Created by Jonathan Nolan. With Jim Caviezel, Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Chapman, Michael Emerson. An ex-CIA agent and a wealthy programmer save lives via a surveillance AI that sends them the identities of civilians involved in impending crimes. However, the details of the crimes, including the...
science fiction crime drama television series that aired on CBS from September 22, 2011, to June 21, 2016. Its five seasons comprise 103 episodes. The series was created by Jonathan Nolan; executive producers were Nolan, J. J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Greg Plageman, Denise Thé, and Chris Fisher.
The series centers on a mysterious reclusive billionaire computer programmer, Harold Finch (Michael Emerson), who has developed a computer program for the federal government known as "The Machine" that is capable of collating all sources of information, to predict terrorist acts and to identify people planning them. The Machine also identifies perpetrators and victims of other premeditated deadly crimes; however, because the government considers these "irrelevant", Finch programs the Machine to delete this information each night. Anticipating abuse of his creation, Finch included a backdoor into the Machine. Tormented by the "irrelevant" deaths that might have been prevented, he eventually decides to use his backdoor to act covertly. To escape detection, he directs the Machine to provide him with only a tiny fragment of its data: the social security number of such a "person of interest". This may be a victim, a perpetrator, or an innocent bystander caught up in lethal events. The first episode shows how Finch recruited John Reese (Jim Caviezel)—a former Green Beret and CIA agent, now presumed dead—to investigate the Person identified by the number the Machine has provided, and to act accordingly. As time passes, others join the team.
From its first episode, the series raises an array of moral issues, from questions of privacy and "the greater good", the concept of justifiable homicide, and problems caused by working with limited information program. At the end of the program's first season, Finch discovers that the Machine has achieved sentience, introducing questions, from human oversight and other issues inherent in the use of artificial intelligence, to the complex ethical questions which the series addresses.
Some critics elevated their already positive opinions of the series to the level of high praise when the program introduced multiple ongoing story arcs and deepened its speculations on the power and implications of superintelligent artificial intelligence. In 2016, writing on io9, Katharine Trendacosta noted that by the end of its first season, Person of Interest had been transformed from a "crime-fighting show" with an entertaining plot device into "one of the best science-fiction series ever broadcast". Trendacosta wrote that this was because the first-season finale "put the Machine, its intelligence, and the ethics of […] using it at the center of an ideological battle", and gave the Machine a voice of its own. The show won the 2012 People's Choice Award for Favorite New TV Drama and the 2016 People's Choice Award for Favorite TV Crime Drama.
John Reese, a former Special Forces soldier and CIA operative, is burnt out and presumed dead, living as a vagrant in New York City. He is approached by Harold Finch, a reclusive billionaire software genius who built a computer system for the U.S. government after September 11, 2001 which monitors all electronic communications and surveillance video feeds, in order to predict future terrorist activities. The computer – known as "The Machine" – also predicts other lethal crimes as well, but being irrelevant to national security these were deleted daily. After the death of his partner, Finch decides to act covertly on the non-terrorism predictions, and hires Reese to conduct surveillance and intervene in these cases. To prevent abuse of its capabilities, Finch had programmed the Machine to only provide an identity of a person predicted to be involved in an imminent lethal crime, in the form of a Social Security number, but no details of the crime or whether the person of interest is a perpetrator or victim. Finch and Reese (and later others) then attempt to understand the case and stop the crime from occurring.
They are helped by NYPD Detectives Lionel Fusco, a formerly-corrupt officer whom Reese coerces into helping them, and Joss Carter, who initially investigates Reese for his vigilante activities. Reese arranges for Fusco to spy on Carter by becoming her partner, but Carter eventually becomes Reese's ally and drops her investigation on him. Nevertheless, for the entirety of season one neither Fusco nor Carter is aware that the other is also working with Finch and Reese and both detectives are kept in the dark about the Machine. Periodically, the team enlists the aid of Zoe Morgan, a professional "fixer" who applies her skills to particularly difficult tasks. The series features several subplots. One significant story arc involves "HR", an organization of corrupt NYPD officers who are initially in league with budding mob boss Carl Elias and later with the Russian mafia; in earlier parts of this arc, Fusco is forced to go undercover. Another important story line revolves around Root, a psychopathic hacker who is determined to gain access to The Machine.
During season two, another organization of powerful business figures, Decima Technologies, is revealed to be attempting to gain access to the Machine. Carter vows vengeance against HR after they have her boyfriend, Detective Cal Beecher, murdered. Reese and Finch encounter Sameen Shaw, an ISA assassin, on the run after being betrayed by her employers. Shaw learns about The Machine in the season two finale and subsequently becomes a member of Reese and Finch's team.
In season three, after being demoted due to HR's machinations, Carter delves deeper into her investigation of the organization and eventually uncovers and arrests its leader, thus bringing down the entire organization, but she is then killed by its rogue second-in-command. In his grief over her death, Reese briefly leaves the team. The team also battles Vigilance, a violent anti-government organization devoted to securing people's privacy. During the second half of season three, Decima Technologies starts to acquire hardware to create a new artificial intelligence called Samaritan, using the code from Harold's old college classmate, Arthur Claypool. In the season three finale, it is revealed that Vigilance was created by Decima to make them appear as domestic terrorists. This allowed Decima to obtain all the NSA feeds to make Samaritan operational. The Machine creates new identities for the Team so that they can fly beneath Samaritan's radar.
Season four covers the team's life in hiding. They continue to work on cases, but must now also evade Samaritan, which lacks the restrictions and human-oriented perspective Finch built into the Machine, and which is seeking to resolve perceived problems of human violence by reshaping society, sometimes violently. Samaritan manipulates election results, triggers stock market crashes, kills those seen as threats, changes data to gain results perceived as beneficial, buys useful corporations, and continues building an organization to support its own goals. Samaritan operatives capture Shaw, leading to a brief search by Reese and Root before the Machine instructs them to stop. Samaritan finally decides to find and eliminate the Machine, and engineers a general electrical failure across the entire United States to do so. The Machine apologizes to Finch for its failure to prevent the present situation and ceases to function, just as Finch finishes making a copy of its core systems into a temporary storage system within a briefcase.
In season five, the Machine is reinstated onto a makeshift network of computers in hiding, but takes some time before it works reliably again due to damage sustained from power failures while it was in storage. At a Samaritan facility, advanced VR technology is used on a captured Shaw to run thousands of neural simulations in order to get her to reveal the Machine's location. During these simulations, Shaw is made to believe that an implant had been placed in her brain stem and that it was influencing her actions. She later escapes, but is unsure whether the escape itself is just another simulation. Samaritan engineers a lethal infection in order to force people to provide their DNA during vaccination, which will be used to decide who will be allowed to live. Finch is captured by Samaritan operatives. In an attempt to rescue him, Root is killed. Finch is taken into custody for treason, where he delivers a soliloquy via CCTV to Samaritan, in which he states that he feels forced to abandon some long held principles and destroy Samaritan; he is freed by the Machine which has taken on Root's voice as a way to begin to determine its own individuality. Determined to destroy Samaritan, Finch weaponizes Ice-9, a virulent computer virus capable of infecting and destroying Samaritan, although it will also destroy the Machine and much of the global computing infrastructure as well. Samaritan attempts to change his mind and urges him to consider his actions, but Finch responds that he has indeed considered them. Along with Reese and Shaw, he infiltrates the NSA and uploads the virus to its system, allowing it access to all systems the NSA is capable of reaching, as well as destroying Samaritan's backup at the Federal Reserve which they also infiltrate. A final copy of Samaritan, uploaded as a last resort onto an orbiting satellite, is destroyed when Reese sacrifices himself to upload a copy of the Machine there as well. Finch survives and reunites with his former fiancée, and a while later Shaw is unexpectedly contacted by the Machine, which has restored itself from the satellite back to a land-based computer in order to continue its work.