Tonight we'll see the season ender for our favorite stealth scifi series, Person of Interest, about a team of vigilantes whose AI ally feeds them data on crimes that are about to happen. We talked to show creator Jonathan Nolan and producer Greg Plageman about what comes next in their world of surveillance technology and its discontents.
As the season draws to a close, we are watching two stories about the vigilante hacker Finch (Michael Emerson) unfolding. First, we are going to find out what happened to make him become the leader of the group we call the Machine Gang, the vigilantes who try to stop the crimes predicted by a mysterious AI known only as the Machine. And second, we are going to find out how the Machine got infected with a virus that appears to have been something Finch actually made.
Nolan said he and Plageman are fascinated by Finch's transformation. "Clearly Finch has changed his attitude toward what [his business partner] Ingram was doing in the past — the question is what is it that changed his mind about what Ingram was exploring," he said. Why did Finch go from active indifference to leading a gang that stops crime? It all has to do with his realization that once you have a godlike Machine that can predict the future, you can't turn your back on it.
[We're interested in the] question of what did Finch do — what choices did he make and what do they mean for the future? They're playing God — this is mentioned in flashback. You'll find out about that in the finale. Finch is a smart guy and when he says that opening Pandora's Box is something you can't turn away from — well, he's shackled to the future, and complications ensue.
We're also going to see a new side of Finch's hacker nemesis Root (Amy Acker). After joking about doing a spinoff called What About Root? (yes, please), Nolan said she's becoming "more sympathetic." He added, "She's not socialized, she does occasionally shoot people, but she also has a point." So far, her point has been that basically Finch abused the Machine. So we may learn more about this tonight — or next season.
The one character we're all watching right now is Shaw (Sarah Shahi), a deadly ex-intelligence agent who worked with the Machine in its official government capacity, tracking emerging terrorist threats. In the episodes where she's appeared, Shaw has absolutely stolen the show. Will she be joining the team next season?
Nolan hedged a little:
Shaw is a believer in the Groucho Marx rule — she'd never be part of a team that would have her as a member. Like Reese and Finch, she's a touch nut to crack. The idea with the show is that you have these kind of strays that are finding company. It's a Ronan thing — they're these newly masterless samurai looking to each other for support and company. For Shaw that hasn't come easy. She's not fully formed. She can't jump into the team. We love our broken, lethal, slightly lost characters. And the more we create the more we can kill. The bloodlust of the showrunners has not abated by a long shot.
Given that the show often incorporates new surveillance technologies, I wanted to know what kinds of tech Nolan and Plageman are obsessed with right now. Will we be seeing nanobots on future episodes?
"I prefer my robots big enough to ride around on," Nolan joked. "We're also in negotiation over whether the studio will let us hack into viewers' [computer cameras] and use that in the show. That might be unpopular." But on a serious note, he added:
We've started using drones in the production of the show itself. We love that collision between way we make the show and what it's about. We always want to be five minutes into the future. And the pace of weirdness in the last year alone means we're gonna have to step it up. Some of the software developed to analyze surveillance footage is more advanced than we even talked about. You've got data mining and domain awareness with the NYPD. When we launched the pilot it was deemed nonsensical fantasy, but now [these technologies] have become banal. People have become blase about them.
So what's next for the show's ultimate technological creation, the Machine? We learned in last week's episode that Finch tried to disable the Machine's growing sentience in the high-tech equivalent of kicking a puppy that wants to follow you home. How is the Machine feeling about all this?
"If you were an omniscient, all-seeing eye and newly sentient, you might have decidedly mixed emotions toward your creator and captor," Nolan said. "But he's Michael Emerson — how pissed could you be?"