It has a huge fan base and is one of the most technologically aware shows on network television, which made CBS’ “Person of Interest” a perfect fit for Comic-Con International in San Diego. The drama’s upcoming season may be shortened to just 13 episodes, but juding from the footage shown during the convention presentation, there will still be plenty of intensity and surprises as Reese, Finch, Fusco and Root try to take down the evil A.I. Samaritan while also uncovering the truth about the whereabouts of their friend Shaw.
Appearing on the panel were series creator and executive producer Jonathan Nolan (“The Dark Knight”), showrunner and executive producer Greg Plageman, executive producer and writer Denise Thé and stars Jim Caviezel (John Reese), Michael Emerson (Harold Finch), Kevin Chapman (Detective Lionel Fusco) and Amy Acker (Root).
Last season saw the rise of Samaritan, the fall of The Machine and the shocking pseudo-return of Taraji P. Henson’s Detective Carter. What the new season will hold is anyone’s guess — but the panelists gave fans a few clues.
Nolan seemed moved by the warm response as he took the stage, saying “There’s nothing like seeing how invested the fans are in the world we built. It’s awesome.”
Moderator Matt Fowler asked Caviezel what it was like playing Reese in the emotionally fraught fourth season, which saw him lose friends and come to terms with his love for the fallen Detective Carter. “This was a challenging season for John Reese,” he replied. “Losing Carter and really coming to terms with his feelings too late. But at this point, it’s survival. This will be our quickest, action-packed year — 13 episodes instead of 23 — but the action will be there.”
When asked how the abbreviated season will affect the way the story is told, Nolan said they “are going to make 13 kick-ass episodes, drop the microphone, and if we are asked to come back again, we have more stories to tell. But if it is the last season –- we are very proud of the show we are making, but if it is the last, no one will be disappointed in the story we’ll tell.”
Fowler asked the panelists how they approach telling stories about the positive and negative aspects of A.I. “At the end of the season, with The Machine being lost and Harold having to deal with the loss of his creation, Harold is going to have to figure out a way to reconstitute the machine,” Plageman said. “The fundamental question for him is what will it become? How will he not repeat the mistakes of what happened before.”
Speaking of Finch, Emerson was asked what it’s like playing a character that had an emotional connection to a machine — one he had to say goodbye to at the end of Season 4. “I thought it was really moving,” the actor replied. “I think it’s cool that Mr. Finch resisted personifying The Machine these many seasons. In the end, he kind of behaved like it was his child talking to him. I’m sure he’s aware how insane that sounds. It was rich and telling and has a promise for the future.” As for the future of The Machine, Emerson said, “He may forgo some safeguards and controls. He may give it the freedoms Root was always demanding for it. Maybe this new Machine could be a greater warrior.”
Moving on to Detective Fusco, Fowler asked Chapman what role his character will play next season. “Fusco has been getting his butt kicked since Episode 1, Season 1,” Chapman said, to much laughter. “We drown him, we tried to kill his child — I think Fusco is going to start asking a lot of questions this season.”
Speaking of past incidents, the moderator asked Acker about the infamous bear costume her character Root had to wear in one notable Season 4 episode. “There’s some backstory,” she said. “I make it up on my own. I decided that Root performs at children’s birthday parties to get close to those that are close to Samaritan.”
Fowler then turned to a notable Season 4 episode, “If-Then-Else,” which featured The Machine’s champions facing an impossible escape, and The Machine running through scenarios to get its agents out of danger. Each potential scenario saw the death of one cast member until Shaw made the sacrifice to save her companions.
“We had the advantage of reading the whole episode,” Acker said. “We knew each death was fake, but it was still traumatic. It was such a challenging episode because we had to shoot all the scenes back to back. We had to do each of the four scenarios in a row. We would spend all day doing one scene; we kept losing track of which scenario we were in.” As for the loss of Shaw, she said, “When Shaw was shot, I don’t think I realized at that point that it was such a turning point for my character. All the feelings Root had for Shaw came out at that point. Before that, it was flirty, when she was gone — it was a great scene to play.”
Fowler asked Caviezel about another memorable Season 4 episode, one that saw a dying Reese receive a delirious visit from an imaginary Detective Carter. “Reese had to deal with the fact that this was the gal he let get away because he was too compartmentalized.” Caviezel said. “It just never happened. The creators did a great job showing that Reese was a man who never said ‘I love you’ to a person that meant so much to him. When I watched it, I was in tears. But this lesson could help Reese continue the fight.”
As for the fate of Shaw, a character who’s has been missing since “If-Then-Else,” writer/producer Thé said, “We have not seen the last of Shaw.”
Emerson spoke about Root and Finch’s future relationship, as they’re the two people closest to The Machine. “They won’t be on the same page,” Emerson said wryly. “It’s an interesting kind of grudging camaraderie. It’s fun to play and not as prickly as it used to be. She always had a different vision of what The Machine’s mandate should be.”
Fowler turned to social media for questions. The first asked if they work with consultants to bring such advanced technology to life. “We make it all up,” Nolan joked. “All our writers do their own research. It’s a very paranoid room, and we try to keep things as grounded as possible.”
An audience member asked when it was decided to make Acker’s Root a regular cast member. “It was after the first season finale,” Nolan said. “We had so much fun working with Amy; she’s such a terrific actor. My wife was such a huge ‘Angel’ fan. When I created the Root role, my wife said I really had to consider Amy Acker for it. Ever since then, we haven’t looked back.”
Another fan asked the male actors what it was like working with such a strong female cast. “It’s awesome,” Emerson said. “Part of the fun of working on the show is that many characters play against type. It’s great to come to work and not know who you are going to be across from.”
“I love it,” Caviezel added. “We are basically a group of nerds just like you.”
Emerson was asked if Finch would ever use a gun. “He swore all along that he won’t use firearms,” the actor replied. “I suppose under certain circumstances he might find a strategic use for a firearm — not to bring harm to another human, but to make things happen.”
The next question dealt with Harold Finch’s former fiancé Grace Hendricks, played by Emerson’s wife Carrie Preston, and whether a reunion is in store. “I hope so, because I find that actress so attractive,” Emerson said. “If only I can roll over every morning and be with her. She might be, she might be around.”
Combining Emerson’s two most famous roles, a fan asked whether Benjamin Linus’ number ever came out of The Machine, would Finch save him. “I’m just trying to work through the casting,” Emerson cracked. “No one deserves to have their lives lost to violence. But Linus would probably be the perpetrator.”
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