Why fans of Batman should watch Person of Interest
“A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young boy’s shoulders to let him know that the world hadn’t ended.” These are the words Batman uses at the end of The Dark Knight Rises to reveal his true identity to Jim Gordon. They reveal more than his identity however; they remind us what his true motivations are. Why Bruce Wayne became Batman. It does not matter who you are, it matters what you do. If you help someone, that is significant even if you do not get recognition. It explains why Bruce Wayne dons a secret identity and sets out on helping the people of Gotham by protecting them from crime. Usually this means interfering with the nefarious schemes of The Joker and other villains. But what about the other types of crime? The kind of crime that is largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but matters only to the people it affects. Fundamentally, this is what Batman is about, yet (understandably) the films do not have time to explore this. Luckily, there is one television show that does, and though its protagonist does not dress himself in a bat-inspired attire, the similarities to the Caped Crusader are striking. The television show in question is, of course, Person of Interest.
Person of Interest is a show that aired on CBS during its five season run. It was created by Jonathan Nolan. If you think that name sounds familiar, you are right. Jonathan Nolan is the brother of Christopher Nolan, the director of The Dark Knight trilogy, and he co-wrote the screenplays to the last two films in said trilogy. Needless to say, the Batman-connection is apparent, but its influence reaches further than just the show creator, ranging from similarities between the characters to major themes that appear in both pieces of media. In this article we explain why you should watch Person of Interest if you are a Batman fan, by highlighting these similarities.
The main character is basically Batman in a suit
“When you find that one person who connects you to the world, you become someone different. Someone better. When that person is taken from you, what do you become then?” Well, you become Batman of course! But while these are clearly the words of a wounded man struggling to find a purpose, they are not spoken by Bruce Wayne. When we meet John Reese he looks like a disheveled version of his former self, cradling a half-empty bottle of liquor in a shady subway car. A group of teenagers provokes him, and after a brief moment of tranquillity, he unleashes a fury that signifies that he is a man with both extensive combat training and a traumatic past. He is arrested and taken to a New York City precinct, which would be bad if he had not hit rock bottom long ago. But then a mysterious man named Harold Finch provides him with an opportunity, a way to give his life purpose once more.
Finch has devised a way to know who is going to be involved in a violent crime, before it actually happens (more on the specifics later). Crimes that occur everyday, to ordinary people. The government considers these people irrelevant, so not much is done in the way of prevention. Finch disagrees with that mindset; to him every human life matters equally. He wants to help these people, but he cannot do it alone. And that is where Reese comes in. So in Batman-like fashion, they set out to protect the ordinary people of
Gotham New York City from evil.
It is clear that Batman and John Reese come from similar experiences; they both use a traumatic event in their past as a motivation to help other people. But their approach is also similar. One of the staples of the Batman character is his aversion to killing. While John Reese is no stranger to killing, he tends to avoid it, especially after he starts working with Finch. Instead, he opts for a signature move: the kneecap shot. Their mission is to save lives, not commit murder, and this functions as a central theme throughout the series. On a lighter note, John Reese shares Bruce Wayne’s particularly dry sense of humor. His quips after taking out a henchman become a staple throughout the series.
It expands on The Dark Knight’s theme of surveillance
If you have seen The Dark Knight, you might remember the advanced surveillance system used to track down the Joker. It can be used to listen in and track someone’s movement via a network of all the cell phones in the city. It raises the question, is it worth it to compromise privacy in order to provide safety? And what if this technology falls into the wrong hands? Lucius Fox believes it to be unethical, but the need is dire, so Batman promises him to destroy the machine after the Joker is defeated. As such, the system is used once and promptly destroyed at the end of the film.
If you would have liked to see these themes explored further, you are in luck. Person of Interest has taken the system from The Dark Knight and expanded upon it. The reason Finch knows of violent crimes before they happen, is because he has created a system that spies on people every hour of every day. It has the technology of the system in The Dark Knight, but it does not need to be operated by someone; it possesses its own artificial intelligence. The Machine was designed for the government with the purpose of detecting acts of terror, but it sees everything. Because the government is not interested in preventing acts of violence against ‘irrelevant’ people, Finch and Reese have taken it upon themselves to do. Throughout the course of the series, Person of Interest tackles topics such as how much autonomy an artificial intelligence should be granted, whether the end justifies the means, how much value should be placed on a human life, and what happens if an artificial intelligence is used for evil means.
Another thing The Dark Knight and Person of Interest have in common, is that socio-political circumstances ended up making this theme of surveillance and privacy all the more relevant. The material for The Dark Knight was written in 2005, but filmed in 2008. By then, news had come out regarding a warrantless wiretapping scandal during the Bush Administration. The NSA was allowed to monitor any communication without a search warrant, under the moniker of ‘the war of terror’. This suddenly turned the system from The Dark Knight from a comic book fantasy into a scary real-world possibility, even though it was not originally intended as such. The same thing happened to Person of Interest with the Snowden leaks. The difference was that by then, the central question regarding a surveillance state was no longer if it existed; that it existed was a given. This shows in the way Person of Interest handles the theme. The surveillance system exists, the only choice left is the nature of your actions; do you use it for good or bad?
It develops a cast of colourful returning characters
One of the greatest things about Batman is the well of interesting characters the writers can tap from. While Person of Interest starts out as a two-man team (three if you count Agent Carter, who is tasked with arresting the mysterious ‘Man in a Suit’), during the course of the show it gradually starts adding more and more compelling side characters, some of which become regulars in the later seasons. Notable characters include a crooked cop, a political fixer, an emotionless assassin, an enigmatic mob boss and a highly intelligent computer hacker. All of them are fully developed and some of them have even turned into huge fan favourites. The result is an extremely likable cast capable of creating a genuine bond with the viewers. The two-man team evolves in something more significant: Team Machine.
So why should you watch Person of Interest, especially if you are a Batman fan?
Person of Interest’s format allows for a more in depth look at what protecting people entails. Especially in the early episodes, Person of Interest uses a procedural approach to storytelling in order to explore different situations and subjects. Each episode is centered around a new ‘case of the week’, except the case is either the victim or the perpetrator of a crime. This gives viewers a sense of what being a watchful protector requires on a smaller scale, something that Batman films are rarely able to do. If you prefer a more serialized narrative however, you can rest assured. The show gradually starts to incorporate more serialized storylines, to great success. As the show expands, so do the risks they take from a storytelling perspective, resulting in some of the most thrilling episodes on television. In a way, the show manages to take basic ideas from Batman and build on them, while focusing on characters with a similar appeal. As such, Person of Interest functions as an excellent companion piece to the adventures of Bruce Wayne and co, but also as an amazing piece of television on its own.
Image Credits: CBS / Warner Bros. / Joey Duis