The season finale of CBS' Person of Interest will literally be a race to the finish.
In the penultimate episode of the show's sophomore season, Reese (Jim Caviezel) and Finch (Michael Emerson) learned that The Machine had taken extraordinary measures to protect itself from a virus that was designed to take The Machine offline. Once the virus took hold, The Machine made two phone calls — one to Reese and one to Finch's hacker nemesis Root (Amy Acker) — potentially giving them access to The Machine's secrets for 24 hours. So, who capitalizes first?
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"[Imagine] if you had an all-access pass, a 24-hour ticket to the Machine and what it knows," creator Jonathan Nolan tells TVGuide.com. "The big question for Root is: 'Where are you?' She wants to know where The Machine is and how she can, as she puts it, free it. What that means, and the identity of the person responsible for all this mayhem in the first place are the questions we aim to answer in the finale."
Indeed, also looming large is the mysterious Decima Technologies, which seemingly initiated the virus in order to take control of The Machine. Although Reese and Finch have thwarted that opportunity for now, one of the company's operatives, Greer (John Nolan) may have placed seeds have doubt in Reese's mind about his partner and his role in Reese's mysterious mission in China.
"[Finch] is a very thoughtful person," executive producer Greg Plageman says. "He's someone who puts certain things into motion. ... The question to John Reese would be: How much does his faith in Harold supersede what's happened to him recently and [does] he believe Harold is responsible for it?"
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Additionally, Finch also set Reese up to be arrested by the cops so he wouldn't interfere in Finch's dealings with Root. So, what's really going on here? "I think Finch feels guilty about some things that he's done that involved Reese earlier in their relationship," Emerson says. "But he's also trying to keep Reese out of the line of fire. It's a mess that Finch has made and he doesn't want John to pay any price for it. Also, John is his contingency. I think Finch assumes that he may not come home from this mission. He wants there to be somebody to still do the work."
But that doesn't mean that Finch is just going to give up in his fight against Root. "[The finale] will confirm our sense that Mr. Finch is the master game player of them all," Emerson teases. "They've done a good job of making it look like things are out of his control, but he still has some cards to play. Nothing has gone the way he expected, but he's a great anticipator of complications. His circumstances are difficult because he's traveling with an armed psychopath who's also terribly smart, so it's an interesting bit of gamesmanship on his part."
In the meantime, viewers will get even more flashbacks into Finch's past relating to both his former partner Nathan Ingram (Brett Cullen) and his ex-fiance Grace (Emerson's real-life wife Carrie Preston). "We perceived this season that we would wind up answering questions about Harold Finch," Nolan says. "I think it's been clear for some time now that Harold Finch is formed in tragedy. The exact nature of that is what we explore in flashback in the finale." Adds Emerson: "Both of those are great establishing storylines and crucial to the revealing of ... Finch's whole mission. Both of them are going to end darkly. I'm not sure we can go back to those storylines in the same way we've been accustomed to after what happens."
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But will Finch's present be as tragic as his past, or will he find a way to regain control of The Machine? Nolan doesn't promise happy endings, but he does suggest that there will be resolution. "As with all kids, sooner or later they start doing things that the parents didn't anticipate," he says of The Machine. "But at the end of this 24-hour period, someone is going to control The Machine. And the identity of that someone is something of a surprise. ... Last year we ended with a cliff-hanger. We consider this finale the end of one chapter and we begin what we think is a wild new one. Next season is a brave new world."
But perhaps the biggest question is: Given its recent powers, can The Machine truly be controlled any longer? "Our battle-weary heroes walk off into the sunset, but that sunset is a huge unknown," Emerson says. "Even if we go back to the status quo, do we really still have the same relationship with The Machine or have we set something loose that is going to grow and mature and become independent in new ways?"
Person of Interest's Season 2 finale airs Thursday at 9/8c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by a joint venture between Lionsgate and CBS.)