Recently, while staying with a friend who had just gotten out of the hospital, I was exposed to a good deal of TV. Two shows caught my attention: Downton Abbey (more on that later) and Person of Interest, which runs on CBS on Thursday nights. At first, I thought Person of Interest might merely serve to tide me over until the next seasons of Burn Notice and Breaking Bad.
Like Burn Notice, the main character of Person of Interest is an ex-spy who uses his craft to help ordinary people in need. Like Burn Notice, there are also longer storylines that arch over multiple episodes.
But now, having watched the first 15 episodes of Person of Interest, I have to say that I like Person of Interest even better than Burn Notice, which is high praise indeed.
The premise of Person of Interest is that after 9/11, the US government created a computer network, “the machine,” which reads all of our emails, tracks our transactions, listens to our phone calls, and analyzes all video feeds in order to predict acts of terrorism, or as they say now, in honor of George W. Bush, “terror” (pronounced with one syllable). The machine can also predict acts of violence against ordinary citizens. But the government does nothing to stop those.
The creator of the machine is a reclusive billionaire, Mr. Finch, is played by Michael Emerson (Ben in Lost, i.e., the most interesting character in the longest-running, most obnoxious cheat in television history). Finch is haunted by the fates of the random innocents the government does nothing to protect. Surely, he also feels a bit guilty for having turned Uncle Sam into Big Brother—although we learn that he tried to build in protections against that.
Finch decides he wants to try to make the world a better place by preventing the crimes the government will do nothing to stop. But he is a geek with a gimp, so he has to hire a tough guy, John Reese, a former US Army Special Forces soldier and CIA operative who is haunted by the evils he did for Uncle Sam. Reese is played by Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Together Finch and Reese seek to prevent crimes while being hunted as criminal vigilantes by the CIA and the New York City police (where the show is set).
Jim Caviezel is immensely impressive as John Reese. The only other role I had seen him in was Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, and it was not really a good gauge of his talents, given that he spent the movie speaking Aramaic and getting the bejeezus beaten out of him.
Caviezel is a tall, slim, blue-eyed man in his 40s with graying brown hair. But his most arresting features are his soft voice and astonishingly mobile face. Both are remarkably subtle and expressive. His face is handsome in repose, but when he acts, it is a play of light and shadow, in which every line, wrinkle, and crag communicates a deep and complex character. One has the impression that as age etches more lines in Caviezel’s face, he will only grow more charismatic and expressive.
But Caviezel’s John Reese is more than just soulful. He is also a man of action who is extremely handy with every known weapon, including his bare hands. He is definitely a man you want on your side. Reese is a classic Nordic hero: laconic, intelligent, self-aware, noble, and courageous. He does his duty without concern for the consequences to himself or others. (He leaves those for the gods to sort out.) He is deadly serious about serious things, but he also has an ironic touch when dealing with the petty and absurd.
Like Michael Westen in Burn Notice, John Reese exemplifies what Julius Evola calls Uranian masculinity. He is not a playboy or skirt chaser. He is focused on his mission and his ideals, which creates an aloof and emotionally self-contained quality — not unlike the Taoist sage-emperor or Aristotle’s unmoved mover — that is enormously attractive to higher types of women.
If Caviezel had been born a few decades earlier, he could have given Clint Eastwood serious competition for his iconic gunslinger and detective roles — and in fair auditions, he would have beaten Eastwood every time. Imagine a Dirty Harry who actually felt he was dirty.
As the series unfolds, we learn that Reese came to hate himself for the things he did in the service of America. He has lost all fear of death and attachment to life. He feels that he has lost his soul. Hence his willingness to put his life on the line day after day, and his cold-blooded calm in the face of danger. But of course Reese still has his soul, or a smoldering ember of one, because he risks death only for what is right. He is really fighting for redemption. (This is a far nobler quest — and one with far greater dramatic potential — than Michael Westen’s desire in Burn Notice to get his soul-killing job back and find out who burned him.)
Person of Interest is one of the best written shows on television. It is on par with Breaking Bad, one of the finest television shows of all time, in my opinion. It is written and produced by one of the best writers around: Jonathan Nolan, the brother of Christopher Nolan, director of Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Inception, etc. Jonathan Nolan co-authored the scripts to The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and its sequel The Dark Knight Rises, which is now in production.
Person of Interest is mercifully free of political correctness. Yes, one of the admirable characters is a black female police officer, yet she is wholly believable. But there is no egregious casting against stereotype.
The portrayal of the US government is entirely negative. The CIA are portrayed as treacherous and callous killers who obviously have no sense of allegiance to the United States. They sell drugs to Americans to finance the war on “terror,” that is to say, the war against the enemies of Israel and Jews around the world. They refer to operations in the US as being “behind enemy lines” or “in country.” (One wonders if they speak of Israel that way.) The NYC police are portrayed as riddled with corruption and cynicism.
“The machine” is Orwell’s nightmare made real. (It is prefigured in The Dark Knight.) But the true obscenity is that it is not even used to fight crime. It is the perfect illustration of Sam Francis’ concept of “anarcho-tyranny”: the government violates the privacy of every decent, law-abiding citizen while allowing crime and corruption to run unchecked.
Jim Caviezel is a devout Roman Catholic. He is married with three children. His mother was Irish-American. His father is of Slovak and Swiss descent. The name Caviezel is Romansh, the language indigenous to Switzerland. Caviezel is also politically conservative. He has donated to Rick Santorum. He also made a commercial opposing embryonic stem cell research. From a white racialist point of view, these are not issues that matter, but I admire Caviezel’s courage for taking politically incorrect stands.
Despite his evident talent, Caviezel has suffered career discrimination for playing Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, since Jews in Hollywood (and everywhere else) do not forgive or forget. Frankly, Person of Interest may well be his last chance before doing dinner theater. For that reason alone, I would be inclined to root for this show. But Person of Interest is good enough to recommend on its own merits. If you must watch television, then by all means, watch Person of Interest.