What if a machine could predict murder?
"Person of Interest," a new drama on CBS written and conceived by Jonathan Nolan (brother of Christopher) and produced by J.J. Abrams, is based on that idea. John Reese (Jim Caviezel) plays the ex-government agent recruited to help Mr. Finch (Michael Emerson), a mysterious rich man, use just such a machine to prevent violent deaths.
We meet Reese when he's a bum on the subway (he looks a little like another character Caviezel has played -- Jesus). Some street punks try to take his booze, and Reese explodes into action, neatly beating the shit out of all of them.
This is the first time we see Reese at work, but it's not the last. If you enjoy watching highly brutal, seamlessly effective violence, this is definitely a show for you. Reese, in minutes, completes such feats as taking out a room of armed men by shooting them all in the knees, launching a baby missile at a speeding car, and basically being a bigger bad ass than anyone else in the room.
With a soft, beautiful voice that is always carefully modulated, Caviezel's Reese resembles nothing so much as an angel of death.
"I don't particularly like killing," he tells some criminals later. "But I'm very good at it."
Of course, it takes a little something for Caviezel to go from bum to grand high payback wizard. He's lifted from jail by the elusive Mr. Finch, a wealthy man who designed an intelligence system for the government in the wake of 9/11 to help predict future terrorist attacks. He now accesses that system to get a list of social security numbers of people who are somehow tied to violent murders -- either as victims, or as perps. Reese is Finch's way to stop these murders before they happen.
Even more chilling than Reese's casual violence is the depth of surveillance the show either uncovers, or invents, depending how paranoid you already are. Each scene is intercut with grainy surveillance video of people in the city -- walking down subways, combing their hair, kissing their children. Cameras, everywhere, watch everyone.
"The machine is everywhere, watching with 10,000 eyes, listening with 3,000 ears," Finch tells Reese.
And Reese is an even more highly focused instrument of such spying. He tracks the first person up on the list by breaking into her cell, tracking its GPS, listening in on her conversations via microphone, and putting a wireless camera on her. It's all too plausible.
"Person of Interest" feels at times like a "Law and Order" style procedural with a classic Abrams mystery box at the center of the narrative. Still, this is a stark, dangerous universe, and Finch and Reese are far from your typical do-gooder heroes. Morality, we see, has a place in this world, but only if those trying to achieve it are willing to bend a few rules themselves.