SPOILER ALERT: Please watch Tuesday's episode, 'Endgame,' before reading further. This is your only spoiler warning.
"This is not your father's procedural," says Greg Plageman, executive producer and co-creator of "Person of Interest" along with Jonathan Nolan. Yahoo TV spoke with both men following the climax of a three-episode arc, in which one of the show's central characters, Joss Carter (played by Taraji P. Henson), is killed.
Watch the shocking scene:
Clichés aside, they have worked from the beginning to keep "Person" from becoming a "comfort food"-type procedural. "Things happen, they move forward" on cable shows, says Plageman, in contrast with most network fare. With the over-the-top action and unbelievable weapons that Reese and Shaw pull out on a weekly basis, "it would seem almost ridiculous if we didn't have real loss," he says.
"When I wrote on 'NYPD Blue,'" he says of the groundbreaking series from the '90s, "there were multiple cases I would come in the door every week where you would never know when one of the characters on the show might die. And they did. And it was a show that found ways of renewal. And they call that show a procedural, and they call 'ER' a procedural, and somewhere along the way it became a dirty word. I've never felt that way."
So Plageman went to New York earlier this year to talk through their plan with Henson, and though there were some bittersweet moments, "Taraji was as excited by that as we were as writers to build toward that. To tell a complete story with a heroic but tragic ending." She's "driven entirely by material. She just wants great, meaty stuff. This is why actors love to do 'Hamlet.' Tragedy has its place.
"We've been working toward this from the beginning of this year," he continued, "But truly, from the beginning of the show, knowing that our narrative will have real stakes. And as Michael [Emerson, as his character, Finch] says in the pilot, they're not all gonna be there by the series finale. And they're not."
Henson, Jonathan Nolan, and the cast discuss the death of Carter in episode:
In an appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman," Henson says that she's known from day one that "the character would have a beginning, a middle, and an end," though she didn't know when it would end. Since she does mostly features and wouldn't be able to commit to the show if, say, it went seven years, having a finite limit to her character though "would be the perfect venue for me to do a television show and still be able to do [films]." This forced her to keep a secret from everyone close to her except for one person: "Because you can't shock grandma like that. She might go into cardiac arrest."
The commercials did a fine job of misdirection — putting Fusco (Kevin Chapman) in the line of fire. The expectation would be that he's a small enough character that the show could manage without him, but big enough for his death to matter. Instead, though, Carter does the impossible: She takes down the corrupt cop organization HR, is reinstated to her former position as a detective, and even manages a moment of true intimacy with Reese before being very unexpectedly gunned down in the street by the last member of HR.
There's one more episode in the arc as Reese, Finch, Shaw, and Fusco look to tie up HR's loose ends, and Plageman assures us that this will indeed end that storyline. "For these stories to have any stakes or any gravitas, at some point, they have to come to an end." And while they "have some great villains that, by the end of the season, may see themselves, or the audience may see them in a completely different light," they also "have some villains that just need to go down."
When asked about the final heartbreaking image of the episode, the "tableau of Reese, Carter, Finch, and the pay phone representing the Machine — that kind of plaintive ring over the black," Plageman says, "that's the shriek of a machine trying desperately to stop something from happening that it's powerless to stop."
"There are still many, many questions left to answer and many wrinkles to throw into it," he says. "But it does have our characters' best interests at heart. At least I think it does."
Watch a preview of the next episode:
"Person of Interest" airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on CBS.