Person of Interest and Penny Dreadful both had their series finale in the past week. There will be major spoilers for each.
We knew from the start of the season that Person of Interest was concluding, and at times the abbreviated season felt frustrating as too much time, probably at the insistence of CBS, was spent with procedural episodes when there was so much story to tell this season. The end game started late in the season with Root being killed in the 100th episode. This led to Harold thinking more about what must be done, and the consequences of his previous decisions to limit the machine. Root got her way in having the Machine be set more free, and it adopted not only her voice but her attitude. The penultimate episode showed what would have happened to the characters if Harold had never built the Machine. Some were better off and some worse off. Either way, this convinced Harold of what he must do, as he released the Ice-9 virus.
The finale dealt with the aftermath, skipping around in time. We got a glimpse of the chaos around the world, but much of the episode centered on Harold speaking with the machine on a roof where Harold thought he was engaging in a final suicide mission to destroy Samaritan. It was fitting that much of the remainder of the episode had Finch and Reese together as the series began, ending consistent with their characters that Reese (with the help of the Machine) would sacrifice himself instead.
While there was speculation that the finale would be a blood bath, Reese was the only member of Team Machine to die. In a way Root came back from death as the personification of the Machine. Lionel hopefully still has his pension to look forwards to. The Machine, which had failed to beat Samaritan in all those previous simulations, somehow managed to win this time, although it is not clear how. Shaw has the dog, and received a call from the Machine, now sounding like Root. She could conceivably carry on the old missions, with it also revealed recently that the Machine has other recruits. (It did seem strange that, knowing they exist, they were not called in to help in the final battle). Finch, like the Machine, received a happier ending than would have been predicted. He not only recovered from his wounds, but was reunited with Grace. Does he know that the Machine survived, and will it also call him again in the Future?
DEADLINE: Person Of Interest made artificial intelligence a central part of the story years before it became a hot topic. While most headlines today incite fear, the Machine on POI is not a threat but helps people. Jonah, why did you decide to do that and what it your position on AI, a subject that you have tackled in several projects?
NOLAN: I think it’s a nuanced one, it’s a complicated one. Part of the reason for the inception of the show or the spark for me was that I had seen many, many examples in film and TV of dystopian visions of AI. But, while the movie Her is a great example that came out a couple of years after we started making the show, it is one of the very few examples you can point towards of a positive depiction of artificial intelligence. It’s a subject that I’m kind of fascinated with, took a similar approach with the robots in Interstellar and now our current project, HBO’s Westworld, sort of exploring the same idea. I think we’ve long viewed AI as the bogeyman. That’s indicative of the way that we’ve viewed anything else that we see as a possible threat to us. Look, there’s good reason to be apprehensive.
I think the open AI initiative that Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking and others pushed for is a great idea. There needs to be transparency in what we’re doing. A lot of the stuff that’s happening right now is happening behind closed doors. It’s not science fiction to imagine that an ASI, an artificial super intelligence, will or could have an enormous impact on society. I think it’s an enormously positive impact. That’s part of what we wanted to portray but we also wanted to portray it in a very balanced way. We wanted to consider both the upside and downside of that and really get into the nitty-gritty of this. One of the things I’m proudest of for the show is this long-form conversation about how AI should play out. How unbound should it be.
For us, in this show the AI takes on the form that I think is the likeliest that it’ll take on, which is a network intelligence. Not a robot necessarily wandering around but a network intelligence that watches us and interacts with us and asks us to do things. In a sense, in this show we become the robots. Reese becomes the agent acting at the behest of this all-seeing intelligence. I think if you get to the end of this show, will you imagine that AI is an unqualified good thing? No. But I think from the beginning we wanted to portray both sides of it and the idea that a networked artificial intelligence could be a great force for good. And then you have Samaritan, I think that’s a little more familiar in terms of AI presentations where they want to take over the world. It’s abundantly clear that Samaritan would be a great force for change and good in the world but at a significant moral cost. We wanted to play in the gray area…
DEADLINE: Was this the original ending you had in mind for the series? When was that idea formed that a character will be killed off?
NOLAN: Greg, this is pretty much what we talked about from the beginning, right?
PLAGEMAN: Yeah. It seemed to spring organically from the sacrificial nature of what Reese was doing. It felt right in terms of that relationship from the very beginning. The moment Finch hired him at the end of the pilot, he said, ‘I should warn you, we’ll probably both get killed.” You almost knew at some point in time that sort of sacrifice was going to be required in order for them to ultimately defeat Samaritan and for one to allow the other to go on.
NOLAN: You get a sense that these guys are on a tragic journey — we announced it right from the pilot that they are not both going to make it. So it’s really a question of the arc for these characters and also the idea of friendship and sacrifice.
Reese, when we find him, is an extremist. In a sequence that we weren’t able to shoot because we couldn’t get permission, originally the pilot starts with Reese about to throw himself off the Manhattan Bridge. The city wouldn’t let us shoot it. They would let us shoot it on the bridge to Roosevelt Island, but that’s only about 20 feet off the water so we didn’t think we would get quite the same level of spectacle. So we weren’t able to shoot the beginning of the pilot the way it’s supposed to play out
When we find Reese, he’s in a very dark place, an assassin at the end of his rope. Finch gives him a reason to live, a new purpose. There’s great affection. This is really where the season started with the relationship between these two characters. When we get to the end, there are so many amazing characters that we found along the way and they all play a role in that finale. But it’s really that relationship — Finch, Reese, and the Machine but specifically Finch and Reese and their evolving friendship over the seasons. It’s probably the heart of the show, the essence of the show from the beginning. The sort of odd couple.
So we wanted to see Reese, as he says in the finale, he gets a chance to repay that great favor that Finch gave him a new lease on life. It’s a redemptive arc for Reese, the sacrifice at the end is him giving some of that back to Finch in the hopes that one of them could make it out alive…
DEADLINE : What about Shaw, is she the new Reese? There was a hint in the finale that she may take the mantle.
NOLAN: I think that’s the suggestion at the end of the finale. As Finch says in the pilot, the numbers never stop coming. We assume that someone has to pick up that mantle. There’s no better candidate than Shaw. She’s capable and has a somewhat redemptive arc through this. I think that purpose and that relationship with Root as the Machine, to us we always imagined that someone would pick up the mantel and carry it forward. Shaw was always conceived of as that character.
DEADLINE: Let’s talk about the Machine. Was it important for you that it lived on?
PLAGEMAN: I do think it’s important. I think it’s important to understand that there is an artificial intelligence in the world that considers humanity. We talked about artificial intelligence quite a bit on the show and what could happen, will there be just one or will there be multiple artificial intelligences that proliferate. For now, at least in the ending of this show, as far as we’re aware there is only one. That is the one that Harold Finch originally encoded…
DEADLINE: The Episode 11 that Greg mentioned, was it envisioned as a potential spinoff?
NOLAN: Definitely not an attempt on our part to do a spinoff. If we were ever going to do a spinoff it would have been with the Control end of things and the relevant side of things which would have been great fun to take a look at three seasons ago. We didn’t want to do a spinoff. We’ve watched friends go through this where it’s like, the series is doing great, spin it off and then you wind up impoverishing both shows. So definitely not an attempt on our part to spin the show off. It was an attempt to answer a big question that’s always been there in terms of what happens to all the numbers that come up outside of New York City and to see that there is this master plan with the Machine in terms of the numbers along the way, everything adding up to something new and different.
They were also interviewed by IGN. The first question quoted is related to one of my questions above about the finale, and they also discussed what could have happened if the show was not ending:
Matt Fowler: In the finale, the Machine defeated Samaritan, after losing to it trillions of times in a simulated battle. Did she just have it within her all along to pull out the win in the end?
Nolan: I think a part of it was all that relentless training, in a sense. Finch and Root trying to scheme out how this would work but also running these simulations with the Machine in order to figure out how it could win in its most paired down form. So you’ve got this decommissioned Soviet satellite and these things were up in there in their most compact fighting form. Sort of like how armies used to march out and select one champion to represent them, and the fight would be decided with that champion and the rest of the army would abide by that outcome. But at this point, the armies have been decimated and destroyed and only the champions remain. The sparest algorithmic versions of these ASIs uploaded into the satellite like two strands of DNA having a kung fu battle. So kind of fun, but also kind of hard to visualize.
Plageman: Also, keeping in mind that Finch unleashed this virus that could hobble Samaritan enough to put the two ASIs on more equal footing.
Nolan: Both of them have been reduced to their respective essence, and in that form, the Machine was going to kick Samaritan’s ass.
Goldman: Samaritan ended up working as the ultimate foe for the Machine. Did you always see it as the end game and would have held off on this final battle for a couple more seasons if the show were continuing? Because you kind of ended up with the HR era and then the Samaritan era.
Nolan: I had imagined that in any version this would be the final season for Samaritan. And we had a blueprint we used for what could come next. If this was the ultimate big bad – like, what could we do afterward? And we had some pretty cool ideas. But certainly for a final adversary, Samaritan is a pretty great one…
Goldman: The great and bad thing about creating something people care about is you’re going to have to put up with guys like us asking, for years and years, “Will there be a follow-up to Person of Interest?” What’s your gut feeling? We live in an era with more revivals than ever. Do you think in some form, these characters could ever pop up again?
Nolan: Last year, it was 24, X-Files and Heroes. You’d be forgiven for waking up and checking your TV Guide thinking you’d traveled back in time 10 years. So you never say never. They’ve got our number! They can call us. We love these f**king characters. We love this world.
While we knew going into the season that it would be the last for Person of Interest, it was not announced until after the finale of Penny Dreadful aired that the show was not coming back. This was probably a good thing for those viewing Sunday night as I bet they were expecting to see Vanessa triumph in the end. For those like myself who watched it later, after seeing headlines of the shocking ending as well as the cancellation, Vanessa’s death was more predictable (although surprising that she had so little to do at the end). In a way it was also foreshadowed in the penultimate episode as both ended with rather disappointing surrenders by female characters who might have been expected to be stronger. Perhaps it was an homage to the common Victorian troupe of damsels in distress.
The final season also felt strangely constructed. Season two ended with the characters separated. I expected to see them reunited sooner, as opposed to waiting until late in the season, and then ending it all. It seemed like they were introducing Dr. Jekyll for a larger role in the future but couldn’t go very far with that. Other new characters were handled better, such as Dracula, Catriona Hartdegen, and Justine, even if I didn’t like how her character died. Actually the only character’s story line which I was really satisfied with this season was the Creature.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Showtime president David Nevins and series creator John Logan:
When did you first know this would be the final season?
Logan: It was midway through season two, about two years ago when I was envisioning season three. I knew at the end of season two that Vanessa Ives steps away from God and burns the crucifix and she’s left completely alone without the one thing that sustained her and the one source of strength she truly has — which is her faith. Since the show for me has always been about a woman grappling with God and faith, I thought the idea of her scratching her way back to God and finally achieving some some of apotheosis was the appropriate ending. As the season began to dance about in my head, I realized where it was going to have to go and have to end. I thought that was the right end and the graceful end for the character. I discussed it with Eva and then talked to David about where I felt the season was going.
Nevins: I spent a short amount of time trying to say, “Are you sure you want to do it? There’s all these other wonderful characters.” It became clear John was right and it needed Vanessa or it wasn’t smart to continue the show beyond Vanessa. I fairly quickly said yes. And then the question was how do we handle that information and position it? The traditional thing to do was announce this is the last season. It felt like that would give away the surprise and part of the pleasure of watching TV now is experiencing it for yourself and the emotions in an unspoiled, unmediated sort of way. The episode begins with not the usual main title and that signals something different is going on here and it ends with “The end.”
Many viewers felt Vanessa’s arc suggested she was doomed at the end of the first season. Do you think this is an example of one great performance shifting the focus of an ensemble show more than anticipated?
Logan: From a writer’s perspective, this was always a show about Vanessa Ives for me. That character was the spine of the show.
Nevins: This was not a change. It was clear from John’s perspective, the show was about Vanessa Ives’ story. I encouraged an ensemble a bit, but its spine and trunk was always Vanessa.
They spoke at Entertainment Weekly about the fates of the major characters:
John, you called this the story of a woman’s journey to faith. Why could returning to her faith only happen for Vanessa as she died?
LOGAN: Because Vanessa, like all characters that are interesting to me, is broken. She’s a cursed, dark creature, and she was never going to exist easily in Victorian society as a proper Victorian wife or matron or anything. There was always an exceptionality about her, most emphatically in the fact that she’d dwelt in the dark side, with both Dracula and the devil seeking her soul. The only peace she could possibly have was with God, and the way to commit to that was to give herself entirely to it. And it became a sacrifice that she had to enact for the good of mankind. It was a generous act that she did in dying and going to God, as well.
Opposite her experience, we’ve got the Creature [Rory Kinnear] who’s also choosing death over life on behalf of his son. Vanessa is religious. The Creature is not. Were their similar responses to death an intentional counterpoint?
LOGAN: Of course. Those two characters do a pas de deux the entire series for me. I’m Irish, so it’s like different sides of my personality. Half the time I want to go to Mass; half the time I want to walk away.
The story around Lily [Billie Piper] has been one of my favorites this year.
LOGAN: Yeah, me too.
That monologue about her daughter in episode 8 was just stunning. Can you take me through why it was so important that you saved that really human story for the end of the season?
LOGAN: Happily. I chose to write about women in Victorian society — that’s the stealth thing this show is actually about. It’s a very feminist show, and the idea that the audience gets to see, in our three years, Lily as a degraded figure who’s abused by men, as Brona, literally being reborn into a blank slate and then achieving incredible power but always having a great human connection. That was a case where I was also inspired by the actor, because Billie Piper so delights me, and I found that in the second season I was able to write her an eight-minute monologue that she absolutely delivered, completely, in a way that I found thrilling. I just wanted to do it again, because she’s an actor who understands theatricality and understands larger than life language in a very unique way, and that’s part of what this show is about.
Variety spoke with John Logan:
There are a lot of balls you’ve got in the air, a lot of storylines. Obviously you’ve had multiple story lines in other seasons, but this seemed like the most “Penny Dreadful” has ever had.
This is multiple stories on steroids. I think that’s fun. The series has gotten broader and broader every season and I think that’s correct. If it was still the same five people in a room in Victorian London, you’d want to kill yourself. I certainly didn’t want to write the same show year after year, with the central characters talking in the great room about evil. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to have bigger themes, bigger stories.
Part of what helped me do that this season was having a lot of new characters. We’ve got Patti LuPone, who plays Dr. Seward, Dr. Jekyll, Keatenay, and Dr. Sweet, who’s involved in Vanessa’s storyline — all those new characters start thickening the broth, if you will. And by season three, I think we want a thick broth.
The different characters add different shadings, different notes on the scale, if you will. As do the different actors. When you see Wes Studi and Tim Dalton are fantastic together and there’s a chemistry there, seeing where the chemistry connects between the actors and the characters, is really rewarding.
And the important thing to me, as I planned the first three seasons of the show, was weaving back into the Dracula story. We did that to some degree in season one, with Mina Harker, Sir Malcolm’s daughter, and then we get back into it big time in season three. It’s fun, and challenging.
That was an unexpected reveal at the end of the first episode, but it does draw on one of the show’s themes, that these things are constants. These dangers, these demons, the issue the characters face on their moral journeys — they don’t just go away. You don’t solve them, because they’re eternal.
That’s exactly right. You look at Vanessa, who is obviously for me the beating heart of the series — the woman is tormented from without and within. From within, it’s part of a journey of faith, and losing her faith and that leaving her in a wasteland of an existence, until she tries to drag herself out of it. But also, from without, she was tormented by Satan last season, Dracula in the first season, and those things don’t go away. Your inner demons and outer demons are still there until you find finally face them in some way. I always wanted this season to be about Vanessa and Ethan facing their most difficult challenges. Ethan goes back home into the crucible of his past, his father, what made him a werewolf, why is the way he is. With Vanessa, it’s [an exploration of] the darkness around her.
The finale of Person of Interest, with scenes of chaos after the release of the Ice-9 virus, reminded me of the ending last season of Mr. Robot with the release of their hack. A new trailer for the second season is above, showing that the FBI is after Elliot. The season has been extended from ten to twelve episodes, and there will be an after show entitled Hacking Robot.
The video below looks back at the first season: