bad thoughts on how Season 7 is going so far.

BTW James and Charisma are guesting on Supernatural in the episode on the 21th.

Austin Gorton said...

Episode 4 was much, much better than episode 3 (which was the worst episode yet), and from what I hear the next episode (which I haven't seen yet) is pretty decent too, so that gives me hope.

I'm still sticking with it, because, well, the only thing it costs me is time, and at this point, I'm still intrigued *just enough* to see what kind of show this turns into that it's worth that time.

But I certainly wouldn't begrudge you guys bailing on blogging it. Whatever kind of show it becomes, it will definitely have at least one foot firmly planted in the world of CBS procedurals, and those kinds of shows are difficult to blog (heck, I have a hard time coming up with things to say about this show on my blog, and I only need a paragraph or two, not a full post).

PS As a big Deadwood fan and a HUGE American West history nerd, I'm terribly excited about Hell on Wheels.

LT McDi said...

Posting this weeks after this last post by Nikki but out of the many shows I've been watching....this one has really picked up story wise over the last weeks.

character development has good too.

Last episodes have been a real treat...

LT McDi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LT McDi said...

I think this series gets this season "Most Improved from then First Episodes" award...there's enough "mythology" to keep yah going...but not so much that if you miss POI your .."totally lost"

also ... the mystery as what happened to Mathew Fox's stunt beard from Through the Looking Glass....solved