Person of Interest is an American crime drama television series, with sci-fi elements, broadcasting on CBS. It is based on a screenplay developed by Jonathan Nolan. The series revolves around a former CIA officer (Jim Caviezel) recruited by a mysterious billionaire (Michael Emerson) to prevent violent crimes in New York City. Season three premiered on September 24, 2013. The show was moved from its season one and two time slot, Thursday at 9:00 p.m., to Tuesday at 10:00 p.m. CBS renewed the show for a fourth season on March 13, 2014.
"You are being watched. The government has a secret system: a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know, because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people; people like you. Crimes the government considered 'irrelevant'. They wouldn't act, so I decided I would. But I needed a partner, someone with the skills to intervene. Hunted by the authorities, we work in secret. You'll never find us, but victim or perpetrator, if your number's up... we'll find you". Season one opening voice-over by Mr. Finch."
In the beginning, John Reese, a former Green Beret and CIA operative, is living as a vagrant in New York City after the death of the woman he loves, and is presumed dead. He is approached by Harold Finch, a reclusive billionaire software genius who is living under an assumed identity. Finch explains that after September 11, 2001, he built a computer system for the government that uses information gleaned from omnipresent surveillance to predict future terrorist attacks. However, Finch discovered that the computer was predicting ordinary crimes as well. The government is not interested in these results, but Finch is determined to stop the predicted crimes. He hires Reese to conduct surveillance and intervene as needed, using his repertoire of skills gained in the military and the CIA. Through a backdoor built into the system, Finch receives the Social Security number of someone who will be involved in an imminent crime, at which point he contacts Reese. Without knowing what the crime will be, when it will occur, or even if the person they were alerted to is a victim or perpetrator, Reese and Finch must try to stop the crime from occurring.
They are helped by NYPD detectives Lionel Fusco, a corrupt officer whom Reese coerces into helping them, and Joss Carter, who in early episodes investigates Reese for his vigilante activities. Although Reese arranges for Carter and Fusco to be partners in the NYPD early in the series, for the entirety of the show's first season, neither is aware that the other is also working with Finch and Reese. Periodically, the team also 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 storyline 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 recruit Samantha 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 the third season, Carter delves deeper into her investigation of HR, eventually uncovering its leader, but ending up getting killed. Reese briefly leaves the team in his grief but returns. The team also battles Vigilance, a violent anti-government organization devoted to securing people's privacy.
The Machine is a mass surveillance computer system programmed to monitor and analyze data from surveillance cameras, electronic communications, and audio input throughout the world, built in two unoccupied floors at Ingram's company, IFT. From this data, the Machine accurately predicts violent acts. Under control of the U.S. government, its stated purpose is to foresee terrorist attacks, allowing the government to forestall terrorist activity. However, the Machine detects future violent acts of all kinds, not just terrorism. Originally unknown to Finch, his partner, Nathan Ingram, created a routine called "Contingency", on the eve of the government handover, to access the non-relevant data. Ingram and Finch are seen accessing this program in the episode "Zero Day". In the episode, Finch is appalled that Ingram has the data sent directly to him and shuts down the routine, reactivating it after Ingram's death. He presumably modified and updated the Contingency routine as well, as the Machine then begins to pass on the "irrelevant" non-terrorism data to him in the form of Social Security numbers, via coded messages over nearby public telephones.
Over the course of each episode, the viewer periodically sees events as a Machine-generated on-screen display of data about a character or characters: identification, activities, records, and more may be displayed. The viewer also sees a Machine-generated perspective as it monitors New York. Commercial flights are outlined by green triangles, red concentric circles indicate no-fly zones around tall buildings such as Congress, and dashed boxes mark individual people. The Machine classifies the people it watches by color-coding the boxes: white for no threat or an irrelevant threat, red for perceived threats to the Machine, red-and-white for individuals predicted to be or currently violent, and yellow for people who know about the Machine, including Finch, Reese, Ingram, and Corwin among others; Root is assigned this box during the first two seasons, but is able to communicate with the Machine and act on its behalf in season three, thus giving her a unique black-and-yellow box designating her as the Machine's "analog interface". The white-boxed "irrelevant threat" targets include the persons of interest that Reese and Finch assist.
As the series progresses, a wider governmental conspiracy emerges. Known as "Northern Lights", it revolves around the development and utilization of the Machine. It is headed by a mysterious figure known only as "Control", an unnamed official who deploys teams of Intelligence Support Activity (ISA) operatives who are identified by the Machine using a blue box; classified as "assets", they have no knowledge of the Machine, but work within its own parameters. They are used to eliminate perceived terrorist threats on the recommendation of a department known as "Research". "Control" also used the team to eliminate key personnel who are aware of the Machine's existence. In the third season, Control physically makes her first appearance, and the organization Vigilance exposes the government's Northern Lights program to the public, forcing Control to shut it down. The cyber-terrorist group Decima Technologies steals Samaritan, a creation of Finch's MIT classmate Arthur Claypool that is similar to the Machine, and plans to use it against the Machine.
The series was officially picked up by CBS on May 13, 2011, and debuted on September 22, 2011. It was renewed for a second season on March 14, 2012 by CBS, which premiered on September 27, 2012. CBS renewed Person of Interest for a third season, with Sarah Shahi and Amy Acker joining the cast full-time.
According to CBS, Person of Interest received the highest test ratings of any drama pilot in 15 years, what one CBS executive called "crazy broad appeal you don't usually see", prompting CBS to move CSI, which was broadcast on Thursday for over 10 years, to Wednesday, opening up a slot for Person of Interest. The pilot episode won its time slot, drawing 13.2 million viewers. On October 25, 2011, the show received a 22-episode full season order. The order was later increased to 23 episodes.
On Metacritic, season 1 scored a 65 out of 100. Of the pilot, David Wiegand of the San Francisco Chronicle said "Person of Interest separates itself from the gimmick pack, not only because of superbly nuanced characterization and writing but also because of how it engages a post-9/11 sense of paranoia in its viewers." David Hinckley of the New York Daily News gave the pilot four stars out of five, commenting on Caviezel's and Emerson's performances, saying Caviezel "brings the right stuff to this role" and Emerson "is fascinating as Mr. Finch." Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times stated that in regards to the pilot, "the notion of preventing crimes rather than solving them is an appealing twist... The surveillance graphics are very cool."
In regards to season 3 of the show, Slant Magazine says that the show "is at its best when sticking to cutting-edge topics" and calls it a "a solid action-thriller that intersperses twist-filled standalone episodes into its season-long arcs." The A.V Club said that the show captures the "national post-post-9/11 mood" and that with the mid-season arc in season 3, "turns conspiracy theory into art".