The Person of Interest Posts: A Table of Contents

person-of-interest

Person of Interest is not just good TV, it’s groundbreaking TV both in terms of content and in terms of storytelling. It has one of the best communities ever put on film. It’s interesting and exciting and funny and heartbreaking. The showrunners and writers reinvent the show every year, upping the stakes to the point where this coming season, the fifth, nothing less than the fate of the world is at stake, so it’s a great lesson in how to escalate over the long run. And although I’ve seen some of the episodes a dozen times, I see something new every time. For all of these reasons and because I just love this series, Argh brings you the 2016 PoI binge watch, during which we cross our fingers that nobody we like dies in Season Five.

Person of Interest Binge Logo

PERSON OF INTEREST TENTATIVE BLOG POST SCHEDULE

1-1 “Pilot”: Premise as Frame for Story (Jonathan Nolan)
1-6 “The Fix”: The Useful Recurring Character (Nic Van Zeebroeck & Michael Sopczynski
1-7 “Witness”: Reversals (Amanda Segel)
1-19 “Flesh and Blood”: The Well-Rounded Antagonist (Amanda Segel)
1-23 “Firewall” (Greg Plageman & Jonathan Nolan)/2-1 The Contingency (Denise The & Jonathan Nolan)2-2 “Bad Code” (Greg Plageman & Patrick Harbinson) : Climax as Turning Point (Things Get Worse)

2-16 “Relevance” (Amanda Segel & Jonathan Nolan): Handling a Complex Character
2-21 “Zero Day” (Jeffrey Hunt)2-22 God Mode (Richard J. Lewis): Handling Complex Story

3-3 “Lady Killer” (Amanda Segel): Utilizing a Large Recurring Cast
3-5 “Razgovor” (Kenneth Fink): Character Arc through Relationships
3-6 “Mors Praematura” (Helen Shaver): Fusing Multiple Story Lines
3-10 “The Devil’s Share” (Amanda Segel & Jonathan Nolan): Rip-Your-Heart-Out Storytelling
(See also “Bullet-Proof Episodes”)
3-13 “4C” Melissa Scrivner Love & Greg Plageman): Character in Crucible
3-16 “RAM” ((Nic Van Zeebroeck & Michael Sopczynski): There Is No Good Back Story
3-23 Deus Ex Machina (Greg Plageman & David Slack): Act Climax as Crisis Turning Point

4-1 “Panopticon” (Erik Mountain and Greg Plageman): Starting All Over Again
4-3 “Wingman” (Amanda Segel): Multi-Thread Plotting
4- 11 “If/Then/Else” (Denise The): Point of View as Meaning
4-20 “Terra Incognita”: Story Out of Time (Erik Mountain/Melissa Scrivner Love
4-22 “Asylum” (Andy Callahan & Denise The) and “YHWH” (Dan Dietz and Greg Plageman): The Shape of Story

5-1 “B.S.O.D.” (Greg Plageman & Tony Camerino), 5-2 “SNAFU” (Lucas O’Connor), 5-3 “Truth Be Told” (Erik Mountain)[
5-4 “6,741” (Lucas O’Connor & Denise Thé), 5-5 “ShotSeeker” (Andy Callahan) and End of Story Pacing
5-6 A More Perfect Union (Melissa Scrivner Love), 5-7 QSO (Hillary Benefiel), 5-8 Reassortment (Tony Camerino)
5-9 “Sotto Voce” (Sabir Pirzada), 5-10 “The Day the World Went Away” (Andy Callahan & Melissa Scrivner Love) and the Impact of Character
5-11 “Synecdoche” and the Importance of Consequence(June 7) (Jacey Heldrich & Joshua Brown)
5-12 “.exe” (June 14) (Erik Mountain & Greg Plageman)
5-13 “Return 0” (June 21) (Jonathan Nolan & Denise Thé)

If you’re not sure if the show is for you, here’s an intro:

Harold Finch is a computer genius who has written a diagonistic program called The Machine for the US government that watches everybody and pinpoints those who are about to commit acts of violence. Because Harold is fully aware of how dangerous to civil liberties The Machine might be, he has programmed it to only give out social security numbers that pinpoint those who might be involved in acts of violence; the Machine does not distinguish between victim and perpetrator, it just says, “Watch this person, he or she is of interest.” The government is only interested in acts of terrorism, but the machine also pinpoints regular crimes about to happen. Because nobody acts on that information, murders are committed every day that could be prevented. Finch begins to work to save the people in New York whose numbers come up, beginning by hiring a burned-out CIA agent named John Reese to act as his muscle. Over four seasons, a crooked cop (Fusco), a brilliant, principled cop (Carter), a demented programmer(Root), a German Shepherd (Bear), and a sociopathic CIA hitwoman (Shaw) join the team, forming one of the best communities in fiction. The team also draws on a smart NYC fixer (Zoe), a hapless, crooked, but very smart accountant (Leon), and a Machiavellian mob boss (Elias). It does not hurt that these people are played by Michael Emerson, Jim Calviezel, Kevin Chapman, Taraji P. Henson, Amy Acker, Sarah Shahi, Paige Turco, Ken Leung, and Enrico Colantoni.

The first season appears at the start to be a crime-of-the-week show, but once you watch the entire series and then go back to the beginning (which I’m warning you now, you will), you can see how carefully the entire series plot is layered in, and how brilliantly the community of damaged people who will come to fight the good fight together is assembled. This is a huge story that’s developed over four years of intricately plotted episodes, almost all of them excellent on their own and some groundbreaking in their approach. It’s not a comedy although there are laugh-out-loud moments, it’s not a caper although the best episodes are the team working together for the Machine like a finely tuned machine themselves, it’s character drama that increasingly becomes science fiction as the Machine reveals itself to be a full-fledged AI, heartbreakingly human-like in the last moments of the fourth season finale. It’s the smartest character-driven drama on TV. And while I hate that it’s ending, it’s ending with a thirteen-episode last act this May and June that I can’t wait to see because the people doing this show are brilliant, and I’m confident they’re going to nail the landing.

Here’s the promo for the first season of the show. Watching it now, I keep thinking, “I had no idea what this simple premise would become . . .”

Edited to Add:
Nicole asked a good question, and as part of the answer, I posted this, which probably should have been in this post from the beginning:

. . . for a shortened catch-up spree, here’s IGN’s suggestions for key episodes:

http://www.ign.com/articles/2014/08/27/person-of-interest-the-episodes-that-will-catch-you-up

And io9’s:

http://io9.gizmodo.com/5958702/how-to-get-into-person-of-interest-the-best-science-fiction-show-on-tv

And here’s Indiewire’s seven reasons to binge watch Person of Interest:

http://www.indiewire.com/article/7-reasons-person-of-interest-should-be-your-next-binge-project-20150902

Including the not-surprising-to-anybody-who’s-watched-the-show fact that more half of the episodes have been rated 9.0 or above on IMDB and the lowest rated show is 8.2.

And it has an 87% critics rating for the series on Rotten Tomatoes and 93% viewer rating.

You should watch Person of Interest.

NOTE: This post has been revised many times.

30 thoughts on “The Person of Interest Posts: A Table of Contents

  1. Well technically someone could catch up on all the episodes prior to the 5/3 premier of Season 5- if they committed to 2 episodes per day starting tomorrow. Why yes, I did do the math. I have to say I am so bummed that this is the last season. I only started watching this show because of your posts, and your praise of their character development. (Fusco has been a favorite) Then I became addicted and did some embarrassing binge watch weekend marathons. Thank goodness for Netflix! Looking forward to your insights to these episodes.

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    1. That’s the thing about PoI. I looked at it when it first debuted and thought it looked dreary and grim and male and technical, so I didn’t watch. And then the pilot showed up on Hulu, I think, and I thought, “Eh, it has good people in it. I can give it forty-three minutes.”
      Four years later . . .
      It’s just so damn smart with such great characters played by such strong actors. Plus Bear.

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  2. Yay! I’m excited for this — if life permits, I’ll be rewatching on schedule. And for anyone who’s doubtful, it really is worth the ride. There are some episodes that stretch my suspension of disbelief beyond breaking, some huge plot holes that have had me rolling my eyes, but the moments of fun, the characters, the slow building of a team… all really worth while. I’m not much of a television watcher. I tend to watch the first few episodes of a show and then fizzle out. But I’ve watched every episode of Person of Interest, some of them multiple times.

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    1. Me, too. I must have seen “The Devil’s Share” a dozen times, and every time, it gets me. And I’ve never seen anything on TV like “If/Then/Else.”

      The thing that always gets me about “If/Then/Else” is how much it assumes that the viewer is really smart. It never explains anything, so you watch the beginning and think, “This can’t be happening,” and then you hit the turning point, and every act is faster, and smarter, and assumes that you are just as fast and smart, so you end that episode thinking the only people in the world who are smarter than you are are the people who made that episode and the machine. I don’t think I’ve ever watched anything that made me laugh out loud, drop my jaw with surprise, and then break my heart like that forty-plus minutes. It’s just brilliant, brilliant storytelling, and it probably only works if you’ve been watching the series all along.

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  3. From a “greatest hits” point of view, the only thing missing on that list is Prisoner’s Dilemma, I’d say. But since its techniques are really honed in Devil’s Share and Terra Incognita, it makes sense to do those eps instead on an analysis-based list. That seems to be why S2’s missing in general, in that its stuff was great at the time, (really really solid one-offs) but then their tricks were done even better in later seasons. (whereas S1 is noted for establishing things)

    For example, I peg ‘Til Death as the platonic ideal of the team at that point, but also the point at which the team is too formidable, too competent, so following that, you see the writing separating/isolating team members to maintain the stakes of danger in any situation. But Lady Killer is that same kind of episode, for S3’s team, while having the larger team and more iconic moments.

    I guess Prisoner’s Dilemma serves as the biggest way to demonstrate character competence porn in soft power. (And then in Endgame, we see Carter pulling the same kind of brilliant manipulations via hard power) But that’s a specific character writing thing.

    Super excited for this series. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on S4 overall, since imho there seemed to be some issues with the back half for pacing and characterization.

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    1. You know, I wondered as I went through the list after I made it, if I wasn’t avoiding the Carter episodes because she breaks my heart later. She’s such an amazing character, the strong heart of the show. I think she shines in “Flesh and Blood” and in the triple episode season one/season two turning point, and then we get into that paranoid cold war multi-episode arc that “Prisoner’s Dilemna,” is the penultimate story for, and that episode is so dense, it pays off so many story lines while it’s setting up the next episode, that I couldn’t see how to analyze it as example of an aspect of storytelling.

      I think the TV posts have to do two things. They have to give fans like us a chance to geek out over great writing and acting, but they also have to work for people who have no intention of watching, as examples that illuminate some aspect of storytelling for reader/viewers and writers. I do get the not-enough-time reason for not watching; I have about five shows I watch now and just ignore the rest; I’ve never seen Lost, Deadwood, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Empire . . . I don’t have network TV and I don’t have any time. And then something like PoI comes along that becomes the equivalent of a favorite novel that I can go back to and read chapters in and remember the emotional impact, chapters like “The Devil’s Share” and “If/Then/Else” and “YHWY” and the pilot, which remains one of the best beginnings I’ve ever seen on TV, right up there with the Leverage pilot.

      I think one of the reasons I like analyzing great series is that it’s like analyzing a novel, just pulling out single chapters that are easy to grasp as a whole. You can watch something that’s forty-three minutes a couple of times to see the layers, and it’ll be a complete story and a part of the whole. I really, really want to try episodic storytelling (that would be Paradise Park). And graphic novels. And . . .

      My favorite team episode, I think, is “Mors Praematura,” but that may be just because “I love it when a plan comes together,” except this time, none of the team really knows what’s happening until the climax when it just all falls into place and you realize that the Machine knows how to plot.

      When this show is on its game, it’s genius. When it’s off its game, it’s just good solid TV.

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      1. “the Machine knows how to plot”

        HAH. Given that the entire series is framed as The Machine and Samaritan reviewing footage, (minus Terra Incognita) one really can make the case for the entire series being “written” by the AIs. The Machine enables the Irrelevant operation in S4 because she, as both audience and writer, wants to keep seeing Dadmin and Contingency to rescue people. Similarly, we saw TM explicitly playing matchmaker with Harold and Grace, and there are implications of her helping Root and Shaw along. There are implications that TM manipulated things so that Zoe could conveniently show up for “Booked Solid” and “Guilty,” because she knows how much both Harold and Reese like working with her. The Machine is One of Us, while Samaritan is mucking things up because it doesn’t understand what makes a good story, thinking that “solving the plot” is all we want. (And Greer is, I dunno, a post-modernist or something for whom there are no Grand Narratives)

        The beauty of Mors being the episode first highlighting this is that it’s also structure/framing as characterization, as The Machine’s “plotting”/manipulations represent how she has changed after being freed by Harold’s altered virus, as well as choosing Root as analogue interface. The ways The Machine has been influenced by Harold and Root are reflected in the ways the plan was structured in this episode. We’ll see a contrasting characterization of Samaritan done with how it utilizes the Nautilus game and winners.

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      2. Thanks, Jenny! Love your analysis of the Writing of POI – I think it is unique and very refreshing. Looking forward to all your posts!

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      1. Ha, Iris the Therapist made me crazy. Worst thing they’ve done because she’s SUCH a bad therapist. Television usually does get therapists wrong, but she’s… ugh, she inspired rants when I was watching with a friend. They drill patient confidentiality into your head at therapy school and even before (spoiler) she breaks all the rules. I kept wanting her to be a Samaritan plant somehow, because she is so terrible at her job. I felt like the writers had to have something clever up their sleeves with her, but I guess we’re still waiting for that!

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  4. Before you even begin, would you consider, at the end and after the last season, maybe compiling all this together into an e-book that you can put for sale on Amazon or some other such medium? It could be exactly like Leverage and all your posts about it one place. Maybe throw in some more analyses that you just didn’t get the chance to do in this timeline? I, for one, would buy it. And the same for Leverage. 😛

    Also, question: can someone just starting the series, literally today, if she is caught up to the episode in question, read the associated blog post, or are there going to be series spoilers littered throughout? I might just have to ignore these posts until I catch up… dangit. And, I’m assuming you will continue analyzing the new season?

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    1. There will be spoilers because I can’t discuss the storytelling points without discussing the points. I know, it sucks.

      Not an e-book, but what I will do for this and for the other series I’ve talked about is put in the series title as a tag so it’s easily searchable AND do a Table of Contents post that has all the links in it.

      And for a shortened catch-up spree, here’s IGN’s suggestions for key episodes:

      http://www.ign.com/articles/2014/08/27/person-of-interest-the-episodes-that-will-catch-you-up

      And io9’s:

      http://io9.gizmodo.com/5958702/how-to-get-into-person-of-interest-the-best-science-fiction-show-on-tv

      And here’s Indiewire’s seven reasons to binge watch Person of Interest:

      http://www.indiewire.com/article/7-reasons-person-of-interest-should-be-your-next-binge-project-20150902

      Including the not-surprising-to-anybody-who’s-watched-the-show fact that more half of the episodes have been rated 9.0 or above on IMDB and the lowest rated show is 8.2.

      And it has an 87% critics rating for the series on Rotten Tomatoes and 93% viewer rating.

      I should put that in the post.

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  5. And, and, what about, when all is said and done, comparing this overall storyline to other sci-fi movies of the same topic? I’m thinking Minority Report, or, based on your post here, maybe I-Robot? Just a thought. I know you are busy! Did you decide whether to pursue Amanata and the Devil, or continue with You Again??

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    1. Right now I’m trying to decide whether to finish cleaning the office so I can take the picture I keep promising or clean the kitchen so the health department won’t shut me down.

      My life is full of choices (g). I’m actually going back through all my WiPs with the idea of getting the rough drafts into roughly chronological order so I can post them for Argh eyes only. That should give me a good feel for where to go next.

      And nope, not going to compare/contrast because ninety (and soon to be 103) episodes of one huge story is enough to wrangle in seven weeks plus the new season. Also, it’s really nothing like Minority Report. It’s really about artificial intelligence and government surveillance. The tagline is “You are being watched,” and the show really looks in depth at the benefits and dangers of constant camera surveillance maintained by AI. Which makes it sound deadlly. It’s a character-based thriller. How’s that?

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  6. I love this show. I’ve been watching since the very beginning and am completely bummed it is over in 13 episodes. I’m very interested to see what you think about it.

    I’ve always thought that they set the end up in the Pilot, so it will be interesting to see what you think about that and if I’m right.

    Would you mind posting the episode number with the title? That would help me keep track. Please and thank you!

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    1. Done. First number is season, second is episode, so the Pilot is 1-1.
      I’ll be very surprised if they didn’t set up the end in the Pilot; I have the Pilot post already written and that was my speculation, too. They’ve constructed this so very carefully that I’m expecting that to be the case. Unfortunately, in the pilot, Finch tells Reese that they’ll both probably die, so that’s not great.

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      1. Thank you! Yep. I haven’t rewatched in a while, but Finch telling Reece they both end up dead has always stuck with me. 🙁

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  7. I’m so excited about this. Will definitely re-watch on schedule. I’ve probably only seen some of these once because I only own season 2 and I haven’t done a complete re-watch on Netflix yet, so in a way it will be like coming at it for the first time.

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  8. a sociopathic CIA hitwoman (Shaw)

    *cough* I know it’s a nitpick but Shaw is actually from the ISA (Intelligence Support Activity) and not from the CIA.

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  9. I have officially begun the PoI watch. So far, 8 episodes in 2 days. This really IS a great show. Thanks for the rec!

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  10. Well, I started Leverage solely based on your recommendation and I love it. Love, love, love, love it. So, I’m taking the jump with this (goodbye, evenings!), and yeah, there’s no way I’ll be able to keep up with the blog posts. But so long as they’re tagged, I’ll get there eventually (“I’ll get there eventually” = story of my life post-kids). 🙂

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    1. PoI is a lot darker than Leverage, but it has a great subtle sense of humor. The thing they have in common is me, really.

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  11. I saw the pilot when it aired and watched a few of the episodes but I didn’t keep up. I think I’ll likely skip your posts until I have time in my life to watch the show. The episodes I have seen have really stuck with me. I also was aware, probably because of commentary and speculation on this blog of the episode where the writers had announced a key character would die. You analyzed who it needed to be and were sad to be right. It was a heartbreaking, great story telling (as long as you weren’t expecting a HEA) choice.

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  12. Like others, I only started watching this series on Monday, because you, Jenny, recommended it. Luckily, I was on staycation all this week and managed to get through seasons 1-3. Today, I’m on episode 4-13.

    I appreciate the way you dissected Leverage and I learned a lot about plotting a community series. Please keep doing this! I’m looking forward to all of your posts about PoI. I’m sure it will help me improve my own writing.

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  13. I’m following your superb coverage, thanks. But it’s hard to follow from episode to episode, because this site has relatively few navigation aids.

    It would be super useful if you’d progressively add links to the episode titles, above, as you cover them. That way, this post could serve as a central Table of Contents for the entire undertaking.

    If you need help getting started, I’ll be happy to give you HTML to swap in, just to get current with previously-reviewed episodes (shoot me an email if so).

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    1. Our site and blog got hacked awhile back and we’re still catching up. The plan is to organize this and the Leverage series so the links are all there, but at the moment, it’s pretty much all I can do to get the posts up. One of these days . . .

      And thanks for the “superb” (g).

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    2. And the post now has links, and each post has this link. Your wish was my Monday night.

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