Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Thoughts on watching three seasons of Person of Interest

Spoiler alerts, I think.

Thanks to streaming services like Netflix, we now can watch, or binge watch, as the young people call it, television shows we have wanted to watch but missed.  For me this was Person of Interest.  I watched the first season in 2011-2012, but starting doctoral work in 2012 meant expunging certain practices from my life, mainly watching TV.  Person of Interest was the only show I really had any interest in (other than PBS programming and old movies, which sounds pretentious), so when it became available this fall on Netflix, I figured now I could slowly get caught up to speed on the story.

Let me first say that binge watching is not my style.  I grew up with television shows coming in small bites—once a week, or if in syndication, once a day.  So I didn’t watch more than two or three at a time at most, and usually only one.  On the other hand, it is really no different from reading a whole novel at once rather than waiting, as they did in Dickens’ time, for the next installment to be published and come off the boat from England.  And I did rewatch most of the first season for continuity. 

I finished the last two episodes last night.  I also finished my online course (MOOC) on C.S. Lewis from Hillsdale College.  So I am reflecting on both this morning before I get to work on less personal matters.  C.S. Lewis was really prolific as a writer and professor and also as a friend, and I can only conclude that this was because he had no television or Internet to distract him (and for most of his life, no family, but family is not a distraction—work is really a distraction from family commitments, or at least in service to it.)  So that is a nudge to me that if I want to be productive, entertainment media should be put way down the list of priorities.  Since I have finished the only TV show I was inclined to watch, that can happen now.

So, what about Person of Interest?  I started watching it because of its pedigree:  Nolan of Batman fame, Emerson and Abrams of LOST fame, and Caviezel, whose work I have always liked, even though I have never watched the whole Passion of the Christ. 

Why, you may ask?  Because when it came out too many people told me I had to in order to understand the crucifixion, and I thought that was incredibly stupid and I don’t like it when people tell me I have to watch or read anything.  It was like people who said I had to read The Shack to understand the love of God.  Give me a break.  However, the parts I did see told me Caviezel did a fine job in the part but he also had trouble as an actor getting past it afterward.

So, the production values and writing in the beginning were great, and those pretty much bore up through the first three seasons.  One of the disadvantages of watching quickly in succession is that the violence and gunfire gets old, especially when Shaw and Root came on the show.  The literariness of the scripts, the surprise plot twists (Vigilance being a ploy of Decima, I did not see that coming) and the quality of the acting held up, too, and I did want to keep watching until the end.

Which brings me to what I didn’t like.  Root’s story got more and more surreal.  I could buy just about everything (although it is of course a form of science fiction and not meant to be entirely verisimilitudinous) except her.  It got to where I hated seeing her.  In fact, after Carter died and they cleaned up the HR plotline, I was much less interested.  I am not saying it “jumped the shark” (love that expression), but it was pretty close.  I even liked the Peter Collier story line brought out at the end, and Shaw was just believable enough.  But Root?  No thanks, although Amy Acker is adorable and does a good job as a psychopath. 

The other borderline ridiculous part is that Reese always shows up at the right minute.  That gets old with successive watching; you know he’ll get there to save Harold or whoever.

The core philosophical question is how much surveillance is necessary or desirable to keep us safe?  It is a very fair question and one that the show does not argue for on one side, which also points to its quality of writing. 

Since the first three seasons are all that are posted, I can now get on with my life.  The last TV show I was ever committed to was LOST, and I promised myself I would never do that again.  Thanks to streaming video I can at least be addicted to a show on my own terms. 

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