Persons of Interest
Distributor: Nine Network
Release Date: Sundays, 9:30 PM
Persons of Interest is a runaway success in the United States that is yet to find its feet with Australian viewers. Certainly its timeslot and sci-fi premise have worked against it. But could the rest of the reason lie in a lack interest in persons with a strong moral code?
Person of Interest heralds the return of Michael Emerson to the small screen. You may remember him as the creepy and conflicted Ben Linus from the hit TV series Lost. Now he’s playing the equally bug-eyed Harold Finch, a billionaire software designer who’s discovered a higher calling through tragedy. He’s designed a brilliant piece of surveillance software that analyses the data from every camera and system available to law enforcement. But a shadowy event in his past results in the death of his business partner, and Finch becomes determined to spare people that level of personal loss:
“You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people, people like you. Crimes the government considered irrelevant. They wouldn’t act, so I decided I would.”
Finch, now presumed dead, teams up with an equally deceased-but-alive former Green Beret and CIA operative who goes by the name of John Reese (Jim Caviezel). Reese is the muscle that responds to Finch’s mind. When the genius detects a crime about to take place, he points Reese in the right direction. The only problem is that the data is restricted to telling them the names of the people involved. It cannot identify who is the victim and who the perpetrator.
The idea that we are being watched by authorities with God-like perspective is as old as George Orwell’s 1984 and as young as the Wachowski brothers’ The Matrix. What Finch and Reese are supposed to provide is the missing moral element: a promise that the powers that be are operating in the best interests of the observed:
Reese: Bad things happen to people every day. You can’t stop them.
Finch: What if you could?
But virtual omniscience is a long way from the omnipotence our heroes require to make good that promise. They discover episode after episode that bad people don’t always wear black hats, and even if they can be identified, finding a punishment that suits the crime isn’t as easy as it sounds. And of course their own bending of the law rarely comes into consideration.
American audiences repay justice dramas with high ratings that don’t seem to be reflected on Australian shores. Their national sense of righteousness has become proverbial over here. However our preference seems to be for characters whose misdeeds go unobserved or unjudged because they’re balanced by a basically good nature. The idea that our every action is being recorded and weighed dispassionately may not be a relaxing storyline. In fact, it is my experience talking to non-Christians that the idea God has the knowledge, power and determination to punish every rebellion is the single-most objectionable facet of Biblical Christianity. Strange how we long for justice when we’re wronged, just not when we’re in the wrong.