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Season 1, Episode 1:
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?—Reese
John Reese is ex-special forces, ex-CIA and current depressed homeless drunk. An altercation on a subway brings him to the attention of Detective Carter of the NYPD and of Harold Finch, a reclusive billionare software genius who's got a job offer. See, Finch knows about a woman who may need the help of a skilled operator. Reese isn't keen on the idea, until Finch gives him a crash-course on how it feels to sit by helplessly when someone needs help.
As it turns out, Finch knows a lot about people who need help. He designed and built the Machine, a secret government supercomputer that monitors and processes all the surveillance data in New York to spot terrorists before they have a chance to strike. As a side effect, the Machine can also spot ordinary citizens who will be the victim -- or perpetrator -- of a violent crime, but the government considered that data "irrelevant" and it gets junked each night at midnight. Conscience-racked, Finch arranged for the "irrelevant" data to be sent to him in secret, in the form of a single social security number, so that he could do something to intervene. And to intervene properly, he needs a partner with certain skills, someone like Reese.
The current number is Diane Hansen, an ADA prosecuting a drug killing case. At first glance she seems to have stumbled onto a massive conspiracy involving a fellow ADA, Wheeler, and corrupt cops, including Detective Lionel Fusco, but digging deeper reveals that Diane is one of the conspiracy ringleaders and that they've set their sights on Wheeler, who's threatening to expose everything. Reese is captured and driven out to the sticks by Fusco, but he escapes and returns to New York in time to save Wheeler and his son from the hit-team of corrupt cops. He and Finch expose Diane as the ringleader and use evidence of Fusco's misdeeds to recruit him as their inside man in the NYPD, while Detective Carter investigates the vigilante actions of a man "in a nice suit".
Tropes present in this episode:
- Actor Allusion: Michael Emerson has "had is eye on you for a long time, John."
- Brains and Brawn: Finch recruits Reese specifically to do all the heavy lifting he couldn't.
- Chekhov's Gunman: No pun intended. Anton, one of the thugs who Reese beats up in the teaser, comes back later as Reese's source for firearms.
- Dirty Cop: Fusco is part of a gang of them.
- Drowning My Sorrows: Reese is attempting to do just that when Finch finds him.
- Engineered Public Confession: Diane is exposed as the ringleader when Reese swaps evidence from one of her cases for a recording of her and Stills plotting Wheeler's murder and she plays it in court.
- Flash Back: To Reese with his girlfriend, Jessica, well before the events of the series. He resigned from the military, but re-enlisted after 9/11.
- Frame-Up: Reese and Finch suspect that Diane is being targeted for digging into the frame-up of her client. Turns out, she's the one doing the framing.
- Gangsta Style: Deconstructed by Reese, who points out to a thug that holding his gun sideways will just cause the shell casing to eject into his face.
- Jerkass: Detective Stills.
- Kobayashi Maru: Reese is tied to a bed and hears someone screaming for help in the next room. He breaks free, busts through the door... and finds Finch with recorded audio.
- The Lost Lenore: By all accounts, the death of Jessica drove Reese into crazy homeless territory, and the mention of her name gets him angrier than ever.
- Mugging the Monster: Let this be a lesson to you, kiddies. Don't try and mug a homeless man on the subway, becaue he might be an ex-CIA hitman.
- Prophecy Twist: The POI is the perp, not the victim.
- Save the Villain: Reese decides to let Fusco live -- pulling him out of the car wreck and only shooting him in the vest -- because he's not particularly greedy or evil, just loyal to the wrong people.
- Spooky Silent Library: Finch has set up his base in one.
- Title Drop: In a news report, though it's not one of the numbers who is described as a "person of interest", but rather Reese himself.
- The War on Terror: Prevelant in the backstory of Reese, Finch and the Machine.