Person of Interest: Michael Emerson Talks Series Finale, More Loss and His Personal, Painful Takeaway

This Tuesday at 10/9c, CBS’ Person of Interest wraps its five-season run — but not before heaping upon Team Machine more loss during their final battle against Samaritan.

Already during the show’s 13-episode swan song, longtime frenemy Elias took one for the team he had just barely joined, while Root died a hero’s death by steering herself into the path of a bullet meant for The Machine’s creator, Harold. In the wake of that tragic loss, Finch has gone a bit rogue, securing and unleashing a computer megavirus capable of vanquishing Samaritan — as well as its kinder-hearted kin.

With one last, epic clash on the horizon, Michael Emerson spoke with TVLine about Harold’s “desperate” act, the final run’s more emotional moments and why he’s walking away from the show a tiny bit worse for the wear.

TVLINE | Why has Harold splintered off and gone rogue, and not invited the team along?
Because I think he feels like this is really a suicide mission now. Too many people have died already because of him. He doesn’t person-of-interest-series-finale-finch-gun copywant any more casualties.

TVLINE | In what specific ways do you think Root’s death affected him and the decisions he’s now making?
I think it kind of rocked his world a bit. I supposes it’s a thing that he’s always understood in the abstract, but when [her fate] came to be, sitting there next to her and to have grown to have such a “family” feeling for this woman who four seasons ago kidnapped and tortured him! …. When people are on your side, you’re willing to forgive a lot, I think.

TVLINE | When it comes to deploying the Ice-9 virus, is putting The Machine’s livelihood at risk Harold’s second-worst nightmare?
Yes, I think so. The Ice-9 virus puts everything “cyber” at risk. The Machine is his creation, and part of him is just sick of himself for having handled things badly. Now he’s going to have to do something quite desperate to set things right.

TVLINE What do you think he’d do differently, if he could do it over again?
He would have to sit down and think about that. He could have unfettered The Machine, but then that would be going against his character, and it would have created a thing that…. I mean, Samaritan wasn’t an “evil” code; it just does what artificial intelligences do. So when he looks at Samaritan, he sees what his machine would have been, uncontrolled.

TVLINE | You have a great scene with Jim Caviezel in the finale — a bit of it is in the trailer that’s out now — where Harold discloses how his relationship with John ultimately surprised him. Did that turn out to be one of your favorite moments from the series?
It is good. There are a lot of great moments in these final two or three episodes that finally make explicit things that we and the viewers have been feeling for a long time. It rings the chords of the “family” that they’ve made, finally saying it out loud.

TVLINE As an actor, did it please you to see the show go there? Especially in a season where there wasn’t much time to pause and touch on such things?
Yes, because as we were shooting these final 13, I kept thinking, even as far along as Episode 9 or 10, “Where’s the ending? What form will it take?” So it’s nice to see that they were able to “put the brakes on,” turn around and do something surprising and satisfying in the last few heartbeats of the series.

TVLINE | Even that person-of-interest-episode-100-ackerconversation between Harold and Root in the car, during a high-speed chase and with guns a-blazing…. What they were saying was tremendously important.
It was. It was. Their conversation has always been philosophically crucial to the show and to the thinking of the writers. Whatever agenda, social or scientific or political, that our writers might have, that was the conversation that they spent the most time on, and the most care.

TVLINE | Harold/Root was almost like Jack Shephard/John Locke, that ongoing faith-versus-science debate.
Yes. Yes, it was.

TVLINE | Without naming names, obviously not everyone makes it out of the finale alive. Do you agree with the loss the team sustained in the name of doing the right thing?
You have to have casualties to give it gravity. That’s the only way that writers can say that these things have consequences, that these decisions have cost. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure who’s left standing, unitl I see it [Tuesday] night. But I’m always the one that has a bunch of questions after I see a finished episode, like, “Is that what that means?” Sometimes I have to replay them just to make sure that I’m getting what they’re putting out there! I had read the [series finale] script of course and acted in the scenes, but things change a little bit when they get cut and music is added, and they highlight the things they want highlighted and bury the things they want buried. That’s one of the interesting aspects of the job and one of the reasons why I always watch the finished episodes.

TVLINE What’s your biggest takeaway from the Person of Interest experience? I mean, this is your second series in a row to have banked 100-plus episodes.
That’s right, that’s unusual. I’m really a lucky actor to have had two good shows like that, both of which I was proud of. My takeaway is: It’s hard to do a big show like [POI or Lost]. Both were huge to shoot, technically, with action and explosions and effects and all of that. I don’t know how much longer the network formula can support work that difficult, on the model that they’re using now. person-of-interest-final-season-runTo shoot a credible half-of-an-action feature every eight working days…? I think it’s just unsupportable.

TVLINE | And worse, you have to limp through all of those action scenes!
Well yeah, and I thought I was so clever — “Oh, I will [affect] an infirmity, with no wear and tear on my body!” So guess who’s got physical therapy now for a stiff neck? A stiff neck that was a fictional stiff neck for five years, and now it’s a real stiff neck! [Laughs]

TVLINE | Hugh Laurie has joked about his knees going bad because of his House limp.
I wouldn’t doubt it. You end up favoring one leg over a lot of time. And I tell you, it’s not so bad with the day-to-day for any of those shows, but when Finch has to run for his life, through the streets of Chinatown…? That is so bad on the leg you’re using to support you. [Laughs] And we never get those scenes in one take!

TVLINE | You’re available again, and I think Terry O’Quinn is available now…? I know your pilot Odd Jobs didn’t pan out, but might you two finally get together for a new show? 
We’re always talking about stuff, but I think he’s just about to begin shooting that [Amazon] series Patriot, where he plays the paterfamilias of this wacky, crooked political family. But I think they’d only do 10 episodes, because they’re sensible. If they said to me, “We want Person of Interest to keep going but we’re only going to do 10 or 12 [episodes],” I’d say, “Sign me up.” But I can’t do 22 again. I think people always expect me to be broken up about things coming to an end, but we were so tired in December, I couldn’t even have imagined coming back after the new year and shooting more.

TVLINE Do you care where you work next? New York City versus L.A.?
I don’t care as long as  it’s in the lower 48 [states]. One of the POI writers has written a pilot that will be shot and produced in Nova Scotia, if it goes. And I thought, “I’m too old to do that.” I can’t go live in another country. I’m supposed to audition for a part in a  miniseries that shoots in Prague for months, and I thought, “I’m not sure I want to do that.” I know it’s a charming city and my ancestors came from there, but I don’t like living out of a suitcase like I once did!

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48 Comments
  1. Kevin K says:

    Michael Emerson is always the heart and soul of the series since Day 1. From Lost’s Ben Linus to POI’s Harold Finch, he may very well be one of the best TV’s performers I’ve ever seen in the past 25 years.

    • Pat says:

      I could not have said that any better, Kevin. I always liked him on Lost but I really love him on POI. I am not sure what his next adventure will be, but I sure hope it is another good one to watch.

    • Aerin_S says:

      Totally agree! What a fabulous actor! He was a revelation in Lost, and truly the heart and soul of POI, which has been one of my all-time favorite TV shows since Day 1. I will sorely miss it, and especially Harold.

  2. samuelzcloud says:

    I hope netflix continutes person of interest with 12-13 episode runs.

  3. LADY_in_MD says:

    I’m not ready for tomorrow!

  4. Alicia Gray says:

    THEY MAKE HIM AUDITION??

  5. Cornelius says:

    I still cannot believe this show is ending. Its Fringe all over again :(

    • ScrubsGuy says:

      Yeah, except no resetting the timeline to undo all the horrible things that happen to them in season 5 and getting a white tulip sent from the future to say “everything’s ok!” …just so we’re clear, this is not a shot at Fringe S5 – it’s just unlikely they’re going to undo all the sacrifices in PoI S5 – or whatever The Flash S3 is doing.

      • PatriciaLee says:

        It’s just I don’t want Elias and Root to be dead.

        • Patrick says:

          I’m OK with Elias being dead. He was a great character, but, ultimately, a villain. He wasn’t against Samaritan because of some moral imperative. Sam wanted Elias dead, and all ASI were going to be diametrically opposed to what Elias wanted to do. He joined up for survival, nothing more. The great portrayal of him softened what were some pretty scary edges.
          .
          When organized criminal organizations take power, they wipe out the competition. The competition fights back. If the competition wins, they will still be criminals. Its like Isis in the Middle East. They are trying to overthrow governments that are pretty awful. The best are “democracies” in which one ethnic group oppresses other ethnic groups. The worst are little more than extremely oppressive dictatorships. Isis doesn’t want to change the system to make it better for everyone, Isis just wants to change who is in charge of a repressive government.
          .
          If the ASIs were gone, Elias would be back to being a criminal. Now, as organized crime lords go, he’s relatively benign. But “less evil” isn’t good.
          .
          Now, Root was a dicey thing for me. I was never sure if she completely reformed. I think she wanted the Machine to ultimately be what Samaritan turned into. Had she survived, I’m not sure she and Shaw wouldn’t have ultimately become a problem that Harold and John wouldn’t have had to solve. I’m not sure she was so much as good as she was on “our” team. I’d be fine with her living so long as she came to understand that an all powerful ASI was ultimately a bad thing.

  6. ScrubsGuy says:

    @Matt Thanks for doing these. These pieces about PoI don’t really seem to get that many clicks or hit the “Today’s Hottest Stories” column, but I’m sure that those of us PoI fans who have stuck with it really appreciate it. Looking forward to the series finale recap tomorrow night!

  7. Renee Staudt says:

    Michael Emerson is awesome. I loved the expressions on his face and his delivery. All the actors and actresses on POI are equally as good. They’re great!! I hope to see them again in new ventures.

  8. I have never been so frustrated by TV series writers as I have by Person of Interest. The program started out great and went into a spiral path towards doom during the 3rd season only because of the writers not knowing what to do next. I will be happy to see this show end because I do not enjoy viewing a TV series that portrays endless failure in each and every episode. It became a complete turn off for me which is the last thing I wanted. I thought it would be a great show to go on for a long time with the right direction.

    • Rosanne says:

      “series that portrays endless failure in each and every episode”
      Oh, I so agree, William Stevens. This dark and depressing sheit that writers throw out there because they think the millennials will go for it or they’re lazy, or both, is such a turn-off for me. When I see the word dystopic describing most of the crap out there, it’s like – next!

      • PatriciaLee says:

        I’m with you on this. I miss the USA series that had upbeat moods and endings. “Dystopic” and “like Game of Thrones, Shield, etc.” lose me, every time.

        • Patrick says:

          If we are honest with ourselves, POI brought its early cancelation upon itself. It started off as one of CBS’s typical procedurals. That is what the creators sold to CBS in order to make it on the air. And it was a great show. In S3 it rapidly morphed into a morality play about warring ASI’s, free will, and government surveillance. In other words, the writers changed the theme and tone of the show into something very different from what it was pitched as. Basically, it was a bait and switch. Now, I liked the show tremendously, so I stayed with it. But lots of people didn’t like the new direction, so they left. Somewhat justifiably IMO. People here bag on CBS for treating the show badly. But the showrunners lied to their bosses and turned the once successful show into something completely different, and it lost a lot of viewers in the process. Frankly, we are lucky CBS gave us a wrap up season. No other net would, or even could, have done the same.

          • Sam says:

            Not being funny but even the first series was very serialised, think about Elias/Mob Boss Storyline then the HR/Corrupt Cops!

            To be completely honest I think people like you just use the whole Samaritan arc as an excuse.

          • Patrick says:

            To Sam, it was like he better BTVS seasons. A longish arc, but mostly stand alone eps. I think CBS would’ve been fine with this scenario. But that didn’t happen.

          • PatriciaLee says:

            You might be right, and it is starting to get tiring…the in-charges going off on their own trip and to heck with whomever. The simple saving mechanism of the first few years was brilliant and satisfying. The poor husband kept hoping it would get back on track.

  9. Jeni says:

    I’m really going to miss this show!!!! I esp. felt the script of root/shaw in bed was awesome!!! Very touching!! Just wish that shows that I REALLY LOVE wouldn’t get the axe!!! Why dumb shows keep on networks & REALLY GOOD SHOWS are gone???????

  10. Machine Parts says:

    Well, thank you, Mr. Emerson, for starring in two of my all-time favorite TV series. You were the initial reason I tuned into Person of Interest from the pilot episode, and I’m glad I did. I will miss your portrayal of Harold Finch, but I have enjoyed the run immensely. I will be on hand tomorrow for what I hope will be an awesome, if bittersweet, finale. Kudos to the entire creative team at POI for excellent work.

  11. ULYSIS GASTILO says:

    POI is the best show that I ever watched…

  12. Elena says:

    I really, really miss the old Finch!!!

    Not this one here that the writers turned into a crybaby and jackass. I’m sorry but this new version who ‘calls’ Root family failed.

    And sometimes i wish ME would stop giving stupid interviews. I once liked him, but these days not so much!!!

    • You described it perfectly Elena when you said “I really, really miss the old Finch.” Since then, it has never been the same show. No one enjoys watching a crybaby jackass running around ready to give up the ship.

  13. retsim says:

    My top show will soon be gone.Have enjoyed it so much and will be sad that it will be over .Thanks for a great show. There are so few of them.

  14. Jim says:

    Proof that TV is not a wasteland after all, at least not completely

  15. Jim says:

    I would truly like to meet the rest of this group of supporters. I guess only in my mind will it be possible. Love you all!

  16. Kay Bogle says:

    I love all the characters. I will miss having “my show’ to look forward to watching on Tuesday nights.

  17. Mike says:

    This used be a good show, until they brought in Root. I stopped watching when she came on board. She was too out there.

    • PatriciaLee says:

      I was hoping her change as a character would foreshadow The Machine becoming a sort of Data, no such luck it looks like.

  18. LaksK says:

    The scene between Reese and Finch shown in trailer will not be good it will be great. The writers had just forgotten the relationship between Finch and Reese. The Finch they have been showing wasnt the Finch that I cared for and who gave John a purpose. In the episode BSOD Finch cares for machine more than John Who was just trying to help the whole time . And in the end if John hadn’t cooled the game consoles in time the machine would have become a pile of molten plastic anyway. And when root dies he goes all crazy and even risks getting the machine destroyed in order to stop Samaritan! Wow just wow. Like root was the dearest friend to him. But thank God Finch finally acknowledges his friendship with John and also I am sure I am going to cry watching this scene.

  19. Randy Truman says:

    Is there any chance another station or maybe Netflix will pick up POI. I really thought it was great and I’m kinda pissed they dropped it. Happy Trails to all involved and I hope someone picks it up.

  20. Sandra wheeless says:

    I’m sad I don’t person of interest to end my favorite show

  21. Gloria Myers says:

    I will miss this show tremendously. All the characters stole my heart. Michael Emerson and Jim will always be my favorite. I was looking forward to a season 6.How disappointing.

  22. Liz says:

    Going too miss a Person of Interest. Hope to know what the actors are up to. Well I know Taraj p Henricson is doing Empire.

  23. Laura Stark says:

    I am not pleased that you killed the main guy off the show it should have be a happy ending

    • anon says:

      It was pretty much stated in the pilot that John would die. I’m sad he died but it was for the greater good and he died a hero. At least Finch lived and reunited with Grace.

  24. J Johnson says:

    I have been puzzled and more than just a bit annoyed as to why “POI” seems to have been neglected in the awards dept. Great casting, artful writing, scripts that tackled the tough subjects of our abuses of technology and the environment, and our vacillating relationships with one another that result in so much miscommunication and on and on….All relevant and more than just a bit frightening to contemplate. Instead TV audiences are subjected to shallow, inane, sexually explicit, and redundant programs that we’ve seen time and time again. Thank you POI for giving me something fresh, thoughtful, mentally chanllenging, and some fabulous casting and storylines…..and something to look forward to every week. In our house, you will be sorely missed.

    • PatriciaLee says:

      Well, Jackie Gleason never won, and The Honeymooners was pure genius. To this day 60 years later, every time the husband watches an episode, it’s as though I haven’t seen it before. There is always something new for the mind to enjoy. That is art of the highest order, so the minds of voters might be on a lower level. On the other hand, the husband can’t figure it out, either, and he is pretty insightful, so you are not the only one scratching your head. He thinks Person of Interest deserved an award, but reiterates that the cable stations seem to be getting them, which bums him out as not fair since some people can’t afford to watch cable. We treasure the memories of five years, every week looking forward to a new adventure with our POI troop. From us, also, thank you POI.

  25. Debbie M. says:

    I loved all the main actors/actresses but especially Michael Emerson! I hope that he would consider doing more of this series ,along with the rest that survived!! Of course, if the show has a chance of coming back ,that is! I am very sad that it ended and it was a very unique series!! WILL MISS IT GREATLY! !

  26. Ann says:

    I am so so sad that this is the end of POI. It was my most favorite show on prime time TV. I will miss it so much.

  27. njartist says:

    Watching the last 2 episodes there is an opening for POI to continue as a season
    limited series. As viewers are aware the next to last episode brought out the fact
    the Machine set-up similar operations in other cities. I will not give away the POI
    ending except to say that in my opinion it was an excellent wrap-up that as I have
    just stated that has let the door open for Netflix etc A few more comments—Root evolved
    as a person because of her involvement as a member of the team. The same with Shaw
    Reece, Fusco and even Elias.
    Harold was never wallowing in self pity in these final episodes. He tried to stay true
    to his way of fighting Samaritan but due to the circumstances he had to make
    changes in how he would deal with the situation. I would like to add that Michael
    Emerson is a terrific actor. He added so much to Lost and that show would have
    been very less satisfying to watch w/o Ben Linus. Never mind the convoluted
    ending , Lost had too many loose ends to tie up. POI once again showcase his
    talent. I look forward to seeing what TV series or move he will be involved with.

    • Basically I agree with what you say njartist however those of us who are capable of sitting back and critiquing this once great TV show do not have the same viewing experience as the general public and who are in essence, responsible for the success of the show. We can see why the public is turned off by the convoluted episodes presented in the last season of this series simply because they are too difficult for average viewers to understand. Continuity is very important and too much of an interruption to it will create viewer misunderstanding and dislike from what I have gathered. I wanted this show to continue but was greatly disappointed by the turn the story was taking toward the end and that is what turned most people off as well. Harold was very good indeed but he became the anti-hero for the viewing public which destroyed the show in my opinion.

  28. Sharon mcConville says:

    I watched the show from day one it was interesting exciting lots of action and very good moral compass except for all the murders. The plot was great I loved lost as well. But Person of Interest was perfect right off the bat from day one. I was sorry to see it go but I can understand why, the action alone probably could have done some bodily harm.