Jim Caviezel and Taraji P. Henson
[WARNING: The following story contains major spoilers from Tuesday's episode of Person of Interest. Read at your own risk.]
The brain trust behind Person of Interest promised a hero would fall — it just wasn't exactly the hero some might have expected.
Although the promos for the CBS drama's three-part "Endgame" trilogy heavily suggested that Kevin Chapman's Fusco wouldn't make it out alive, Tuesday's episode pulled a switcheroo. Although Fusco — with a little help from Shaw (Sarah Shahi) — survived the murderous threats of HR's Officer Simmons (Robert John Burke), Reese (Jim Caviezel) and Carter (Taraji P. Henson) had to evade HR and other street goons as they tried to escort HR leader Alonzo Quinn (Clarke Peters) to the FBI's downtown field office.
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Reese and Carter eventually make it to the city morgue before they are trapped. It was there that the episode delivered its first (non-death related) surprise. Reese recalls his suicidal days before he met Finch (Michael Emerson), but Reese says it was meeting Carter that saved him. Then, the two share a kiss — a kiss that was not originally scripted, according to executive producer Jonathan Nolan.
"People 'ship couples, and a lot of people have 'shipped Reese and Carter, including me," Nolan tells TVGuide.com. "But the story just kept taking us to different places, and they became really good friends." However, when filming the pivotal scene, Nolan says the actors wanted to try it with a kiss. "If the actors, and the moment are telling you to go somewhere, you just have to lean in and go with it," Nolan says, noting that he didn't necessarily view the kiss as completely romantic. "It was a connection between two people, who had connected many times before, about just the f---ing fragility of all of this," he says.
Unfortunately, the happy moment was probably the kiss of death. Although Reese led HR away from the morgue and allowed Carter to get Quinn to the Feds, HR wasn't done fighting. Despite Carter rounding up 98 percent of HR's guys and being re-instated as a detective, in the closing moments of the episode, Simmons opens fire on Reese. Carter steps in front of Reese and takes a few bullets of her own before ultimately dying in Reese's arms.
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Nolan insists that Carter's death was important in closing off the HR story arc. "When you have great villains like this, they can't go on forever," he says. "It's like jumping into a pool of cold water over and over again. Eventually, you just get f---ing numb. So, we have to bring this story to a close, but when you have villains as great as Quinn and Simmons, you can't do that without taking a chunk out of somebody."
And although Nolan has always wanted viewers to know that any of the show's heroes could die at any time, Nolan promises Carter's death will not be in vain. "What it does to the rest of our heroes is complicated," he says. "The setup for next week's episode is not, 'Hoo-rah! Our team goes and kicks everyone's f---ing a-- up and down the block.' It's about grief and it's about the damage that can come out of that. ... In next week's episode, someone is planning on killing Simmons. The real mystery of the episode is who."
We also caught up with Henson to discuss how she feels about saying goodbye to Carter, how she felt about the Reese-Carter liplock and whether she will be back on the show.
How long have you known about Carter's demise?
Taraji P. Henson: I always knew that, at some point, there would be an end to the character. I didn't know if it was going to be two seasons or three seasons, but I knew it was somewhere in that ball park, which works out really great for me because I like doing features. I like to leave people wanting more. I don't like to be settled. I don't think I'm at a place in my life where I can be on a television show for seven years. Movies are still calling me. At my age, that's a lot because once that movie phone stops ringing, that's it.
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So this was never going to be the typical seven-year TV contract?
Henson: I thought, "I have two or three years to give to a television show." ... Television can be a bit safe. Everything is tied up neatly at the end of an episode. They just happen to find that one piece of hair in that big-ass carpet that solves the mystery. What I loved about this show is no one is safe. That's life. Sometimes the good guy loses. That's why people are so distraught today. And that's what art is supposed to do: It's supposed to make you feel. You're supposed to be mad and want to throw a glass and yell, "Goddammit, I'm not going to watch this show again." We did our job.
Some people are upset because they hate to see such an empowered female character be killed off. Do you think that's a regrettable side effect?
Henson: I don't think that's a regret. If anything, it will pique people's interest in wanting more characters like that. Maybe my purpose was to open up more doors for more empowering women on TV. Sometimes you don't notice that it was missing on television until it's gone. So maybe my purpose was to open people's eyes. "Yes, we need more strong women on TV. We're more than just girlfriends and wives and mothers. We do a lot!"
Similarly, what do you think it says that Carter, who was arguably the least morally compromised character on the show, was the one to die?
Henson: That's life. The best among us — they nailed Jesus to a cross. It's sad, it's ugly, it's horrible, but that's art. It shows you the ugly side of life with the beautiful. Yes, she died, but she did so much before she died. Look at all the lives she saved. She sacrificed her life to save other lives. She got her son's father on his toes. It was time for her exit and, thank God, she got that man in shape so that her son has a father now. So, there are upsides and downsides.
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Once it became clear that this was the season for Carter's exit, did you discuss how you wanted her to go with the writers?
Henson: When you work with writers that are so incredible, I trust them. They handled Carter with such grace and class that I had no input. I didn't need to. I trusted them 100 percent.
Were you surprised by that kiss between Carter and Reese?
Henson: I knew that was going to be the clincher. People have been waiting for that kiss and that tender moment since the first season. Finally they do it, and she dies!
Do you think it was something Carter would have pursued if she hadn't been killed.
Henson: I don't think that's what that moment was about. Yes, they have a love for each other. Yes, she did save his life and he saved hers. There is a love for each other, but I don't know if it was, "OK, let's fall in love and cross that line and be lovers." I think it was more about humans being in trouble and what our nature is when we find ourselves in those predicaments.
As you said, she did bring down most of HR. Do you think she died happy?
Henson: She did as much as she could to the end. Carter is a cop down to her bones. She got taken out protecting Reese. She stepped in front of him, so she died doing what she loved to do. That's great. She's a hero. She served in two tours of a war. That's who she is. So as far as Carter's concerned, she went out the way she would want to go out. But is it sad? Yes. She left her son behind. When it's unexpected, nothing is happy about dying. But when you talk to a hero, that's their wish to go out like that.
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What was the mood like on set during those final moments?
Henson: It was so sad. Grown men were crying. Jim had tears in his eyes. It was bittersweet. Everybody was happy for me because they knew I wanted to do more movies, but it was still, "Damn, we've gotten attached to you, woman, and you're leaving us!" But it was great.
Are you open to coming back to the show in flashbacks?
Henson: Absolutely. I love Carter, and I'm interested in learning more about her. And that's the way you would learn more, is in flashbacks.
And it seems like Carter's death will definitely move the story forward.
Henson: Absolutely. When you touch people's lives like that, you do live on. You become immortal. Now she's immortal.
Maybe she now works for the Machine! She could be the voice on the payphone!
Henson: I love it! That's a new idea. Nobody has come up with that on Twitter, but that's kind of smart!
Person of Interest airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on CBS. Watch a behind-the-scenes video from the shooting of Carter's final scene below. What did you think of Carter's death?
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)