[SPOILER ALERT! This article contains an interview about a major character exit on Person of Interest.]
Catch your breath, POI fans — answers have arrived!
Tuesday’s shocking episode claimed Samaritan’s latest victim: Shaw, who went out in a blaze of glory by sacrificing herself so the rest of Team Machine could escape. It’s a bold, dynamic move for Shaw, and a bittersweet one for actress Sarah Shahi (who spoke with EW about her decision to leave the series—she’s pregnant!).
EW caught up with executive producers Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman to talk about that big twist and the much-anticipated kiss between the show’s electrifying women.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You keep topping yourselves with these high-concept episodes. Is it getting harder?
JONATHAN NOLAN: It’s become a pissing contest in terms of who can come up with the wildest, craziest ride for our audience. [laughs]
GREG PLAGEMAN: At the beginning of the year we put all the actors in a room with a revolver and put one bullet in the chamber and figure out how to write to that.
So, the character who does the most stunts comes to you and tells you she’s pregnant. What comes to your mind?
NOLAN: Oh sh-t. That’s the first thing that comes to mind, because she’s part of the show, and remains to be a part of the show for us. But then the second thing that kicks in is, “Oh, are we going to have some fun with this.” That’s the thing about being writers—anything that gives you an opportunity to build a narrative in a dramatic direction like this is good for everyone. It’s fantastic. You want to re-distinguish yourself from the kind of television where it’s the character you love and you know they’re always going to be there! You know everyone’s safe. It seemed like this was a good opportunity to take the challenge. We were happy for Sarah and happy for ourselves because it was an opportunity to tell a pretty mind-blowing hour of television.
Did you consider making Shaw pregnant? Not that she’s exactly the most maternal or anything.
PLAGEMAN: We ran through every option in our heads about who Shaw’s character was and what she was primarily involved in, which was a lot of lethal operations. You examine the optics of every version of that character carrying a pregnancy on the show. Could she just take a sabbatical? Could we hide it for a while? And we did do that, but more importantly, is there any version of the character that could ever be deemed maternal? And what we started to realize is that someone involved in what Shaw is involved in is almost irresponsible to portray as a mother on the show. We’d have to completely change the character. And I think Sarah felt that way too. She said “Well, let’s do it with some guts then.” And we felt that that was the most appropriate way to go about it.
The episode’s concept—the Machine exploring alternate simulations each resulting in a different character’s death—is brilliant. Have you been sitting on that idea for a while, or was it purely a product of this episode and an actor’s departure?
NOLAN: Denise pitched this idea, and we thought it was just f–king brilliant. We had talked about it over the years. We had ideas like this from the pilot onwards—you’ve got this mechanism built into the show that the Machine is really the one telling us the story. And Denise came up with this idea to have it lean all the way into the Machine in a way that we had been looking to explore, and she came in with this incredible presentation that takes advantage of one of the hallmarks of broadcast television, which is the commercial break, and I kind of love the structure of that. I love the infusion… to incorporate that natural rhythm of a broadcast television show into her pitch, it’s incredible.
Compared to Taraji’s exit last year, what was the vibe in the writers’ room like for this episode?
NOLAN: Denise also wrote the episode with Carter’s exit. I don’t know what’s going on with Denise. [laughs]
PLAGEMAN: We were incredibly bummed out to realize that however long we would be losing Sarah for, she’d become such an integral part of the show. A character is an instrument you play, and you don’t want to lose that. But as we started building the story and the stakes started to escalate in terms of her cover, and what Root had been telling her up to that point in time, that you realize it becomes an opportunity to really heighten the drama when that character disappears. I think the great thing about it was Sarah was so on board and so excited about it. We were nothing but happy for her. These things happen, and I think … once we were all on the same page, it just started to flow naturally.
If Sarah does return, Shaw’s fate can’t exactly be up in the air for two years. What do you do from here, in terms of leaving the door open but also closing it?
NOLAN: We like that question in the context of the show. The premise of this is an all-knowing Machine, right? That’s one of the simple ironies of our show from the beginning. Here you have this Machine that knows literally everything and then you have this team of characters who can’t access all of that information, who approach every week embracing the unknown elements of the story. So what happens to Shaw here is something known unto the Machine but not to our characters, and that becomes the biggest driver moving forward for us as well.
Which team members are going to be more affected by Shaw’s “death” than others?
PLAGEMAN: You can be assured that Root is not taking this well. We think it will actually provide us with an incredible engine for the next couple episodes. The network’s promoting this trilogy and it actually expands beyond that in terms of story generation for us in a really interesting way. It kind of opened up the doors creatively, usually after a big departure. We have a couple episodes coming up that are pretty wild.
Tell me about the Root kiss. Was that a big gift for the fans?
NOLAN: [laughs] It’s a tricky one here. It’s not just a gift for them. We’ve been invested in that relationship from the beginning. I remember the first episode that had a scene between Sarah and Amy and there was an electricity between the two characters. We were standing on set watching the two of them act together and we thought, this is a great pairing. There’s great chemistry here between these characters. The best thing about television is you get a chance to write in to the feedback given to you, and there was great electricity. If you’ve invested in this camaraderie between the two of them, you really don’t want to see this relationship add up to nothing. So what we felt was there had to be a moment…Root’s kind of put it on the line in terms of her feelings. Shaw, famously guarded with her feelings, is not a person in touch with her emotions. But in a moment like this, you demanded something from Shaw. You demanded that Shaw returned those feelings on some level.
Sarah seemed to have a different opinion about what the kiss meant. Did you think it was a “Goodbye forever” kiss, or a “Shut up, I’ll be back” kiss?
PLAGEMAN: I was actually there on set with Sarah that day, and it’s a little bit different in terms of how she initially approached it. She had a really interesting take on it in terms of character, meaning that she never thinks she’s ever going to lose. She approached it that way as almost like a shut-up kiss. But I think what we were looking for was just a little bit more of that reciprocity in terms of the emotions between the characters in those final moments between them this season. Wanting a sense of, “I may or may not make it out of this and I don’t know, so I might as well give her what she wants.”
NOLAN: I never took it as a goodbye kiss so much as, Shaw’s a person who knows how to get a job done. The job is that she needs to get Root back onto that elevator. Whether she’s going to make it back or not, she needs Root to make it back out, even if I’ve got to knock her ass out, then how can I get her back into this elevator? The tool seemed appropriate for that job, and in that moment, the fun thing for us is the second right after the kiss, when you see a little moment for Shaw and Root. That was actually kind of nice. We’re very excited to pick up where we left off here.
What’s the big question as the second half of the season progresses?
PLAGEMAN: The big question, and what our Team Machine is presented with here, is an adversary that’s determined to find the Machine, and what are our guys going to do about that? And how are we going to be able to proceed when a member of our team is down? They’re beleaguered—how are they going to recover? It’s actually fun down the stretch.
Stakes are higher now that you’ve got a body.
NOLAN: Samaritan is a very formidable enemy. We didn’t want there to be nine episodes of Shaw carrying around a basketball or groceries [hiding a pregnancy]. That’s not the character, that’s not the show. So Sarah’s exit gives us an opportunity to kind of affirm just how dangerous Samaritan is and just how high the stakes are for them. For us, it’s a reminder of how much worse things can get.