Heading into the final stretch of its fourth season, CBS’s “Person of Interest” remains one of the smartest shows on television. This week, the crime drama featured the surprising return of Taraji P. Henson in a guest role, following the heartbreaking death last season of her character Detective Joss Carter.
In Tuesday’s episode, a critically injured Reese (Jim Caviezel) had a heart to heart with a hallucinatory Carter, providing some much-needed guidance as the high-tech thriller races toward the finale of an intense season that’s seen Reese, Harold Finch (Michael Emerson), Root (Amy Acker) and Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman) challenged by an evil A.I. dubbed Samaritan.
The cast and series creator Jonathan Nolan spoke with a group of journalists Monday at the Paley Center in New York City about the brief return of Henson, fresh from her starring role in Fox’s hit “Empire,” and the arc of the series.
“As a performer on the show, I’m always thrilled if Taraji P. Henson is near the set,” Emerson said. “Regrettably, I don’t have any scenes with her in this episode. … This is the Jim and Taraji show. It’s rich and smartly written and thematically satisfying. “
“I literally found out the day before she was coming,” Caviezel added. “It was great.”
Nolan noted that, as Henson’s appearance this week demonstrates, no one is truly gone from the series.
“In ‘Person of Interest,’ everyone lives forever in flashback, so to have her back was great,” he said. “We reached out to her last year and told her we have a killer idea for an episode and we made it work with her schedule. Every season, the last two episodes start barreling towards the conclusion, but the episodes before that is where we get to tell quieter, more intimate stories. This felt like the perfect moment for that.”
Acker, a veteran of “Angel,” “Alias” and “Dollhouse,” expressed her excitement not only for Henson’s guest role, but for the complex world of “Person of Interest.”
“I’ve been really lucky,” she said. “It would be a really hard battle to figure out who was smarter, Joss Whedon, Jonathan Nolan or J.J. Abrams, but as Root, I get to play against type and explore a new side of myself as an actor.”
Like some of Acker’s previous roles, Root has quickly become a fan favorite, serving as the human agent of the show’s story engine A.I. agent against the evil Samaritan, and also as a perfect foil for the more straight-laced characters. In regard to what Root wants moving forward, the actress said, “This season I’m still trying to stop Samaritan and I am still trying to find Shaw,” Root’s romantic interest (played by Sarah Shahi), who’s been missing since she was critically injured midseason by Samaritan agents.
Other than its rich characters, “Person of Interest” has always been a lens into the relationship between modern culture and technology. When the show began, the level of technology-driven surveillance seemed like science fiction, but now it exists just outside the door.
“We’re no longer sci-fi, we’re science fact,” Emerson said. “We’re in a mad scramble trying to take a step ahead of real life news.”
“We always consider ourselves to be five minutes in the future so the next big issue for us is A.I.,” Nolan added, “but as far as Samaritan goes, we feel that is imminent.”
"Person of Interest" airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.