Person of Interest has been dealing with some heavy themes lately — determinism, artificial intelligence, surveillance, posthumanity — and the hacker known as Root has been at the center of all of them. We talked to Amy Acker, who plays Root, and she told us what to expect from Root's continuing evolution.
Warning: Minor spoilers for upcoming episodes, but major spoilers for ones that already aired.
Root has her own gang
Finch has his Machine Gang, consisting of Reese, Shaw and sometimes Fusco. And now, it looks like Root has a Gang of her own — last night, we met one of them, the Japanese forger who's been with Root since she saved him from the cops. Acker tells us that there are more members of her team, and "we're actually shooting some scenes with those guys." In general, you'll see more of the numbers that the Machine comes up with turn out to be important later on.
Power doesn't corrupt Root — it makes her more humane
In this week's episode, we saw Root in her element, using people as game pieces — until she was confronted with Cyrus, the man whose life she ruined, who was in danger of becoming collateral damage. Acker says that having access to the power of the Machine is making Root less corrupt, rather than more so, because it's making her see the consequences of her actions.
"I think her moral judgment and the decisions she's making have actually turned around a lot, and she's been going further from that point [of playing games with people's lives]," says Acker.
When we first met Root, "she started out thinking she was invincible," she adds. "And now the Machine is now teaching her more about humanity, now that she's becoming more Machine-like."
Speaking of which...
Root has become a cyborg
At the end of the latest episode, "Root Path," Root gets the Machine directly implanted into her brain, "so I am directly implanted with the Machine," says Acker. And this is only going to make her closer to the Machine:
"This has been really fun to play with so far, having the Machine able to talk to me, and really getting to speak through her, [and] speak as her. It seems like the right way [for the] character to be developing."
But she's not going to be the Machine's puppet. "It doesn't feel that way," says Acker. "The Machine still functions in the same way it did with Harold from the beginning. She doesn't give all the information, even though I have her with me constantly. She gives pieces of puzzles, and she knows what things I like to figure out. There was a thing a while back where I said, 'Oh, she gave me these numbers because she knows I like puzzles.' She's giving me pieces to fit together, but it's kind of like having access to Google in my brain."
But could Root become more of a cyborg, and get other parts of herself replaced with artificial parts?
"I don't know," laughs Acker. "I've been shot a lot in the arm. I'm going to need a new arm for these missions. I get shot pretty often. It's an interesting [idea], yeah. We'll see what happens. I think that would be pretty fascinating. But the most important part of it is already in her, the heart of the Machine. Other parts would be more mechanical."
That stint in a psychiatric institution didn't really seem to help
Root spent a few episodes locked in a psych ward at the start of this season — and it didn't seem to be that helpful in the end. "I don't know," Acker laughs. "At the time, I was thinking, 'Oh, this is nice. She's learning stuff about herself.' But it seemed more like she was controlling that situation, [more than] anybody who was supposed to be controlling her, like the doctors or the psychiatrists. So I feel like maybe the other people in the hospital are the ones who walked away learning stuff about themselves after she tore them all down."
But at the same time, Root's thinking has changed a lot since she was in the psych ward — when she's talking to her therapist, we see her espousing a pretty radical worldview in which the Machine is god, and her connection to it makes her superior to regular humans. But recent events have forced her to recognize that the Machine is a tool which can be misused, says Acker — the emergence of a second Machine, Samaritan, has shown her that if the Machine got into the wrong hands, "then it's not superior to anything, then it's just destructive toeverything."
While Root started out as a kind of cyborg supremacist, "she's realizing there are good and bad points to that," because even though the Machine she talks to appears to be benevolent, she's recognizing the awful potential of an evil Machine.
At the same time, "[Root] does seem to trust the Machine, and definitely think of it as godlike, or a god, or what she believes to be a god," Acker says. When she talks to Cyrus, who believes everything happens for a reason, she clings to the idea that the universe was entirely random and without any logic until Harold created the Machine to make sense of it all.
Shaw and Root are sort of friends
Acker definitely believes that the cynical ex-assassin Shaw and Root have a strange sort of friendship. "There's always little parts where they end up looking out for each other," along with "funny moments" where they show affection in weird ways. "It's been really fun playing with it, as actors, and there's always little lines where it's like, 'Are they meaning it like that?'" She laughs.
She and Sarah Shahi enjoy playing that flirty side of their relationship, too. "We kind of joke about it," says Acker. "They have such different personalities, and it's fun to watch them kind of get under each other's skin. And I think Root kind of flirting with her — you know, she hates it and loves it at the same time."