Going into their final season, the heroes of Person of Interest face a rough uphill battle: The Machine has been compressed into a briefcase with her life hanging in the balance, Samaritan is stronger than ever, and even Detective Fusco (Kevin Chapman) can’t keep himself out of the crosshairs.
Still, Finch (Michael Emerson), Reese (Jim Caviezel), and Root (Amy Acker) may be able to end the war between the artificial super intelligent (ASI) entities once and for all in these last 13 episodes (CBS will air two episodes a week, beginning with the second episode this season on Monday, May 9). After all, executive producer Greg Plageman tells EW they always approached season 5 as a potential series end. “With the reduced order [of episodes], we saw the writing on the wall,” he says. “We knew that we would have to approach this season as though it could be our last.” With that in mind, Plageman and EP Jonathan Nolan spoke further about Team Machine’s struggle this season, Shaw’s (Sarah Shahi, who sat out season 4) upcoming return, and the possibility of bringing the show somewhere else for more seasons.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Team Machine ended season 4 without the support of the Machine. Where do you pick up in season 5?
GREG PLAGEMAN: Given what happened in the season finale last year, it was apparent that we should pick up the story in real time. The guys are really down on their luck, the source code for the Machine was compressed into a briefcase, and all of our guys were being hunted by Samaritan. So we thought, let’s pick this up in real time, and let’s show what happens when all of our guys are dispersed and left to their own devices without the aid of the Machine. And then the real challenge for Team Machine this season would be, how in the world can they get the band back together?
What are the other major questions they’ll be facing this season? Is it still an all-out war between those who support the Machine and those behind Samaritan?
JONATHAN NOLAN: That’s been the story for the last couple of seasons. Once you create an all-knowing, all-seeing artificial super intelligence, it’s not an easy opponent to defeat. I think you can’t dispel [that opponent] in a few episodes, so this season, there are plenty of different stories worth telling but [the major questions will be], will the team be capable [against Samaritan], and at what cost?
PLAGEMAN: Finch’s fear was always that the Machine may find someday that we are not quite as valuable to its goals as we had hoped. But, what’s emerged is Finch has realized they’re now living in a world where another AI is running the show, and I think Finch was really confronted with his creation’s demise, and it crushed him. And now Root is our only hope, and Finch realizes in a world where an ASI has already become dominant, they probably would be better off with his ASI being resuscitated. You’ll see Harold listening to Root a lot more this season.
If the Machine is resuscitated, will she still be the Machine we’ve come to know?
NOLAN: That’s one of the other questions of the season. The longer story of our series has been the evolution of an AI, and one of the great questions of our age is, what will AI look like? We’re a lot closer to it than people recognize… Over the course of the series, we’ve slowly, one piece at a time, given it a voice, given it a personality… This season, we see the Machine go down, and we explore the questions of what it is and what it should become.
On a broader note, Person of Interest has always riffed off of or been inspired by real-life events, particularly around the issue of surveillance. This season, what are some of the news or real-life issues you’ll be hitting?
NOLAN: Just to jump in quickly, being inspired by real life events is something other shows do. Our show predicted real-life events [laughs]. It’s more fun.
PLAGEMAN: One of the things that I think is really interesting that’s going on is our development with social media, how many people get their news from it. It’s really troubling, because that isn’t news, that’s an algorithm tailoring interest to you, and I don’t think people really understand it. What’s the world going to look like if there is an artificial super intelligence out there that brings news to you, but it’s not news? It’s propaganda to make you do something.
That sounds Samaritan-like. Will Samaritan become even more powerful this season?
PLAGEMAN: Samaritan definitely is growing in its power. In the premiere, you see what it’s like when Samaritan is hunting you down and how easily it can find people and how difficult it is to hide. I think the real challenge for our gang as they’re trying to rebuild the Machine is, how can they possibly build something that can confront an ASI this powerful?
We also have to talk about Shaw. Now that Sarah Shahi is back, what can you tell me at this point about where Shaw is headed and when we’ll see her again?
NOLAN: Nowhere good. Shaw’s story has always been a bit of a dark one. She’s a great character to write, and this season, her reintroduction starts in episode 4. I won’t say much about it, but it’s one of the best episodes this season. You get to find out where she has been trapped all this time and what’s been going through her head.
In the trailer, there’s a shot of a juicy encounter between Shaw and Root. Is it safe to say that things will move forward with their relationship?
NOLAN: Well, you know, this isn’t really a relationship show [laughs] but one of the fun things about doing this side of the show is finding new aspects to the relationships, and Root and Shaw have been two great characters at finding that dynamic, that chemistry on screen. Writing to that has been one of the fun things about the last couple of seasons for me, but it’s not really a relationship show. Yes, there will be fireworks in all different directions, but this is the final season, so anyone looking for a happy ending will be sadly, probably disappointed.
Speaking of which, will this final season tie everything up or will there be loose threads for viewers to work with on their own?
NOLAN: I think it’s safe to say we don’t tie things up on this show so much as blow things up.
Fair enough. Are there any plans, though, to bring this show to another network or get it another season somewhere else?
PLAGEMAN: We’re not in any discussions right now about that, but let’s just put it this way: Never say never. The version of this show that we have has more story that we could tell, but I think that by the end of this season, viewers will be very satisfied… This is the concentrated version [of the show] now, and there are episodes twice a week. I think our fans may need to put on their seat belts.
Person of Interest airs Mondays (beginning May 9) and Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.