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Person of Interest and Jason Bourne

on Wed, 02/22/2012 - 00:00

The world of former intelligence officer John Reese of the CBS drama Person of Interest is different than the one originally inhabited by James Bond, the classic fictional spy of the Ian Fleming novels and subsequent movie adaptations. Fleming created the character of Bond in 1953 at the height of the Cold War, a time when the enemy was easily recognized and government agendas were painted in clear black and white images. In the Twenty First Century, meanwhile, the picture is murkier, with terrorists lurking in the shadows and political unrest erupting across the globe. The days of a clear cut “license to kill” directive has likewise been glossed over with varying shades of grey as the villains of the contemporary are not as clear cut as a Dr. Julius No, Auric Goldfinger or Ernst Blofeld.

While John Reese shares James Bond’s penchant for sharp attire, the Person of Interest protagonist is more along the likes of another fictional intelligence operative that made the transition from the printed page to the big screen—Jason Bourne. Created by novelist Robert Ludlum and brought to life in a trilogy of films by actor Matt Damon, Bourne is a former military officer who volunteers to protect his country by any means necessary only to be betrayed and then pursued in the aftermath. Although Person of Interest primarily focusses on the present, glimpses of the man John Reese was before being recruited by the technological genius Harold Finch have seeped through the narrative nonetheless. The picture of Reese painted by these occasional flashbacks reflect an espionage agent similar to Jason Bourne—a man tormented by the past while trying to find purpose in a world that ultimately would like to see him dead.

According to the film The Bourne Ultimatum, armed services captain David Webb voluntarily enters a secret training program designed to transform him into a government assassin. “Your mission will save American lives,” he is told at the time. Although reluctant to perform his first kill—questions of “Who is he?” and “What did he do?” are met with “It doesn’t matter”—Webb still fires his weapon and in effect transforms himself into an entirely different being. “You’re no longer David Webb,” his training officer states. “From now on, you’ll be known as Jason Bourne.” The newly minted agent replies, “I’ll be whoever you need me to be.”

John Reese was also originally a soldier, a highly skilled Army Ranger who likewise enlisted in a clandestine organization following the events of 9/11. “Your country needs you,” his handler Cara Stanton tells Reese in words similar to those offered Jason Bourne. In the pilot episode of Person of Interest, meanwhile, Harold Finch refers to him as Mr. Reese and remarks, “That’s the name you prefer, isn’t it? I know you’ve had several.” The moniker was apparently designated by Stanton in much the same way that Jason Bourne was bequeathed upon David Webb. “The ID that NCS gave you didn’t pass muster, so you’re nobody,” she tells Reese. “Which means I get to name you.”

Both Jason Bourne and John Reese are experts in the art of hand-to-hand combat, weaponry and the use of lethal force. “I don’t particularly like killing people, but I’m very good at it,” Reese comments on Person of Interest, and the remark reflects Jason Bourne as well. In the episode “The Fix,” meanwhile, Reese is told, “You’re probably one of those guys that can get out of anything with a paperclip.” Later in the installment, Reese is indeed able to remove a set of handcuffs with the aforementioned item. Although never faced with a similar predicament, Jason Bourne is “one of those guys” as well. In numerous situations throughout The Bourne Trilogy, he is seen using regular household products to create diversions in order to escape capture, including causing a gas leak and then placing a magazine in a toaster to start a fire and subsequent explosion. In another scene, Bourne is able to emerge victorious against a knife-wielding opponent with nothing more than a bathroom towel. Suffice it to say, both Jason Bourne and John Reese are adept at utilizing their surroundings to their advantage.

At the start of The Bourne Identity, the wounded body of Jason Bourne is found floating in the Mediterranean Sea by a passing fishing boat. Nursed back to health by the Italian crew, Bourne discovers that he has no memory of who is or how he came to be shot and left for dead. The remainder of the narrative thus involves Bourne’s search for his true identity. While the effects of his amnesia remain intact throughout, Bourne’s abilities as an espionage agent seep to the surface nonetheless, and not just his physical talents. “I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside,” he tells Marie Kreutz as they sit in a diner. “I can tell you that the waitress is left handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two-hundred-fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab with the grey trunk outside. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I am?”

John Reese may not be suffering from amnesia like Jason Bourne but it is obvious during the opening moments of Person of Interest that he wishes he could forget his previous life just the same. Half asleep on a subway train in New York City and wearing the shabby attire of a homeless man, Reese is motionless as a street gang verbally assaults him while flashing a gun in his face. When they snatch the bottle of alcohol that Reese is steadfastly holding, however, the former espionage agent springs into action with the same reflective instincts of Jason Bourne.

Bourne eventually reaches the same state of denial that Reese had embraced at the start of the CBS drama. “I don’t care,” he confesses in The Bourne Identity. “Everything I find out, I want to forget. I don’t care who I am or what I did.” Unfortunately for Jason Bourne, the former agent is the key component of a CIA conspiracy and thus marked for termination in order to protect the high-ranking government officials at the center of that treachery. Despite his yearnings for a life far away from the one he cannot remember, Bourne is thus continually drawn back into the world of espionage as various assassins are sent to eliminate him.

John Reese is unable to escape his past on Person of Interest as well. Although he has found a new mission by assisting Harold Finch in a unique form of crime prevention, the vigilante aspects of his actions inevitably place him on the radar of his former employer. In the installment “Number Crunch,” two CIA operatives arrive at the precinct of NYPD detective Joss Carter, who has been tracking Reese since the pilot episode. “He’s an incredibly dangerous, incredibly gifted man who’s been almost destroyed by the things he was made to do,” they tell Carter about Reese. The CIA agents then explain that their mission is to bring Reese “in from the cold” but when they locate him on a parking garage rooftop, a sniper rifle is fired in his direction instead.

Jason Bourne and John Reese transformed themselves into secret government assassins as a means to better serve their country. The effect of their actions took a mental toll on each of them, however, causing mental anguish and regret in the aftermath. Their reluctance to continue being mere pawns in the world of global espionage has also marked them as targets of various intelligence agencies that are intent on ensuring their silence. More significantly, both Jason Bourne and John Reese are two men haunted by their past. “I’ve tried to apologize for what I’ve done, for what I am,” Bourne confides in The Bourne Supremacy. “None of it makes it any better.” Reese, meanwhile, has at least found a level of redemption through his vigilante crusade with Harold Finch. “I wanted to say thank you for giving me a second chance,” he tells Finch after having been shot by the CIA and potentially facing his own death.

While second chances continually elude Jason Bourne, John Reese has embraced the opportunities offered him on Person of Interest—and may even find some inner peace in the process.

Anthony Letizia (February 22, 2012)

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