Person of Interest season four ended in a very dark place. And it’s also an ending that seems to obliterated the show’s format, going forward. How do our heroes find out the Social Security Number of this week’s “Person of Interest” in this dire situation? We asked the show’s cast and producers.
Sadly, because Netflix went back on its promise to post Person of Interest season four on Sept. 22, many people have still not seen the show’s most recent season. So this is a bit of a spoiler for a lot of people. Suffice to say, the season ended with the Machine being taken offline and dismantled, and its basic program stored in a tiny briefcase. So it’s hard to imagine how the show can keep its format (every week, the Machine spits out a new number of a victim or perpetrator) in this situation.
So last weekend, when we were at New York Comic Con doing roundtable interviews about Person of Interest, we asked the stars and producers just how this is going to work. And yes, there will be numbers of the week in season five.
Michael Emerson, who plays Mr. Finch, told us that they still get numbers, but they arrive in “a moer complicated way,” that’s more ambiguous and less trustworthy. Once the Machine Gang rebuilds the Machine, it doesn’t entirely work right for a while, “so you don’t know what you’re getting and why. It’s even less direct than it used to be.” The Machine’s messages require “more parsing, more interpretation,” Emerson added.
All of the “cases of the week” are in the context of “this battle between these two A.I. gods,” said Emerson. “Everything is enmeshed now, in a way that it maybe wasn’t before.”
The show is still balanced between serialized and case-of-the-week episodes, added producer/director Chris Fisher. “One of the things the fans have always loved is the show has to care about the underdog, the person who [has fallen through] the cracks. We care about that. The show cares about.” The show’s compassion towards “the unknown soldier, so to speak,” is part of its DNA, “and it will never really go away.”
Fisher directed the show’s two-part premiere. “It’s always fun to shoot two episodes at the same time. It’s like a movie.” You get to have stronger character arcs and more time to develop the story, “and it really feels like going to do an independent movie.” It’s been a huge challenge to pick up after last year’s season finale, and then every script has been a huge challenge after that.
“I think it has to find some kind of resolution, just in case this is the end,” Emerson told us. “I think they’ll have some real fireworks in store for those 12 or 13 episodes, but they’ll be wise enough to leave a backdoor so everything can be fired up again” if there’s a sixth season. Right now, they’re filming episode eight, and there’s no sign of how the show could possibly wrap everything up.
Season five has “more conceptual stuff” than previous years, added Emerson—similar to that episode last season where the Machine keeps running simulation after simulation. “We flirted with it in that episode,” but “we’re playing more head games this season, along those lines.” In the past, said Emerson, viewers were “in the habit of accepting whatever they saw in an episode as being straightforward narrative. But what if it’s not? What if we find out, as we did at the end of that episode, that we were looking at something conceptual?”
Producer Margo Lulick also told us that they’re enjoying playing with the line between what’s real and what’s not, and teasing out whether the Machine has any humanity, especially now that it’s been rebuilt.
They’re also taking chances with their format in other ways. One of the case-of-the-week episodes is set outside the city and has “a really big cinematic scope to it,” said Lulick. Even with the huge scope of the war between the Machine and Samaritan, “with our heroes, everything has become a little more intimate, a little more under-the-magnifying-glass, in a really good storytelling way.” The show’s style of filming has gotten more handheld and less classical, so the “storytelling is more tactical.”
As Michael Emerson teased in our exclusive interview a while back, the Machine Gang will fight over how to rebuild the Machine. As Amy Acker told us, Root feels as though “the Machine needs to have some modifications to enable it to defeat Samaritan.” She added that Root believes this is their chance to make a “new and improved” Machine. “This may be our only chance to have a victory over Samaritan.”
“It’s a collision of philosophies,” Emerson told reporters. “It’s almost like two different fates.” Root and Finch both “hold their positions so fervently that it’s hard to find middle ground.” He added, “There’s not a lot of gray area: The Machine is either encumbered, or it isn’t. It either has limits, or it’s an open system.”
“Root has continued to implore Finch that he needs to do something, to make his Machine more aggressive or proactive this year,” added executive producer Greg Plageman. “Harold has been forced to a certain level of self-examination as to what he did [or didn’t do], to allow Samaritan to take over.”
Acker said that Root feels like she has a huge stake in this debate—not just because she feels connected to the Machine, but also because she chose to save the Machine instead of Shaw, when Shaw was being carried away from the hospital. “My character felt like, if we didn’t save the Machine, there was no reason to save Shaw,” said Acker. And as the season begins, Root has not given up on finding Shaw again, and there’s a feeling that the team has a “missing piece.”
As the season begins, Finch isn’t even sure if he’s capable of reconstituting the Machine, said Plageman. There’s a terrific scene in the season opener, where Finch is losing optimism and faith, and it’s reminiscent of the last time we saw his old collaborator Nathan Ingram (who’s back in flashbacks in this episode.)
Reese “has to buck [Finch] up and tell him how they’re going to put it together,” said Plageman.
As far as Reese is concerned, he’s “had to complete missions, being separated from his equipment,” said actor Jim Caviezel. “He could complete a mission with a buck knife.” So Reese is able to offer Finch that perspective, of having been in a hole with no way out, and still come through. “We have done much more with much less.”
Caviezel said what he admires about this show is that it has always focused on its core characters, even with its big science-fiction concepts. “It is all about the humanity of these people.”
Emerson added that there’s some question as to whether this is even the same Machine as before, in any case. “There’s a feeling that there was some damage, some corruption of circuitry, when it was so hyper-compressed,” so when it’s put back online, it’s already somewhat different.
As a result, said Emerson, “you can’t have the same confidence in the Machine that we used to.” The Machine used to work perfectly, even if it was sometimes cryptic, but now it seems more flawed, which may make it appear more human. Or, he added, “maybe we’ve just begun to think of it as more humanized.”
All of the characters are starting to think of the Machine as a person, and as more than just “something that spits out numbers,” added Fisher.
At the start of season five, “Samaritan has prevailed,” Emerson told us, “although a lot of people don’t know it.” At this point, “Samaritan is in charge of whatever it wants to be in charge of.” This is a scary scenario, with a lot of terrifying applications for real life, and it’s “kind of like letting something out of the bottle, that you can’t ever put back in.”
Nobody has even thought about what a post-Samaritan world could look like, said Emerson. But Acker said that the Machine’s main “platform” has always been to respect people’s free will, so if the Machine prevails, it’s somewhat less likely to become a dictator and rule over humanity.
Lionel Fusco “goes a little rogue this year,” said Kevin Chapman, who plays Fusco. “He’s got a lot of unanswered questions. He knows there’s something awry, [and] he’s hell-bent to find out what it is.” For years, Fusco has been doing stuff for the Machine Gang, without actually knowing why, and “it’s been a lot of fun” to play. But now, he’s ready to demand an explanation.
Sameen Shaw does eventually rejoin the team after having been captured and brainwashed by Samaritan—but is she a “Manchurian candidate?” asks Caviezel. Has she been sent there to divide the team, or is she really on their side?
There will be some interesting new origin stories this season as well. Plageman said we’ll meet a new Samaritan operative—and this time we’ll get to see how Samaritan takes an ordinary person and recruits him. We’ve seen characters like Martine who were fully-formed Samaritan ops, but “we’ve never seen how they come about.”
Meanwhile, “we’ll learn the origins of the man who recruited John Reese into the CIA. It’s kind of a cool story.” And we learn about the person who created that man—someone who had a talent for manipulating people and, essentially, turning human beings into machines, by dehumanizing them.