In general, Person of Interest bad guys are fascinatingly complex, mostly due to their grounded desires and expectations: Elias, Hersh, Kara Stanton, Special Counsel (he's the "Fair enough" guy), Control, even Root (the most abstractly motivated of the bunch) all have clear objectives. Root may hold an abstract desire to talk to Her, but it circles around a definite goal: to TALK to Her.
The consequence is not simplicity but rather a network of differing (often conflicting) desires and needs. It is--at the risk of using an overworked term--politic, and it is naturally political. Not a lot of villains with twirling moustaches, just people with conflicting agendas, some evil, some not (or not completely). Until Decima.
Oddly enough, Collier OUGHT to have been a villain with a twirling moustache--an extremist along the lines of Timothy McVeigh. Unfortunately, the writers wanted so desperately for him to be a sympathetic dupe, they created a character whose motivations make absolutely no sense. Collier is too organized to be a John Hinckley, Jr., yet too lacking in any kind of ideology to explain his subservience to an unknown sponsor.
|The impressive Camryn Manheim as Control--a character|
|one can despise and admire. Well-written!|
It would be easy at this point to blame Decima's hollowness on Hollywood's apathy towards religion, but based on the number of tacky religious books and movies I've encountered, I think it is safe to say that religion is difficult to write about in general.
There are likely multiple reasons (some of which will come to me after I've written this) but a core reason that religion is difficult to write about is the abstract nature of belief. In order for Martin Luther to argue against indulgences (a practical reality), he has to believe in something far more abstract (that the soul cannot buy its way into heaven or out of accountability). In order for Joseph Smith to argue against infant baptism (another practical reality), he has to believe that Adam and Eve's Fall from God's presence did not entail a fall into sin. THAT entails believing that sin requires intent and knowledge. And THAT entails believing that without intent and knowledge, humans are innocent. And THAT . . .
In other words, a bigger worldview lies behind most theological arguments.
It doesn't necessary lie behind every religious act by every church-goer or, even, for that matter, every spiritual person. If I give money to the poor or take communion (sacrament) every Sunday or meditate--I am sharing in a larger worldview but I don't necessarily have to be aware of that worldview to benefit from the activity.
|St. Augustine: I may not always agree|
|with him, but he argues his position|
|well and with great care.|
There's a reason the great theologians are great.
And if it is difficult for religious people to write about this stuff convincingly, imagine how much more difficulty it is for writers who don't have religious backgrounds or sensibilities--who find the whole religious mindset bewildering to begin with! Sure, they can always fall back on Catholicism--or Shintoism. But to create something like what Decima is supposed to be, the writers would have to understand how someone like Decima thinks to begin with.
The fall-back position, unfortunately, is not all that different from the one that religious people create: all religious people are either staid, obedient ruler-followers or crazy extremists. A logical fallacy, of course (generalization anyone?) but easier to write about than a series of decisions surrounding a central hub of belief.
Easier to write about--and totally boring. Obedience as a problem can be interesting but as a character trait . . . not so much. And extremism is always boring, which is why Control's utilitarian philosophy, however despicable in practice, is so, so, so much more interesting to listen to than Collier's Decima-fed rants. (And Control's dialog with the Machine--utilitarianism versus faith with an underscoring of wistful obedience--is totally fascinating.)
There's a reason C.S. Lewis and Tolkien remain two of the best religious fiction writers of the 20th century--and they came at the whole thing sideways.