PERSON OF INTEREST Post-Mortem: Greg Plageman on Season 5’s ‘Greatest Mystery,’ Rebuilding the Machine, Exploring Backstories, and More
May 6, 2015 by Marisa Roffman
PERSON OF INTEREST closed out its excellent fourth season with a traumatizing — and action-packed — finale, “YHWH.”
For POI co-showrunner Greg Plageman, he got to witness some of the fan reaction to the bloodshed and trauma via the POI writers’ room Twitter account.
“I think [the fans are] simultaneously horrified and engaged,” he laughed. “They know someone is going to die, they don’t know who it is, but they gotta stay engaged. It’s a lot of fun.”
With season 4 now behind us, I spoke with Plageman about what the writers have in store for season 5 — including the “greatest mystery,” if everyone we think is dead will stay dead, Martine’s unseen backstory, and much more…
How much do you have planned about season 5 at this point?
Greg Plageman: We’ve actually got a lot mapped out. It’s really kind of cool. We gathered our writers at the end of the year — and obviously we left on quite a cliffhanger in terms of Team Machine being engaged in a firefight. [Laughs] We really wanted to know where we were headed. What does it mean with the Machine being in an impenetrable case, and what that’s going to entail for the first couple of episodes, and what the larger arc of the season was. Some really great things emerged from that, and [PERSON OF INTEREST creator] Jonah [Nolan] and I both feel great about the blueprint going forward.
Will you be picking up next season in the immediate aftermath of that epic gunfight? Or will there be a time jump?
GP: We discussed a couple of options, and we feel the most honest and satisfactory way to go would be to pick up in real time. Clearly, Team Machine is carrying a pretty valuable football. The case seems pretty impenetrable; I certainly hope it can float.
Will they be able to return to their subway sanctuary? Or is that off-limits now?
GP: The subway is still okay, as well is, interestingly enough, the cover identities of the guys hasn’t been blown in terms of Samaritan’s point of view. The problem comes when members of Samaritan recognize our crew out in the street, and know who they are, or they engage in anomalous behavior that alerts Samaritan. We feel like some of the fun we had [with the cover identities] is an unexplored arena we’d like to get into a little bit more in the next season.
Do you anticipate going back into the numbers of it all as soon as possible next season? Or does the Machine being compressed give you an opportunity to step away from that for a bit?
GP: It’s going to take some doing [to get back to normal], obviously. We imagine if the Machine knew its demise was imminent, it may have also known of a number of premeditated murders and plotted — before it was compressed into a Kevlar case — to let our guys know that there are some people they should keep an eye on until the Machine is able to regain some of its faculties.
The Machine was really questioning its existence in the finale, and posed that if Finch had lost faith in it, maybe it should die. How is that self-questioning changing its “mindset” going forward?
GP: Your question is really interesting in that it almost makes it seem as if the Machine has feelings. Clearly it has an underlying sense of humanity, and a sense of responsibility to humanity, and a affinity and respect for its creator. And maybe that should be enough to ask of a machine. [Laughs]
But everything our characters did was outlined by the Machine itself. All the necessary tools to reduce and mobile, the Machine put itself out there for our guys to save. It left it up to us. Otherwise, it knew its demise was imminent. It posed the question to Harold, its father, its creator, wondering if it’s failed, and maybe it should perish. The fact that our characters, particularly Harold, were forced to act spoke volumes. “We can rebuild it.”
How will Team Machine be handling things after all they’ve been through this season?
GP: The biggest shift in mentality in terms of our character — particularly Harold Finch — that occurs after the whole of this season, is his attitude towards his creation. All season long, we saw Harold grappling with his ambivalence towards the creation of an AI, and the existential risk that presents to humanity. It’s almost as if he was Oppenheimer, or one of the architects of the Manhattan Project. He did something because it was inevitable, and he thought it might actually help the world or advance civilization. But he also understood its incredibly destructive potential in our inability to control it. Much of that was articulated this season in his sparring with Root over the subject. We’ve seen both of those characters shift in that continuum in their attitude towards the Machine.
I think next season, Harold Finch is going to have to put some tremendous thought into reviving his Machine, and whether or not it needs to be modified in some way. Particularly now that we’ve witnessed a season where we’ve been basically clobbered by an even more terrifying adversary.
Samaritan took some terrifying steps to self-correct some of the problems it saw, but those decisions were very black and white. How much will that knowledge impact the way Finch sets out to change his machine?
GP: Well, as we saw in the finale, there were a couple of instances where Root implored the Machine to get in the game. It was simultaneously dying, but at the same time, become more of an intervention [into the events that were going on] — it was something Harold never wanted it to be. It was done almost out of love for its architect and Team Machine, but perhaps understanding its own demise was [upon it] and it needed to do something desperate. These were the only people in the world who could actually save the Machine. In itself, the fact that it acted and gave “God-mode” to various characters, and what happened in terms of the elevator and what happened with the street lights changing, those were direct interventions that we haven’t seen from the machine. Traditionally, it only acted through our characters. That’s something we’d like to explore further in the coming season; we think it’s a really cool idea.
The show lost a lot of its recurring characters in the finale, which also serves to isolate Team Machine even further. How will those deaths change the dynamics you can play with next season?
GP: We love our big bads, and we wavered on Enrico [Colantoni (Elias)], and Winston [Duke (Dominic)], and Camryn [Manheim (Control)], and all these characters. The only one we were sure we knew we could kill was Martine. [Laughs]
But our biggest regret with someone like Martine was not being able to tell her backstory before she left us. We had an elaborate backstory cooked up for her about being a former investigator with the United Nations, and she witnessed all kinds of corruptions, and war criminals getting away with all sorts of atrocities, which led to the evolution of her character and meeting up with Greer. It was really cool! We just ran out of room to tell her story.
What’s interesting about our show is we’ll introduce a big bad on the show, and we’ll find a way to gradually humanize the person. They all their reasons for why they do what they do; Camryn Manheim is a perfect example, and someone we really enjoyed working with. You feel by the end of the finale, she’s coming over to our way of thinking, she can be an ally to Team Machine — until Greer pulled the carpet out from under her.
I think it’s the same thing with Enrico and Winston, and their characters. It’s odd how our audience has come over to sympathizing with these organized criminals. In some ways, they realize there’s a greater villain out there who supersedes all of them, and is more frightening. And perhaps doesn’t have the level of humanity these villains had on our show. And I think that’s scary to people. There was almost this melancholy remembrance of Elias. And that’s great. People have come to identify with those characters in such a way. But I do think in their absence, or in their stead, often pops up new and interesting even more big bads into the vacuum.
We saw Dominic dead. We saw Elias dead. But Control was just tricked, captured, and led out to a very bad place. Is there any chance she’s alive/will pop back up?
GP: Marisa, I have no comment on that!
I had to try!
GP: We kill a lot of people, and people can always come back in flashbacks!
Greer seems very confident right now. Where does he go from here?
GP: I think the more interesting evolution of Samaritan — especially now that it’s basically won: the Machine is no longer in the grid, it’s contained, and it needs resuscitation badly — what is more interesting to Jonah and I when we talk about an artificial super-intelligence in the world is that we may not actually notice when it happens. And I think, as Greer speaks to Control in the end in Act 4, when he tells her what real control is: it’s surgical, it’s invisible, it’s almost as if you won’t know it’s here. I think that’s what makes the victory of Samaritan over the Machine even more insidious is that it doesn’t need to be showy anymore.
I think the greatest mystery of next season is what exactly is Samaritan up to? How frightening is it? And is there an element of what Samaritan is doing that is constructive? And what does that say about humanity? And larger questions of free will, and what do we want from technology, and what do we expect from these intelligences when they appear in the world. Will we even notice them?
What has you, personally, most excited about next season?
GP: You know, I’m really excited about exploring some of our characters’ backstory through flashback, in facets you haven’t seen of their personality. I think when Taraji [P. Henson (Carter)] came back, and the episode we did with her and some of the questions she put forth to Reese and she said, “You never told me these things. It’s not too late for you, John.” We realized, we have this lead on our show who has been incredibly recalcitrant about his feelings, and what he plans to do with the rest of his life. And those are larger questions that are really interesting that we can challenge John Reese’s character with next season.
At the same time, Harold Finch, we have this amazing actor in Michael Emerson, and can anthropomorphize a laptop in a way that no one can. The final scenes with him speaking with the Machine — I saw Michael last night at the wrap party, and I asked him, “I can’t remember the day on the set — did you actually have playback where the words were appearing to you on the Machine?” And he said, “It wasn’t always working, but I remembered from the script, and I felt it. I felt the moment, almost like a father and a son.” I don’t know anyone else who could do that besides Michael, really. We have this incredible actor I think we really need to challenge next year. I think Harold has to come to some conviction about what he’s created and what he wants it to do. Particularly in the sense of him grappling about his ambivalence about it in the past and going forward. Everything our characters did to make it mobile and now, what does Harold want? Is he going to be able to reconstitute the Machine? Is he going to enlist Root’s help in that? And what do they want it to do? Particularly after seeing what Samaritan did to the Machine. We can rebuild it — the question becomes, what do we want it to do?
Root really evolved, and this season we saw her taking steps for the team she probably wouldn’t have a year ago. Where does she go from here?
GP: I see her snapping lots of necks! [Laughs] What’s amazing about Amy Acker (Root) is you can have her do anything or say anything, and as preposterous as it sounds, she somehow makes it seem real, and the most important thing in that moment. There’s really nothing she can’t do. There will be some — all of the questions and arguments that were articulated this year between Harold Finch and Root about the Machine’s capability and level of trust we can actually place in a machine will be played out in the reconstitution of the Machine next year between Harold and Root. And it becomes the question of if Harold can trust Root and enlist her in this endeavor.
On a more minor note, Reese promised he would tell Iris the truth about his past if he survived the ordeal. Will he actually make good on that?
GP: That is definitely an area we want to push further.
What did you think of POI’s season finale? And are you excited for season 5?
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