By this stage, Person of Interest is a full-fledged science fiction cyberpunk series. It’s cyberpunk in that the story requires interactions between technology and class, it’s about waste and destruction, it’s about the ways that technology allows us to make human mistakes faster, and it’s very cyberpunk because there’s a creepy child that speaks for an evil supercomputer.
While previous seasons were divided into single episodes with an ongoing mytharc, the story of Season 4 is very much the mytharc, a narrative where episode to episode, there are continuity changes and shifts of different status quos mean that you can literally lose track of what’s happening if you jump only two or three episodes ahead. The episodic stuff is less episodic, and there are even episodes where the B plot is very minor. This is where the show feels a lot like a more modern bingeable Netflix kinda story, set in a paranoid conspiracy almost-now.
At the end of Season 3, the Samaritan is turned on, and Season 4 is about the war between the Machine and the Samaritan. It’s a sequence of losses on the side of Team Machine, too, a noose that slowly shrinks down. I think this is the season where you’re most likely to see Team Machine stacking up Ls, where numbers just fail or die or get away and there’s nothing much they can do about it, because they’re also losing access to resources they previously had. It’s a scrappy story, a story where our heroes still have access to an inscrutable, confusingly helpful machine god.
It isn’t that hard a jump to make Season 4 into what it is. You just take the characters of Team Machine and translate them to a different side of the audience’s. You have a Evil Finch and an Evil Reese, and an Evil Machine. This puts our characters at odds with a surveillance state overseen by a relentless and driven idealogue which can deploy an agent of dreadful violence that has a weirdo personality. Everyone now has to have some kind of job, some kind of splintered secret identity that keeps them from attracting attention and that means being boring.
With the world deformed like this, the previous surveillance state of the Machine is now a threat that dives deep into the paranoia of the characters. A surveillance state is a really useful thing if you’re in control of it, but the second it’s not on your side, every single blind spot in the system is vitally important. And it’s quite possible to live a life in the eye of surveillance, but doing so affects you, it changes you.
But here, at this point, I shall part the veil a tiny bit and look not at the way this show works but rather the way I worked on this show. I could tell that I really liked this show, that I was in it for the long haul when I hit the inflection point between ‘show of the week’ and ‘mytharc saga.’ At that point I thought I had another forty episodes or so to go (I was wrong) so I started digging into the show to make sure that when I started writing about it, there was enough there there to make sure I wasn’t just blowing it out of proportion as this four-so-far-leading-to-five part story pile suggests I obviously wound up doing. Was the story going to fart out? Was I just overthinking the way this show interfaces with these complex ideas accidentally? When did the Snowden files drop?
And that led to finding out
See, one of the characters in this story is played by a guy called Jim Caviezel, who is an asshole. This is not a big deal per se; I don’t imagine any given actor is a fun person to hang around, especially when being an asshole and maintaining your personal boundaries is a kind of survival strategy. There’s a bunch of stuff that’s famously framed as ‘what an asshole’ that’s actually quite clever as a survival strategy evolved for handling yourself in a system that’s designed to disempower you. I take any complaint about an actor being an asshole – like, a socially unpleasant jerk – as kind of meaningless.
Understand that baseline when I say that Jim Caviezel is a total asshole. He’s an asshole on three basic levels; there’s the big, grand, level of ideology where his ideas are coming from a shitty place. There’s the material level, of what he does informed by that ideology and how the show has to deform around him. And then there’s just, I guess the icing, the surface dusting of what he brings if you can accommodate those two other factors.
First up, he’s a conservative who’s conservative enough to be a problem for the general vibe of conservatism in the system. It’s okay to be a Republican in Hollywood, there are a lot of people doing that, despite the way crybabies complain about it (nobody likes you Chachi), so if you’re a right-winger enough that people notice it and complain about you, then you are far out there, and that out there is in his case, the point where now, he’s a Qanon supporter. He’s anti-abortion and homophobic, which you may think is pretty standard shithead outfit but he goes the next step by adding in that he’s against interracial relationships. Basically, this dude has political positions that are pretty close to Nazism, but just, y’know, a few steps shy.
This builds into how he thinks about himself as an agent in the story and the acting of scenes. Because this guy doesn’t think he should talk to stunt people about changing choreography. He wants it to ‘look real,’ he wants to drive ‘like how John Reese would’ which is, you know, a great thing to do if you want to risk pedestrians who aren’t part of the set. Which he does. The interracial thing was something of a problem, though, because at one point the story seemed to be setting up one of those. It also meant that when they had an episode where John had to protect a gay couple, he got really pissy about it. It wasn’t until a writer suggested that the 9/11 firefighters didn’t ask people their orientation before saving them, and that led to Caveizel accosting people at random to compare himself to the 9/11 Firefighters.
Not his character.
Caveizel was prone to accosting people to harrass them and talk to them at length about his politics. Just randomly at work, kept in place by The Talent as he lectured you about libertarianism or conspiracy theories or abortion or how you should vote for Ron Paul, just an awful experience. Women would use a buddy system to avoid being isolated and harrassed like this. This was so bad and so common they had a nickname for it, the Cavortex.
And then, with all that in mind… okay, so he is a huge problem and an asshole, but the show’s good, right? This guy must bring a lot to the table and be really good as an actor, right? All this accommodation, routing around everything he did, you get a good result out of it, and that justifies putting up with him. Right? Right?
He was terrible.
The character of John Reese has this almost constant flat affect. Every line is delivered in a rumbly whisper; he has almost no ability to change personality or expression, and his combat abilities all look to me like ‘this guy’s stunt people work hard.’ He forgot his lines all the time, even when he just had to say ‘no’ and it ruined continuity in shots, meaning most of his complex shots were shot-reverse-shot with edits to hide when he he botched lines. At one point, other actors were putting his lines on cards on their faces so that he could make eye contact while in reverse shot and still deliver his lines. This guy was so bad at interacting with other actors he upset the actor dog, who bit him.
If you want to know more about how he is as an actor? There’s an episode of the Qanon Anonymous Podcast about him.
How important was Reese to this story? Well, despite me talking about this show to Fox for a month, when I finally learned all this and shared it with her, she had to stop me at one point and ask
‘Wait, who does this guy play?’
Because in all the talk of Person of Interest, a show I like, a show I care about, a show with all these interesting ideas that I like in them, I had never managed to mention Reese at any point. This guy, this central character, this, the literal person of interest stated in the first episode (and the only person described as such!), is completely irrelevant to the story.
He does not matter.
And that’s kinda great, because wow, this actor sucks ass, and once you know about the kind of guy he is, you suddenly notice all the ways that the scenes he’s in are just him and stunt people, or just him and the episode’s actor of the week. Overwhelmingly, he doesn’t talk to Root or Shaw face to face, he’s always talking to them over a mic. He face to faces with Fusco, but that’s almost it. He doesn’t even show up with Finch very often at this point in the story, and even the dog doesn’t want to hang around this guy.
Man, this dude sucks!