Exclusive: Executive Producers Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman Talk Person of Interest Season 3, PRISM & More

“You Are Being Watched!”

The first words at the beginning of every episode of Person of Interest took one a special meaning recently when revelations came about surrounding PRISM which is the real life technological effort to spy on US communications. While not exactly the same as the Machine, the parallels are hard to mistake.

It is with that in mind that TV Equals was fortunate to chat with the always awesome Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman, the executive producers of Person of Interest. During the chat, they talked about what is coming for POI season 3, PRISM, Root’s return and more. Check out what they had to say below and don’t miss the season 3 premiere of POI which returns on a new night Tuesday September 24 at 10 pm on CBS.


What are your thoughts in terms of how this whole NSA thing is panning out, and what do you think the impact will be on the show?

Jonathan Nolan: Yeah, I think the show has always tried to avoid politicizing the question, because frankly we didn’t imagine, and this was in abundant display with the revelations about Prism when you saw congress lined up, party to party, arm in arm, behind the president saying, ‘There’s nothing to see here. Stop looking.’ It’s not a partisan issue. It’s not a political issue.

At the beginning we said with this show, ‘Assume you are being watched.’ That’s how the show starts every week. You are being watched, and I think there were some people who thought we meant it in a heightened, science-fictiony, facetious way, but we didn’t. So you have to assume a surveillance state, and then the question that we thought was interesting was, what’s the stuff that’s still that way? What’s the stuff that’s…the irrelevant stuff, the stuff that people aren’t interested. And the show has kind of grown over two seasons.

We had begun to ask more questions about the relevant side of the question and that was where Sarah Shahi’s character came to us, from that side of things, and in the third season, we’re hoping to really grow and build out towards this larger, now international question of what are the ramifications of the Machine. The Machine is ultimately, in the wrong hands, about control, and kind of the future of that is something we’re really interested in. So in the third season, we’re trying to, say, get out fifteen minutes back out into the future and stay ahead of the curve.

Season two ended with quite a few questions regarding the Machine and the relationship between Finch and Reese. What can you tease about season three in terms of that relationship?

Jonathan Nolan: Season 2 left us with some questions, but also some answers. What’s apparent for the end of season two is that Finch and Reese will continue to receive the numbers as they always have done, that the relevant organization, the so called Pennsylvania Six, or what’s left of them, control and her acolytes, will continue to receive irrelevant numbers. The question about what it is exactly the machine is interested in Root for is what we’re definitely exploring going into the third season. The exact nature of how the Machine chooses to communicate and who it communicates with now that it is, as Finch said at the end of the season, free. What does that mean? What are the ramifications of that? We’re going to explore all of those things.

So is it safe to say that we will be seeing Root come back for the new season?

Greg Plageman: Oh, yeah. Amy Acker is just a phenomenal talent, and just that wild look in her eyes is something we think is irresistible when she falls into the character of Root, and I think the really appealing thing in terms of writing her, obviously, is that she entered the show as quite the diabolical figure, but then started to make a whole lot of sense. Clearly there is the connection between her and Harold Finch that cannot be denied.

In the last season, the morality of Fusco and Carter was challenged in some way. What do you have in store for them this upcoming season?

Greg Plageman: Well, huge things. Obviously, what has happened with Detective Carter’s character at the end of the season, she’s been throw into a bit of a maelstrom in terms of…we always thought of Carter’s character as the moral compass of the show, sort of the one who did things by the book as a detective. She’s now been stripped of her position as a homicide detective by the machinations of HR. They had killed her boyfriend, murdered one of her best friends, and she has, as we saw from the finale, turned around and sprung Elias from a prison transfer. So Carter is out on a limb, and we’re going to keep her out there for a while and let the fun happen from there. We think that’s a really fantastic storyline and a big serialized story arc that we want to follow through on, through the first half of the season.

Now that the Machine is free, so to speak, do you intend to explore the personality of it, that specific attitude the Machine has developed, in this upcoming season?

Greg Plageman: Absolutely. I think the interesting aspect of the Machine, obviously, is its primary function, as Finch intended with the backdoor, was to deliver the irrelevant numbers. It’s still delivering irrelevant numbers, but there’s another outlet for the Machine now. It has plans. We believe that it is an organism that is growing. We talk about AI a lot in the writer’s room, and we think that is as fun an aspect of the show that could whip the shit out of PRISM.

Whenever you think about the Machine now, do you see it more as a he or a she, and if so, what sort of image do you have of it?

Jonathan Nolan: I think that’s an excellent question, because we struggle with it in the first episode, episode 301 which is called ‘Liberty,’ written by Greg and Denise Thé. It deals in places with a couple of these things, the Machine has taken on a little bit more of a anthropomorphic aspect to the show. One of our characters refers to it as she. One of them refers to as it. I don’t think anyone has referred to it as a he yet. That self-reflective pool in that regard.That’s very much the question we want the audience to be thinking a little bit about as we get into the third season.

It feels like a she to me. I think there’s something very motherly about it.

Jonathan Nolan: I think it’s interesting that you say that. I’ve seen a lot of fiction about dystopian AI’s that take over and destroy everything. There’s a lot of Skynets out there. There are not a lot of Machines. I have not seen, in fact, kind of any science fiction in which that kind of all controlling AI had anyone’s better interest at heart. I read a lot of fiction in that world, whether it’s William Gibson or Stevenson, there’s a lot of fiction out there in that, but not a lot of film entertainers. We better be interested in answering that question, what if AI came along and it was actually a better ally, a Hippocratic Machine.