Monday, October 31, 2011

"Person of Interest" and post 9/11 culture

In a post before the summer, I suggested that the post 9/11 era in popular culture was coming to a close.  At first glance, CBS’s new procedural Person of Interest seems to undermine this theory.  In the show, Mr. Finch, played by one of my favorite actors, Lost’ s Michael Emerson (the creepy Ben Linus) developed a surveillance device after the attacks which monitors all-email, phone calls, and cameras to predict future terrorist acts as well as conventional crimes.  Reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film Minority Report, this seems to reflect post 9/11 concerns about the growth of the state and the potential loss of civil liberties.  The government, however, was so focused on terrorism that it didn’t pay attention to predictions of traditional crimes.  Finch has found a way to tap into the government’s intelligence, which gives him the Social Security numbers of individuals who are either potential victims or perpetrators of crimes.
To stop these crimes, Finch hires an ex-CIA operative, Reese (Jim Caviziel), who was going to leave the agency until he felt he had to serve his country because of 9/11.  While he was fighting the war on terror, someone murdered the love of his life.  At the beginning of the pilot, he is homeless and riding the New York City subway.  He has clearly paid a high psychological price for his actions defending the nation, somewhat like Jason Bourne.
In the show, Finch and Reese work to stop murders and other non-terrorism related crimes.  At the end of the pilot, Reese tells one villain that he went abroad to hunt bad guys, but now realizes “there were plenty of you right here all along.”  In this sense, the show seems to reflect a shift away from the post 9/11 fear of terrorism back to concerns about traditional malfeasance.  In fact, it reminds me a little of a now-forgotten 1980s show, The Equalizer, which featured another ex-CIA agent who stopped crimes the police couldn’t prevent.
I’ll keep watching the show because the premise is interesting and Michael Emerson is one of the best actors on television today.

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