With Person of Interest season three now airing Tuesday night’s on CBS, last week I got to participate in a group interview with executive producers Jonah Nolanand Greg Plageman on the Warner Bros. lot here in Los Angeles. During the wide ranging interview, they talked about what’s coming up on the show, the real-life parallels to government surveillance, how they know what the last scene of the series is going to be (including the last song), their thoughts on a Person of Interest spinoff series, exploring the ramifications of living in a surveillance state, the serialized structure of the show, and so much more it’s impossible to list it in an intro.
Hit the jump for what they had to say. I’ve also included a list of 17 things I learned during the interview.
- Each season focused on a different character; the first season was about John Reese’s past and the second season was about Harold Finch. The third season we will be learning more about Joss Carter’s backstory and her motivations.
- There will be a conflict between Finch and Root coming into play soon.
- Plageman and Nolan know what the last scene of the series is going to be, what the last few moments are going to be, and the last song that’s going play.
- There is a new area in The Machine now that it has more control that is able to not just predict what’s going to happen, but also plan events around these predictions. Through this The Machine will be taking a much more active role in events this season. One of the “Big Questions” this year is “what is The Machine’s plan, what is it up to?”
- Episode 5 of this season will have a backstory storyline for Shaw. Plageman said, “The episode that airs two weeks from this one (episode 5) is a pretty eye-opening story about her character, in terms of who she is and how she became the person that she is today.”
- At this time, there are no plans for a spin-off series. Nolan said:
“Our line from the beginning—and it’s not a line, it’s a philosophy—has been, we want to make this the best show possible. When we introduced Shaw last year a lot of people were talking about a spinoff there and with all due respect to the amazing folks, some of whom we know, who have managed spinoffs over the years and had to pull that off—look we got a lot of story and if it grew into two hours of TV a week, that’s fine. But the reality is, it’s challenging enough to write and produce a well-executed episodes week in, week out just within the parameters of what we do.”
- This season they are going to explore the ramifications of living in a surveillance state, both with the emergence of “Vigilance,” an anti-surveillance group out to bring down organizations that collect information, and by exploring exactly the real life ramifications of PRISM.
- This season is going to have a little more insight into what the government is doing with the information that The Machine is feeding it.
- There will be more Elias coming up this season.
- A lot of Carter’s storyline this season is going to revolve around her and H.R., what she will have to do to take them down and what danger they might pose to her in her efforts.
- Boker, who plays Bear on the show, just had puppies.
- Nolan and Plagemen discovered while casting Bear that Belgian Malinois do not actually growl.
- The serialized structure of the show is modeled off of shows like X-Files and NYPD Blue.
- They were still using storylines from the original pilot script as far into the show as the second season finale. Nolan said:
“Well we finally only exhausted the material from the pilot in the second season finale. [Laughs] The original pilot outline, I remember Greg read it and he was like, “This is a lot of story here, dude.” Just coming from the feature world, you just get it all out because that’s it. This is what you’ve got your two hour window.”
- We will eventually find out more about how The Machine chooses which numbers to feed Finch.
- Finch has not yet revealed to what extent that he can and does interact with The Machine.
- There is a big story arc revolving around Fusco coming up this season.
Here’s the full interview.
JONAH NOLAN: From the beginning, we get pitched an episode like this pretty much every week by our writers. We’re really very excited for it. We were just talking about this at Paley the other day, the fun thing about introducing new characters is you have new relationships. As the world of the show has sort of expanded from Season 1, you get to see those three ladies together, which is just great fun because they each have such a sort of unique spin on what they do—putting them all in the same situation. We were just thrilled. Amanda Segel was the writer of the episode and she pitched sort of a team-up.
GREG PLAGEMAN: She even snuck a kiss in there.
NOLAN: She did, I know. She forgot our “no kissing” policy.
And what did the gals think of it when they read it?
NOLAN: I think they were thrilled with it.
PLAGEMAN: I think they were delighted. It was a bit of a departure in tone—at least that story for us, which is a lot of fun. Every time we bring Paige [Turco] back, she seems to bring a different sort of chemistry and Sarah [Shahi] lets her hair down, so it’s a little bit more fun too. I think everyone kind of looked at it as a little bit of a fun departure.
NOLAN: Whatever it gets to get out of the tactical clothing for an episode, which I think is also a little bit of fun.
PLAGEMAN: As long as we counter that with Root (Amy Acker) shooting people.
NOLAN: Yeah, exactly—you get your kind of balance.
What can you tease about where Root and that storyline goes after this episode?
NOLAN: What can we tease? I don’t know, Greg and I are terrible teasers, we realize.
You can tell us everything if you prefer.
NOLAN: As she said, her relationship with The Machine is different yet again from Finch’s relationship with it, Control’s relationship with it, and where that’s headed in our show, inevitably all roads lead to conflict. It’s not heading anywhere safe or relaxed. I think it’s going to get intense and dangerous, and even more so.
PLAGEMAN: I think it’s going to become increasingly unsettling to Harold Finch how The Machine is reaching out to her and in what capacity and why is that different than the way in communicates with our guys.
NOLAN: We said a couple times for the season, you know—the bigger question this season—if the machine has a plan, what is that plan? And it obviously involves Root, which we’ll see through her the beginning of the sketches of what The Machine is actually trying to do now that it has a little more autonomy, a little more control.
Have you started thinking, “We’re gonna be on the air next year again too, where are we gonna go?”
NOLAN: We don’t know what we’re doing for the rest of the day. It’s kind of a mixture.
PLAGEMAN: We kind of break these things up in seasons and I think in the first season we talked a lot about John Reese’s backstory and sort of culminated in the finale with understanding a little bit more about his character. And then last season we learned a little bit more about Harold Finch and we’re gonna learn more about Carter and her backstory this year, as we go along. That’s just sort of the personal aspect and obviously The Machine is continuing to evolve and grow. And we think there’s a really fun conflict coming into play between Root and Harold Finch in that regard.
NOLAN: Yeah, we tend to—from the beginning Greg and I felt like, to do this responsibly we need to know when we shot the pilot where the last, last episode was going to be. We know what the last song we’re going to be is. We know what the last few moments are and then it’s like a sandwich you’re building, where another season you get to add another fun flavor, somewhere in-between. We know what the end is, what the beginning was, and we know some of the important signposts along the way. We know what next season—if we’re lucky enough to get a fourth season—we know what that’s about. I think viewers who have as much of an affection for science fiction—film, television—as we do, and a really good ear, will already know what next season is going to be, based on the first handful of episodes here.
NOLAN: Fireworks, in a word. Nothing but trouble. Those guys are not a lot of fun.
PLAGEMAN: Yeah, obviously Carter has an axe to grind with what happened to Cal Beecher. That’s something we’ve seen at the end of the premiere, she’s starting to track and pursue on her own—who is the leader of H.R. and what is she up to? How is she planning about taking them on? We think that’s a really juicy storyline that we’re gonna continue to evolve. Also, I think the end of Episode 2, we saw the character Collier emerge as someone who’s espousing something that is very counter to the surveillance state or Orwellian state that we played on the show. I think that’s an interesting conflict as well.
NOLAN: Yeah, first couple seasons you saw various groups who sort of knew about The Machine or wanted to take advantage of The Machine or wanted to set The Machine free. But now you finally have a group—sort of the missing piece of the puzzle—which is a group who aggressively and violently want to shut down any version of The Machine, if they knew about it. So, the question of, what Vigilance will do when they become more and more aware of technologies like The Machine that are already in place, is one we think will provide all sorts of fun stuff for us in Season 3.
Between now and Christmas, what are the arcs we’re focusing on the longer going on to next year?
NOLAN: Breaking the season up roughly in half, I think we’ll have Episode 11 by then. H.R. is a big story waiting for us this year and so is Vigilance. The question of how Root connects to Vigilance and Control, what The Machine is trying to do, what The Machine may be anticipating other groups will do. One of the graphics that we built into the end of the season premiere was this sort of new space, new graphical space inside The Machine’s mind—if you will—in which we see that it’s now not just analyzing and predicting but actually planning and trying to figure out, “Okay, if I do this, what might happen here? What are the intended consequences?”—taking on a more active role. If the show is sort of a reflection of where we think technology is at now, sort of the heightened, more dramatic A.I. science fiction version of where we think it’s at right now, we think we’re in this space where data is starting to reach out in ways actively in which is hasn’t to this point. Long answer but you’re gonna see all of the storylines that we’re talking about continue to build and grow through the first half of the season. We know that we’re writing a really big, sort of novel-like, universe here with the serialized aspect of our show. We know that some people are interested in these pieces and some people are interested in these pieces, so it’s a balance of sort of continuing to further each of those stories week in and week out.
PLAGEMAN: The episode that airs two weeks from this one (Episode 5) is a pretty eye-opening story about her character, in terms of who she is and how she became the person that she is today. We get a little bit of a glimpse of an origin story of her there and I think the difficulty with that type of character is what we refer to as “The Groucho Marx Conundrum,” never wanna be part of the club or have you as a member and that’s sort of how we see her character. At the same time, she’s an extremely valuable operative and I think even Reese acknowledges that. And we’d like to think that her skills—some of the things she brings to the table—are complementary to Reese. The challenge with that type of character who is emotionally a bit standoffish, is finding the connection and the heart of that character. I think that’s sort of fun challenge for us.
NOLAN: You get little glimpses of her humanity as we did with Finch and Reese in Season 1. All of these characters are characters that are very private people—as Finch would put it—and they’re also difficult people, lots of secrets, lots of history. Finch has formed this loose coalition of lost souls, as we put it. How long that actually holds together, is something we very much want to play with in the show. We’re all on the same side—now will that always be the case? Who knows?
This show takes place in New York and it’s hard to imagine that there’s not storylines that could exist in other cities. Has the network ever said to you, “Would you think about a Person of Interest: London”?
PLAGEMAN: That’d be like the last place Jonah would want to be [Laughs].
NOLAN: Yeah, I’ve shot a lot of stuff in England, the crews are fantastic but it’s a different conundrum. I know Elementary went out there at one point, earlier this season and I wished them well. It’s a—
PLAGEMAN: You were thinking of Ibiza.
NOLAN: Yeah. Polynesia. Person of Interest: Manawatu.
NOLAN: Our line from the beginning—and it’s not a line, it’s a philosophy—has been, we want to make this the best show possible. When we introduced Shaw last year a lot of people were talking about a spinoff there and with all due respect to the amazing folks, some of whom we know, who have managed spinoffs over the years and had to pull that off—look we got a lot of story and if it grew into two hours of TV a week, that’s fine. But the reality is, it’s challenging enough to write and produce a well-executed episodes week in, week out just within the parameters of what we do. We live in New York City, we spend so much time—the New York question, we were joking about this last week at Paley, if New Jersey came up with a tax credit, we’d be happy to shoot something in New Jersey. We were talking about this with my brother when we were working on The Dark Knight, because he always loves to sort of jump out and let his films kind of sprawl around the world and there’s a sequence in the Dark Knight that takes place in Hong Kong, which I thought was a very cool sequence, but my point in that film was that Gotham—or in our case New York, we’re doing the real world version of it—is kind of a bounded infinity. We’re always looking for the worlds hidden within New York and that’s kind of enough of a challenge for us. Last season, episode two took Root and Finch to Texas, which we were able to build pretty great facsimile of that of Queen and Ordos, China which we were able to—
PLAGEMAN: And certainly, it was very interesting all you guys if you read the press on PRISM, you find out exactly what the NSA was building but also its connection to other countries and how much of their intelligence they were actually collecting, gathering and feeding back to those foreign countries. You really get a sense of the scope of something that’s burgeoning and starts here but has tentacles throughout the world. The character of Greer, played by John Nolan, was an interesting character in that regard, some representative of that organization.
NOLAN: That’s a really good point, I think in this season as we start considering the ramifications of the existence of a surveillance state, as we’ve other countries reacting to PRISM. You know Americans tend to view it through the lens of, “Wow our government is spying on us.” Everyone else out in the world said, “Wow, you guys are—” The government at the very least would say, in our official manual, we don’t spy on you guys, we’re not supposed to, we accidentally spy on you guys. Just like the show, it’s all the irrelevant stuff. We just throw all that shit away. The rest of the world would say, “Wait a second you’re just admitting that you’re spying on—” Everyone in Germany who has a GMail account, everyone in England who has a Yahoo! account would say, “Okay, so you’re basically just coming out and saying that this is a massive Trojan horse that you guys have built with the cooperation of Silicon Valley to spy on every individual outside of the United States.
So, watching the kind of international fallout from that, hugely damaging the relationships between our country and other countries, and American business abroad. Watching the international fallout from that has been kind of fascinating. And the show this season we’ve always talked about there being a little more of a push into the federal government space, a little bit more of what are they doing with the information, and a little more of an international bit in the sense that—Finch’s sort of self-assigned mandate was just to look out for people kind of in the 212 area code—the reasons for which we still need to explore further. But stemming from this slightly quixotic mission that he assigned himself in the aftermath of his best friend’s murder, which is that he is going to do what Brett Cullen’s character Ingram was intending to do, which is to help people one at a time and sort of limit the focus for the first couple of seasons to the Five Burroughs. We felt like we got tremendous value out of concentrating our stories there in New York, New York being kind of the capital of the world and things come to New York. And that’s been great for us to the degree that we’re able to execute it on a great level practically, which is always a way that I like to make stuff. We’re going to let the show grow a little bit outside the bounds of that this season and in the next season, you’ll see a little more of that.
You mentioned you’re doing the arc for Episode 11, will we be seeing Elias again in that?
NOLAN: We sure hope so. We love working with Enrico, he’s a phenomenal actor, phenomenal character. As long as we get him, that guy’s busy. We have a couple of fun beats planned for him.
Are there any other guest stars you can talk about or people we’ve seen before who are coming back?
PLAGEMAN: Absolutely. Paige Turco is one obviously, we’ll definitely have Paige back. We’d love to have Leon Tao back if he’s available.
NOLAN: Ken [Leung]’s great. Again, you have folks who are going in and out of series regulars, jobs with other shows but we always make it work. We always sweet talk the other network and we’re very, very lucky that we have a growing group of incredibly talented actors who really love doing the show and love the characters. We get them back when we can and when it sort of dovetails with the story direction that we’re trying to pursue.
On that note, do you have plans to bring back Warren [Cole] anytime this season or is that sort of a dangling thread you’ll pick up at some point?
PLAGEMAN: Kind of a standing policy we have, if somebody pops and people really respond to them and we like them, and they’re good people, we’ll write for them. We’ll tell somebody, “Throw them back in, see if they’re available.”
You talked about how H.R. is going to be more prevalent. They sort of threatened Carter, to each other not to her. How in danger is she going to be as the season goes along, since they have their eye on her?
PLAGEMAN: Well, it’s a dangerous situation.
NOLAN: They play rough…
Is her life in serious danger at all times?
NOLAN: I think the big question for Carter is, if she’s going to take on an organization like H.R., you gotta remember they were crippled when FBI and Special Agent Donnelly went after them, and then they managed to rebuild themselves. The question becomes, what is she going to do differently if she is going to take them on?
PLAGEMAN: They’re very dangerous and I think all of our characters need to be very careful.
Including Fusco who just accessed her back when he wasn’t supposed to?
PLAGEMAN: Yeah, Fusco definitely could be in jeopardy.
Is there ever a thought in your brain about having characters from another show, if it’s ever possible, walking by in the background?
NOLAN: Who’s in our universe?
PLAGEMAN: The Elementary guys.
NOLAN: The DC universe, right? They have to be. Sometimes the writers of the show come to set with a Marvel t-shirt and they get sent home.
So does that mean it’s possible to see some Gotham paper?
NOLAN: It’s a tricky one, I guess technically we are in a very similitude to New York which makes it difficult. Who are the other characters who would come in and out of this universe? I’m trying to think of the other shows we watch. Game of Thrones, you know, we’re in Westeros, which part of the kingdoms are we in? Who else could pop into our universe?
PLAGEMAN: That’d be really strange.
NOLAN: Walter White’s out there… Obviously, everyone loves that show but one of the things I love about that show is they had that slightly heightened—and people will forget about it—the finale for Breaking Bad was kind of a reminder for people that there’s this slightly heightened aspect to the proceedings there as well, which in line with some of the shenanigans that we pull here—obviously very, very different shows. But sort of the M60 garage door opener is something that I think Reese and Finch would have been very proud to have developed.
PLAGEMAN: You know what’s really interesting is that I heard them talk about how hard it was to get certain actors back so they had to change on the fly—change the story. I was like “Wow, we’re not the only ones.” That shows amazing to think people would be killing themselves to get back on it and sometimes they’re not available.
NOLAN: That’s another great example of a show that took full advantage of, like I said, that sort of bound infinity. By the time you’re done watching five seasons of that show, you felt like Albuquerque was—and I spent some time shooting in Albuquerque and I was not in a hurry to get back there—but they got incredible cinematic scope out of that locale. I just think there’s something to be said. It’s fun, on the movies work on and on the television’s great fun to jump around and shoot in India one week and shoot in China the next week but I think one of the things that we’ve been able to execute really, really well in our show is taking full advantage of New York City. I challenge you to find a TV show that has it any more—we’re New York, we’re up to 11 on the New York City meter. All the other shows that shoot there, they’re great shows, but they all shoot on stages. They’re all on stages, 5-6 days out of every episode. You’re looking at elaborately, beautifully, furnished offices, built inside a giant warehouse in Queens somewhere. We have some of those and they’re gathering dust, we sort of shoot a day of the week there. We’re out in New York all the time.
PLAGEMAN: You should ask Jim [Caviezel] how awesome it was to shoot in New York in February.
NOLAN: January, we were miserable.
Can we talk about my favorite character Bear?
NOLAN: America’s favorite character!
In last week’s episode I thought that he would actually jump on the guy, but you did have the part where he ripped his suit so there was fabric there. But I also noticed that he seemed to be in this episode a lot more and he is building this relationship with Shaw. So can you talk about what you have planned for Bear?
NOLAN: Actually we could shoot it now, Boker just had puppies.
PLAGEMAN: That’s right, Boker just had puppies. He’s a total stud. He’s the only one that Shaw really relates to (laughs).
NOLAN: He’s the only one that Shaw really relates to [laughs]. I think were intending on explaining why that is. Yeah he’s…we’re very, very lucky. Greg and I, one of the stranger moments of our careers, it’s got to be one of the weirder moments of my career in Hollywood, was casting a dog over teleconference from LA to New York. The dog’s in New York and we sort of zoom in on the camera and said, “Well, can they sit?” And they’re like, “Sit, sit, sit.” “Well, can they growl?” Because in the first episode Bear is supposed to growl. Fusco and Ken Leung’s character Leon are tied together and ball gagged and Bear is supposed to be growling at them, but it turns out Belgian Malinois don’t growl. It’s a behavior that they don’t exhibit. It’s been bred out of them or they’ve never done it in the first place. So we said, we’re doing these dog auditions, there are three dogs [laughs] and one dog comes forward and we said, “Well can the dog growl?” And the trainer said, “No, these dogs don’t growl.” So we said, “Okay, we need a dog that growls.” So they go away for five minutes and come back and the dog was like, [rawr rawr rawr].
PLAGEMAN: They’re also taught not to cuddle much either, which I think is pretty disappointing to a couple of our writers who wanted to cuddle with Bear.
NOLAN: Yeah, we take an executive producer privilege on that. We show up on set and we just cuddle the dog anyway. It’s so funny, I mean the joke from last season, the season premiere, I remember we were talking to a couple of you guys and you were saying “What’s the deal with the dog?” [Laughs] And I remember saying this, but you have these frankly quite reserved, quite private characters and I think the audience really enjoys the tiny little glimpses of friendship that you see between Finch and Reese, and Finch and Shaw, and Shaw and Reese, and Carter and Fusco. Its little pieces, we don’t hit people over the head with the emotion between these characters, but everyone, even the most stoic people, even Shaw, has an emotional response to an animal, to a dog. It’s just a different facet of your personality it may access. A lot of people in the writer’s room are dog owners, I have two myself. Greg is not there yet, but we’re working on it. We just love the idea that you could short circuit that stoicism with these characters, and it’s worked beautifully with Shaw who really does relate best to Bear. You just get to see a totally different facet of the personality.
PLAGEMAN: And we think the machine may be communicating with Bear on a frequency.
Are you happy with the amount of serialized arcs that you are able to tell or are there characters that you would like to service better or more?
NOLAN: The irony of shooting, I don’t know how you feel, I don’t want to volunteer us to make any more of these things, because we’re shooting versus a cable show, shooting 22, 23 hours of TV a year is really, really difficult. It’s really difficult. Especially the way that we do it in New York, it’s brutal because the writers in LA will forget that it’s raining or that it’s cold. We love our serialized story, we love being able to lean into it, but the reality is, and we’ve talked about this on a couple different occasions, but the reality is if you’re doing a fully serialized format for a cable show is fine, you get 10 to 12 episodes a year, perfect. You get enough time to figure out exactly how they all connect together. That’s fine. When you’re doing 22 episodes a year, if you’re a purely serialized show you do reach a point where shit has to happen because shit has to happen, right? So the ultimate expression of that is the soap opera where you have a hour of TV to fill every day so you get to these absurd melodramatic moments of everybody’s got a twin sibling who is dead or is resuscitated, the zombies are coming. You get to a point where you just have to create story for the sake of creating story and I can’t think of anything more agonizing than being kind of chained to the wheel of your own story where it’s like, “something better happen.”
Even watching great shows try to parcel out- it was kind of fascinating watching the last season of Breaking Bad, watching them parcel out exactly how many pieces would take you to the next piece to the next piece. And the pace of that show in the last season was, to me, notably, I loved it, but it was different than the previous seasons. They had an end in sight and they were working meticulously towards it. 22 to 24 hours of television when you’re a broadcast show, this format that we modeled very straightforwardly on X-Files, which is a show that we just thought worked beautifully in this way. You can have a story of the week. So when we tell a serialized beat, we’re doing it because we want to. We’re doing it because we’ve reached a juncture where we want to roll that story along. We’re not doing it because we have to. Because if we don’t have good development for a character, we’re telling a story of the week and we just don’t need to roll that character along any further for that week. We can just concentrate on the POI for the week, the guest, the arc, and their world. So it’s a really nice balance. It’s a really tricky balance in terms of producing it. It’s very difficult for the writers too.
PLAGEMAN: We’re in era now where obviously cable television is fantastic and the stuff that’s coming on Netflix and Amazon, these shows are wonderful, but there really is an art form still to telling that kind of show, telling that stand alone aspect with enough serialized content that it feels like a challenging show, that there’s a mythology that’s worth your while in the longer term arc. And this is one that’s really good, so was NYPD Blue. You would have the case come in, but as long it was compelling or they were telling you something that you cared about you could sprinkle in the mythology and serialized aspect of the show, enough to stick to your ribs, and when you’re making 22 to 23 of these things a year it gets you through. It’s a good engine, it’s a good engine to have. We love the serialized stuff. Sometimes we don’t even feel like telling the story of the week. We’ve ditched it a couple times.
NOLAN: Yeah, sometimes we don’t.
PLAGEMAN: Or we’ve reduced it to this much and some people don’t even notice, but we still want to be a show that’s growing. We still want to be a show that you can come in- there’s always a little element of confusion I think when you drop into one of our shows, you’re like, “Who’s the woman in the asylum and what’s going on?” That’s great. As long as you can drop, but kind of understand what’s going on, you can get context from it, it can be a challenging show and still be a good one.
NOLAN: Well for the first two years we didn’t exist outside of original run network and re-runs, at the end of the season you could buy the DVDs, but this season is the first season that you can watch multiple episodes on CBS.com and you can catch up on all of the episodes on iTunes. So it would have been a huge liability to lead too much into it. We love our huge story, our big serialized story and hopefully that shows, but it is a relief in some ways where you don’t feel like you have a confident move you want to make between two characters where you say, “You know what? It’s all good. We’re going to tell this story this week and hang out here and wait for the right moment for that next piece to fit into place.”
PLAGEMAN: And a lot of times we’ve had to push story because one was squeezing out the other and we just had to move it.
NOLAN: Well we finally only exhausted the material from the pilot in the second season finale. [Laughs] The original pilot outline, I remember Greg read it and he was like, “This is a lot of story here, dude.” Just coming from the feature world, you just get it all out because that’s it. This is what you’ve got your two-hour window.
PLAGEMAN: We have material that Richard Lewis shot for us last year, he’s coming back around to direct an episode we go, “Guess what? We’ve got some material we’d love to use.”
NOLAN: Ready to roll. But the fun thing about the show from the beginning was that you always feel that were being true to the franchise of the show because the machine effectively functions for Finch as a random access device. If you really did have a heads up on every premeditated murder in New York you would find yourself pulled in a lot of different directions at once and bouncing from one world within New York to another week to week to week. So for us it felt very natural that this was the storytelling format that fit best for this show.
Something that’s never been made clear and I was wondering if it was going to be addressed one day or not, was how do the machine go about deciding who to save and who to help?
NOLAN: That’s a really good question. That’s another thing we talked about in the pilot [laughs]. It is a good question. It’s a question we intend to answer and get a little more clarity on. Hopefully now having one character whose relationship with The Machine is much more transparent and new in contrast to the relationship that Finch designed for himself with The Machine and we’ll explain this later in the season but the machine is trying to honor Finch’s intentions from the beginning of “Oh okay, you wanted to do it this way, you wanted this kind of relationship” It’s as if you have the relationship with the machine that you negotiate and the under the hood version of how exactly is the machine deciding? But also how is Finch deciding? There have to be days where you get multiple numbers coming in and we sort of address that in certain episodes, but we still think there are some fun answers left to show to the audience. Finch really hasn’t spilled all of the beans even to Reese in terms of exactly how he interacts with the machine.
One big question at the end of last season was where is the machine? They went on this hunt to find it and it wasn’t there and that isn’t really anything that you’ve addressed so far this season. Will it come back up again?
NOLAN: What do you think? Are we going to find that machine?
PLAGEMAN: It would be really good, wouldn’t it?
Big reveal that Bear is The Machine.
NOLAN: Bear is The Machine! One of the ideas at the end of last season was that in freeing itself its location is less important, but we still think- one, we had a set of flashbacks that we weren’t able to shoot but that were great fun that answered that question that we would very much like to get back to. But there are still very much, actively at this point, people vying for control of it. I think our hope had been that that question becomes secondary this season to “wherever it is it has a plan, what is the plan?” But I think given that part of our mandate for the show from the beginning- we were talking to some people in New York last week who were saying, “You covered a lot of story territory in two seasons.” We always wanted the show to have big questions, but big answers too. We didn’t want the audience to go nine seasons before getting an answer that maybe wasn’t terribly satisfactory, or maybe would have been exciting if they’d gotten it two seasons in but by the time we got around to it the fans had already guessed what it was supposed to be. We don’t want to play that game. We want regularly to answer big questions that hopefully pose new questions. So the question from last season was “where is the machine?” And the answer is “It ain’t where you think it is because Finch has set in place this elaborate plan to try to rescue it from the people he gave it to in the first place.” So here in this season were sort of shifting gears towards it’s taking a more active role in designing or protecting itself or them. What exactly it’s up to is what we’re going to spend the rest of the season dealing with.
Given that the machine does seem to have a plan will viewers find out what that plan is by the time season three is over?
PLAGEMAN: No I think that’s a much, much bigger question.
NOLAN: Yeah, you’re talking about a higher order intelligence. There’s some big questions. I don’t know. It depends on the plan. The plan has parts. Definitively one aspect of what it’s doing we will answer; by the end of the season that will absolutely come into focus. The larger- we were struck by some of the things in the Ray Kurzweil books Age of Intelligent Machine, Spiritual Machines, etc. He talks about- and I don’t agree with it necessarily, I mean Kurzweil is an expert in the field and now a big honcho at Google, but with all due respect certain leaps that he is making are highly speculative. Some of the things that he talks about are really fascinating Moore’s Law seems to predict that by the time you’d figured out that you’ve actually built something as smart as you, by definition it would probably already be twice as smart as you, which we thought was kind of a fascinating conundrum for people working in A.I. to have to deal with. So the machine is really smart, probably way smarter than us, which is challenging, writing for an imaginary character that is way smarter than you [laughs]. It keeps us on our toes. But we imagine that its plan will be multifaceted, complicated, and reactive to things that are kind of changing around it. One of the things that we’ve said from the beginning is that in this show things will not always work out nicely for our characters. We wanted the show to be dangerous and unpredictable from the beginning. The machine is one of our characters so there’s no reason to imagine that just because it has a plan that the plan is going to work out exactly just as it wants it to.
NOLAN: Greg hasn’t told me yet.
PLAGEMAN: When we become cyborgs it will just tell us.
NOLAN: We’re actually trying to build a software program that will figure out how the hell show works going forward.
PLAGEMAN: It feels like were all kind of eventually going to be cyborgs, right? With Google glass, it’s all coming right?
NOLAN: I got to try Google glass for the first time and it’s…fascinating. I definitely- you look kind of dorky but I think we’re in this, especially with Root and Root’s story this season in terms of her interaction with the machine being guided by it. We just this is kind of the “au courant” right now for anyone looking at technology. Okay, fifteen years of cell phones, five years of smartphones we’re reaching a point now where they’re no longer the oracle in your pocket that you pull out and you ask it. It’s now starting to be your autopilot. It’s going to start telling you where to go. It’s going to start telling you, “No, no, no you’ve got to be here.” Or, “Wait, stop the car you might be interested in this.” And those technologies are very primitive at this point but that’s clearly the next step so watching how Root puts it, not in this episode, but in an upcoming episode, which is a lot of fun where she says “I don’t always know where it’s telling me to go or what its telling me to do until I get there.” We’re entering into an odd contract right now with the data where it’s going to start telling us to do things that we don’t readily understand until we’ve already done them and that’s sort of part of the story this season for the character.
PLAGEMAN: It’s one of the things about, even Kurtzweil talked about like, machines are better than us at processing power and storage. Those things are bountiful in a computer so if you extrapolate some of the things they’re making now and say if something is in your hand now does all the amazing things it does then eventually it will become wearable, and then eventually it will become an implant, and then when that happens that stuff just gets wired and then we’re in a whole new fun zone.
NOLAN: Yeah, even something as simple as, you know, I just bought a car that decelerates when it senses something in front of it even if the cruise control’s not on, it will lock up the breaks and stop. My wife and I were talking about kids and I was worried. I’m not a terribly sensible driver or I certainly wasn’t when I was 16 so the concept of having a kid I mean, your kids will be getting driver’s licenses sometime soon. And I suddenly realized I’m not going to have to worry about that at all, because by the time I have kids that are old enough to drive they’re not going to be driving. There won’t be any driving. That’s all gone. There was a video online yesterday that was on reddit of a Mercedes automated S-class recreating the drive that Benz had done with the first car 100 years ago, but completely autonomously. We’re right there. Its five years away. So the idea of getting into a car that goes where you want it to without it having to ask you how to get there, I mean things are definitely going to get really weird in the next five years and we’re kind of interested by that.
Given all the technological advances and the fact that you guys are a part of the Bad Robot family, what kind of awesome consultants do you have helping you try to keep on top of this technology and make sure that it actually is plausible?
PLAGEMAN: Well the plausibility has never been an issue for us although we try to keep it somewhat grounded. There’s an awesome guy TED, TED Talks.
NOLAN: Oh, TED talks.
PLAGEMAN: We obsess over all those. There’s so many interesting people, fascinating people. We briefly talked to one of the folks at MIT Media Lab.
NOLAN: Yeah, Joi Ito. JJ’s a fellow at the media lab so that access has been incredibly helpful.
PLAGEMAN: Yeah and Tony Camerino is the technical consultant on our show. He was in the air force and was an interrogator as well, and he’s been incredibly helpful obviously informing us on things like Carter’s character and getting those details right. We always strive for verisimilitude if we can and the thing that’s on the precipice of coming out, and making it real and just a little bit of extrapolation a little bit heightened, but it’s always real. We’re not putting anything into the show that isn’t here or isn’t coming.
NOLAN: Yeah, we’re sort of trying to resist the temptation to do the “I told you so” bit, but we did have a lot of really interesting people come in fairly regularly to the writers room. People like Valerie Plame and Shane Harris come in at one point, people who have written books that we have responded to. Shane Harris wrote a book all about PRISM two years before anyone heard about PRISM. People who have seen up close and personal the real machine, the real surveillance apparatus erected by the US in response to 9/11. And then just folks who understand more conventional human intelligence spying military, technical advisors, lots and lots of that. We also encourage the writers; the writers do a lot of their own research. That’s one of the beauties of the age we live in is if you have a web browser you can dig as deeply into a question- you can dig quite deeply into a question. It’s always good to talk to experts in the field because there’s a lot of nonsense on the web as well, but you really can find an awful lot of interesting material out there. We tend not to do the ripped-from-the-headline storylines for our show, we’re more interested in the slightly more dramatic, slightly more rarified more in the movie or drama space but as far as the ripped-from-the-headlines stuff you’ll see it hopefully laced into the technology somewhere.
Can any of your experts explain Fusco’s effect on women?
NOLAN: [Laughs] That is a fascinating, fascinating question. One that we have devoted many, many man hours to.
PLAGEMAN: Don’t mess with the Fusco.
PLAGEMAN: We have a really powerful story arc coming up for Fusco. His relationship with Carter really deepened with Carter last year when we did a bit of an origin story for him in terms of understanding how Fusco went bad. And we think that he’s going to become much more integral to the show as the season wears on.
I’m curious about filming in New York and are there certain places that you guys have been trying to film at since day one that you have not been able to?
PLAGEMAN: Yeah, there have been.
NOLAN: We’ve shot almost everywhere. I mean place you would not imagine were possible; the Guggenheim. For me even on the pilot it was mind blowing to imagine that you could shoot in Central Park, now we do it all the time and it’s actually quite mundane.
PLAGEMAN: You know the hardest place to shoot that we’ve always wanted to shoot? The subway.
NOLAN: The subway is a pain in the ass.
PLAGEMAN: The subway.
NOLAN: The subway is a pain in the ass. The subway is just difficult because there is very little of it that isn’t in constant use. They used to go do it up on- the fire academy has a training site that has a subway train in it that you could shoot, but they don’t let you shoot there anymore.
PLAGEMAN: I remember Amanda Segel wrote in the Guggenheim and I laughed and I went “That’s great, now figure out what it’s really going to be.” And then the Guggenheim let us go in and shoot and it was very reasonable too. It was really amazing.
NOLAN: You do find yourself pinching yourself sitting in a location thinking, “Why? What?” And the answer is sometimes that they like the show. We shot last year’s season finale in the New York Public Library, which was just an incredible blast. I was talking to Michael Emerson about how much fun it was to be in the New York Public Library at four o’clock in the morning just kind of wandering through the stacks with a bunch of highly armed beautiful people chasing me around. It’s surreal often. That’s one of the beauties of doing all this very practical shooting that we do is I think you and I must have seen every corner of that city.
PLAGEMAN: I’d love still to shoot on a bridge. You always have to shoot underneath it.
NOLAN: We did that with The Dark Knight Rises.
PLAGEMAN: Yeah, you did.
NOLAN: Check that one off.
PLAGEMAN: That’s hard.
NOLAN: Bridges are tough.
Is there anything else coming up that you want to tease about what’s to come?
NOLAN: I feel like we get in trouble when we do that.
How about tomorrow night’s episode for people that haven’t seen it how would you pitch it?
PLAGEMAN: It’s “Ladies Night”…and that includes Root.
NOLAN: [Laughs] Yeah.
PLAGEMAN: I think that’s a good example of a fun standalone story that opens up Carter’s character in a nice way, but also Root’s storyline is giving us a glimpse into a greater serialized aspect regarding her relationship with the machine and what that’s going to mean to Harold Finch. So that’s sort of what we do.
NOLAN: Never underestimate a strong woman who has access to a networked artificial intelligence.
Person of Interest airs on CBS Tuesday nights.