After escaping assassination by the hostile surveillance system Samaritan in the season 3 finale, Team Machine finds itself using guerrilla tactics to survive in a new world order when Person of Interest returns for its fourth season.
According to star Michael Emerson, “The whole team is in a state of confusion and distress. No place is safe.” Executive producer Greg Plageman confirms, “Whereas we once lived in a world where the Machine was watching, now there’s another kind of machine, and it’s quite hostile to our guys. The title of the premiere, ‘Panopticon,’ kind of sums up what are characters are dealing with this season.” Creator Jonathan Nolan adds that this season as a whole ponders a future when “the data stops working for us, and we start working for the data. We become the robots.”
Below, Nolan, Plageman, and Emerson offer six key insights as to how living off the grid (and “under a rock,” per the season four promo will change the dynamics for Team Machine from tonight premiere—and beyond.
1. Team Machine has a brand new set of identities.
Nolan: We like to be a little reckless [on our show]. I always wanted, from the beginning, the obvious comic-book undertones. We always loved the idea that these guys would someday have to have a secret identity.
Emerson: The early going in season 4 is about getting back on their feet, but in a reinvented way and with a new set of obstacles. … Somehow, in every case, [their new, Machine-dictated roles are] not far outside their skill set but [laughs] probably not what they’d wish to be doing.
Plageman: We found it just too fun… not to explore these fish-out-of-water-type circumstances for all our guys. It creates some early conflict for some of our guys, but also a certain amount of frustration.
2. Finch (Emerson) and Reese (Jim Caviezel) have plenty to overcome.
Plageman: Finch, to a certain degree, is still dealing with a level of disillusionment toward the Machine, having the Machine telling him he needed to kill the Congressman. He’s grappling with that as we start the season—and, to certain degree, in conflict with the rest of our guys. Reese and Shaw, they’re like sharks—they’re really good at one thing, and they’ve been forced to go underground, and they’re not really happy about it, maintaining these new identities. So of course that’s going to come to a head.
Emerson: [Finch is] a little wounded because he thought that, whatever else might happen, the Machine would never be a force for evil. And it appeared to him that it was. … He’s a little bit shaken and a little bit of a wreck.
3. Root is integral in reuniting the team.
Plageman: Root becomes the catalyst in the premiere in terms of bridging the two groups: Reese and Shaw, who are eager to get back to working the numbers, but Finch wants nothing to do with it. Root becomes a critical piece in that puzzle, trying to figure out a way of how can our guys operate in this Samaritan world? How can they communicate? How can they even get together and work the numbers? That’s the challenge of the premiere and going forward.
Emerson: She becomes his scold. She stays very busy. Root has never stopped working on the agenda. … It’s not so much them coming out from under a rock, it’s them figuring out how to do what they’ve always done and still be under the rock.
4. Team Machine will be forced to return to the numbers.
Emerson: Despite this greater war of artificial intelligences, the everyday crimes keep stacking up … because Samaritan ignores part of what the Machine used to pay attention to.
Plageman: There’s a number that comes up when the Machine finally resurfaces. There’s a reason that the Machine feels strongly that our guys need to operate, to activate themselves in interceding on behalf of the number.
5. Who’s that new femme fatale on the scene (played by Mad Men‘s Cara Buono)?
Emerson: Samaritan, like the Machine, is going to need human operatives, and that’s an interesting new problem that may raise its head.
Plageman: While the Machine has been forced underground to a degree, the power of Samaritan is that it can recruit operatives all over the globe. It becomes a more powerful, [almost] omniscient enemy to our guys. … [Cara Buono’s character is] acting in some way on behalf of Samaritan… sort of a chameleon-like character who moves in and out of our guys’ lives in a very dangerous way.
6. Every corner, every camera, every phone can be used against Team Machine.
Nolan: We really love to raise the stakes as much as possible, so it kind of felt like we were heading out on a war footing for some time now. … We were more interested in a kind of Cold-War version of it. … The idea that one A.I. begets another became too delicious to pass up.
Emerson: Now they are the victims of an all-seeing artificial intelligence over which they have no control and which has taken as a mission their extermination. They have to be very careful. The stakes are life and death [and] it’s interesting the way the writers are finding solutions to this seemingly insoluble problem of moving about in the light of day and not being detected by Samaritan.
Plageman: The interesting thing is, if you lived in a world where you knew there were cameras on every corner and someone always listening on every line, how do you go about communicating? We think the fun is adopting guerilla tactics for our guys, understanding what it’s going to take in order to stay off the grid and still be able to operate. That’s the fun of the premiere.
Person of Interest airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.