How to Get Into Person of Interest, the Best Science Fiction Show on TV

We've talked a lot about how Person of Interest is one of the best science fiction shows on TV because it's about the birth of an artificial intelligence known only as the Machine. It's also set in a kind of dystopian alternate world where US intelligence agencies are engaged in conspiracies so dark and corrupt that Philip K. Dick would be proud. But Person of Interest is also about a lot of other things — it's a police procedural and it deals a lot with organized crime and New York City's rotten backroom politics. How can you ever hope to catch up with all this and start watching this awesome show for the science fiction?

That's where our special Person of Interest science fiction episode guide comes in. If you want to catch up on the SF plot points in the series, here are the episodes you need to watch. (If you want a primer on some of the other subplots in the show as a whole, you can pick up everything you need to know in this recap from one of the most important episodes last season.)

The Characters:

Essentially we have five main characters. There's the mad scientist Finch, who created the Machine, a super computer that uses surveillance tech to predict future crimes. There's John Reese, an ex-CIA ninja who joined Finch to help solve crimes before they start. And then there's the morally righteous Detective Carter, who helps Finch and Reese because she reluctantly agrees they're good guys. Meanwhile, corrupt cop Fusco kind of got bribed into helping Finch and Reese, but has since become a good guy who just wants to protect his kid. Finally, there's the Machine, a device that sees and knows all because it's hooked into every possible form of surveillance in New York City. Every week, it feeds Finch the social security number of a person who is at the center of a pattern that will erupt into violence. It's our human characters' job to stop that violence before anybody gets killed.

Scifi Episode Guide

We've picked these episodes to highlight the two most science fictional subplots: the evolution of the Machine, and the dystopian conspiracies involving intelligence agencies. There are a few extremely mild spoilers in here. But I haven't given away any major reveals.

Season 1

Episode 1: "Pilot"
This sets up the backstory for the whole show, including what the Machine is.

Episode 2: "Ghosts"
You'll need this episode to get more back story on how Finch and his partner Ingram built the Machine — and why Finch faked his death.

Episode 11: "Super"
This is a fantastic episode where we learn about how the Machine was created and given over to the NSA. Plus, we learn more about the show's central premise, which is that surveillance works both ways. Yes, it can be used by people in power to control us. But it can also be used by subversives to undermine bad government and to prevent vulnerable people from being hurt.

Episode 13: "Root Cause"
In this episode, we meet one of the show's main futuristic bad guys, the super hacker known as Root.

Episode 15: "Blue Code"
While this episode doesn't focus on the Machine very much, it does lay out one of the principle dystopian threads in the series. As Reese tails his number of the week, he discovers that the guy is an undercover cop who has figured out that the head of a notorious drug ring is in fact a CIA operative. The CIA is using drug money to fund the war on terror. We also learn a bit more about Reese's backstory as a CIA agent.

Episode 20: "Matsya Nyaya"
This is a fantastic episode that delves more into Reese's CIA backstory, as well as his connection to another operative named Stanton. Both were deployed in China to destroy a mysterious computer but then they were double-crossed by Snow, a character we met in Blue Code. In the present day, Snow is still trying to find Reese, even though Reese faked his own death.

Episode 22: "No Good Deed"
Possibly the greatest episode of the season. An NSA wonk named Peck is our number of the week. He's been targeted by other NSA creeps for figuring out that the NSA is getting intel from a source that can't possibly exist. That's right — poor Peck has stumbled onto the Machine. And he's in deep shit. We get a lot more back story on the Machine, its role in government, and who knows about the Machine (hint: there are only eight people in the world who know about it). We also discover the origins of Finch's secret backdoor into the Machine.

Episode 23: "Firewall"
In the season 1 finale, Root attacks again. An awesome, mind-bending episode with a great twist.

Season 2

Episode 1: "The Contingency"
This episode is where the show finally goes balls-out science fictional and it's amazing, smart and riveting. Amazing. It's a must-watch, and is also our very first hint that the Machine is probably a sentient creature.

Episode 2: "Bad Code"
At last, the backstory on Root! Another amazing episode that's fully SF. Bonus references to the video game "Oregon Trail."

And that's all you need! You can start watching these right now and be ready to dive into the show. One detail you'll want to have, though, is that the evil CIA guy Snow is now Stanton's prisoner — that's right, she's back in town and who knows what the hell she's after.

Thanks to Ted Chiang for inadvertently suggesting this post. Ted, I expect you to watch all these episodes and report back.