'Person of Interest' Review: Strong Cast Drives Unique Crime Drama

What if the government tracking your every move could be a good thing?

The new CBS series “Person of Interest” poses that intriguing question with mostly satisfying results.

To “the machine,” you’re just a number – a Social Security number. The machine was created to ferret out and identify potential terrorist threats to America. However, being a machine that gathers information without discernment, it identifies all lethal threats to everyone everywhere. Naturally, law enforcement can’t keep up with being the entire population’s personal bodyguards. So the machine received a tweak: divide the list into two – relevant and irrelevant, with the individual persons of interest identified by only their social security numbers. While federal agencies focus on the relevant list dealing with national security emergencies, the irrelevant list, with the information about threats to individuals, gets tossed.

Until now. Finch (Michael Emerson), the designer who created the machine and its software, decides to salvage the irrelevant list and save as many people as he can. The problem is, Finch is handicapped and ill-equipped to handle the physical demands of rescuing victims and disabling assailants. Finch recruits John Reese (Jim Caviezel), a former Army Ranger presumed dead. Every week, the two of them receive a new number from the machine, either a potential victim or potential criminal, and work to thwart the attack.

Meanwhile, Detective Carter (Taraji P. Henson) of the NYPD Homicide Department has discovered Reese at each of her crime scenes. She’s sure he’s not the killer since, thanks to Reese, they catch the murderer or attempted murderer every week. However, she knows he’s involved somehow and is doing her best to find out who he is and how he knows what he knows.

Both Reese and Finch are understated characters. So far, not much has been revealed about their back stories. There was a point in time in which Finch was able to turn his neck. Reese used to be in a serious relationship with a woman. Beyond that, “Person of Interest” keeps its cards close to the vest. More information will come as the show goes on, of course, but for now, we’re satisfied to watch them thwart criminals every week without knowing their entire lives’ history.

The dialogue is tight, and the banter between Finch and Reese is charming but not cute or the hackneyed cop-partners-bickering-like-an-old-married-couple schtick. They respect each other’s respective skill sets and personalities. The pacing is swift and carries you along for the full hour without feeling like a full hour. Every episode leaves you wanting more.

Caviezel cuts a strong figure as an action hero and keeps Reese serious and focused. While trying to be enigmatic, Caviezel unfortunately at times brushes with “wooden.” However, those moments have fortunately become fewer as the series goes along. His strongest scene was at the end of episode 4, “Cura Te Ipsum,” where Reese and Finch chase a serial rapist. Faced with the reality that the rapist is rich and influential enough to never be prosecuted for his crimes, Reese confronts the rapist alone. The show ends unresolved, leaving the viewer to decide whether Reese kills the rapist or the rapist kills himself in fear. It’s a powerful scene and Caviezel keeps the mood intense but not hammish.

Emerson’s Finch spends most of his screen time confined to his headquarters, gathering information and disseminating it to Reese and occasionally Carter. The one time we’ve been given a glimpse into his back story, we learn that he didn’t create the machine alone. He had a partner who has since died. Sometime between that flashback and now, the partner died, Finch was injured, and given the drive to save as many people on the “irrelevant” list as possible. Emerson’s sharp delivery and dry humor bring a fun contrast to Reese’s gravity. Emerson is every bit as exciting to watch on “Person of Interest” as he was as Benjamin Linus on “Lost.” Getting to see him play one of the “good guys” is no less satisfying.

“Person of Interest” has good long-term potential as new crimes and new criminals are explored every week, and eventually a multi-episode story arc develops. New “Person of Interest” episodes return at 9 p.m. EST tonight on CBS.