Saturday, October 22, 2011

Save your "Judgment" for Person of Interest

     On this week's episode of CBS's Person of Interest, "Judgment," Finch (Michael Emerson) identifies a judge (David Costabile, Breaking Bad, Damages) that might be in danger. Before Reese (Jim Caviezel) can figure out the threat fully, the judge's young son is kidnapped. Reese reveals himself to the judge, hoping he can rescue the kid before the judge is forced to throw a case, the ransom that the bad guys demand. Finch is not pleased, wishing Reese would stay behind the scenes. The case is lost, but the kid is rescued, and the villains get arrested.

     "Great procedural" is a term that should be rarely, if ever, used. Procedurals are, by definition, very similar from week to week, as the good guys solve new criminals and try to stop them by hour's end. Even if an individual hour is well made, or most of them are, the same premise week to week finds the series getting stale for regular viewers fairly soon. Procedurals are popular for people bouncing in and out when they have the time, but for regular television watchers, it is very difficult to make one good enough to repeatedly, episode after episode, hold one's interest. Generally, this is done by putting together a colorful ensemble cast. Person of Interest has the odds stacked against it, and makes things even tougher with what is basically a two man show. Yet, Person of Interest is a great procedural.

     The most important element of Person of Interest are the two leads. Yes, there are four main characters, but the central duo are much more important, and get much more screen time, than the other two. While both leads have many mysteries surround them, the series starts revealing things about both immediately, and still maintains many unanswered questions. Emerson and Caviezel are expect performers, capturing nuance brilliantly. Both characters see much more going on in the world, as well as everyday situations, than the average person. Watching the show, viewers will be moved to start to do the same.

     In "Judgment," Finch grows suspicious when Reese asks the seemingly innocent question, "What's good here?" at a restaurant. Finch sees any response to those seemingly innocent words as important clues about his habits and living space. He doesn't want to give Reese any inkling of personal information when not necessary. But in the end, after Reese solves the case, Finch admits to frequenting the establishment, clueing Reese in, but in a small, controllable way. It's exchanges like these that keep Person of Interest highly engrossing.

     "Judgment" brings the other two central characters closer to each other. Carter (Taraji P. Henson) begins to appreciate Fusco (Kevin Chapman) when he helps her solve a murder. Fusco knows the woman's death is connected to the kidnapping because Reese is using him as a spy, but Carter is in the dark. It's a delicate balance, requiring an excellently choreographed dance. Reese must know when to push Fusco, and what to tell him, but also massage the details he needs from the source, without letting Fusco learn too much. The fact that Fusco is able to work both sides, while keeping Carter, an incredibly intelligent detective, in the dark, is fantastic. And it won't last.

     The story in "Judgment" is pretty darn good all by itself. Person of Interest struggles to keep fans guessing what is going on. With a few 'surprise' bad guys already under its belt, the series wisely makes the judge, who looks a good man, an actual good man. But considering that the protagonist is a judge, this provides a particular conundrum, especially when the stakes get higher, and Reese must reveal himself. Having a judge in their corner may help keep Finch and Reese a step ahead of the law. On the other hand, it exposes them to someone in the legal system, something they try to avoid. Hopefully, the judge character will return, and it's anyone's guess, given Finch and Reese's differing opinions, as to whether he will prove a help or hindrance in the future.

     Person of Interest airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET on CBS.

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