Flashbacks (also called analepses) are a common storytelling device during which the current narrative shifts to a point in the past, recalling an earlier event or series of events related to the main narrative. Flashbacks are typically used as a means to allow the viewer to see events prior to the beginning of the main narrative (an external flashback) or to revisit prior events in the main narrative (an internal flashback).
Person of Interest makes extensive use of both types of flashbacks, as well as in medias res, a type of flashback that returns to an unseen earlier time and shows earlier unseen events in order to explain the present circumstances. They can either depict a specific character’s memory or a series of events which happened in the past and are now crucial to current events.
Thus far, every main cast member's character has had a flashback, although Amy Acker was not a part of the main cast at the time of her character's flashbacks. In addition some recurring characters, including Carl Elias, Nathan Ingram, Alicia Corwin, Kara Stanton, Hersh, Grace Hendricks and Peter Collier have had flashbacks designed to develop aspects of their characters or plot lines.
Usually a flashback is introduced by a timeline that takes the audience back to a specific point in the past. Most episodes with flashbacks have two to four flashback sequences where at least one flashback is accompanied by a timeline. Some of the flashbacks that present relevant background information are presented from the Machine's point of view. In these flashbacks, colored squares are applied to the characters.
- The Machine recorded the phone call Jessica made to her mother. (“Pilot”)
- The Machine accessed National Clandestine Services (NCS) Archival Database and retrieved footage of Reese and Kara Stanton on several missions in locations including Hungary (“Foe”), New York (“Blue Code”), Morocco (“Matsya Nyaya”), Ordos (“Matsya Nyaya”), Prague (“Prisoner's Dilemma”), and Paris (“Prisoner's Dilemma”).
- The Machine read feeds from Iraq and found Carter in a military camp. (“Get Carter”)
If the flashback is a character’s memory, it usually revolves around that character and is told from that character's point of view. If the flashback features background information that is relevant to current events, characters other than the main character can appear and the flashback is told from a neutral point of view.
- Nathan and Alicia meeting in the bar and discuss shipping the Machine. (“No Good Deed”)
- Nathan creating the Contingency. (“No Good Deed”)
Reese's flashbacks are principally personal memories in combination with scenes that occurred earlier in time but relate to a current event. Reese's flashbacks are presented in many ways and supported by a different color scheme. Flashbacks involving Jessica Arndt and other personal experiences are mostly in warmer tones whereas flashbacks revolving around his work with the CIA are usually presented in cold, blue tones.
Finch's flashbacks in the first season provide additional information about the creation of the Machine. In the Season 1, no personal memories were depicted. The flashbacks are exclusively in cooler blue tones and always introduced by a timeline.
Finch's flashbacks in the second season revolve more around personal memories during the period of time he was working on the Machine and the development of his relationship with his fiancée Grace Hendricks. The color scheme also changes from slate blue in scenes where he works with the Machine to warmer tones in those scenes where he spends personal time with Grace.
Finch's flashbacks in the third season follow no specific pattern.
Use of in medias res
Most flashbacks take place several years before the current timeline. In “No Good Deed”, “Firewall”, “Dead Reckoning”, and “Endgame”, the flashback reverts to an event at an earlier point of time in the same episode. For example, in “Firewall”, there is an in medias res flashback to May 15, 2012 while the main events in the episode begin on May 17. Similarly, in “Endgame”, an in medias res flashback is used to answer Reese's question regarding what started a sequence of events in the episode.
Thus far, Finch has had twelve flashbacks; Reese has had eight; Nathan Ingram has had three; Carter, Shaw, Fusco and Peter Collier have each had two; and Carl Elias, Alicia Corwin, Root, Kara Stanton, and Grace have each had one.
- In Season 1, Reese has six flashbacks; Finch has three; and Carter, Carl Elias, Nathan Ingram and Alicia Corwin each have one.
- In Season 2, Finch has six flashbacks; Nathan Ingram has two; and Reese, Fusco, Root, Kara Stanton, and Hersh each have one (though Ingram and Hersh share theirs with Finch in their respective episodes).
- In Season 3, Finch has three flashbacks; Shaw and Peter Collier have two; and Carter, Reese, Fusco, and Grace each have one. Several characters appeared in an episode that took place almost entirely in the past.
- “Many Happy Returns” has the largest number of flashback sequences: nine, and also the only episode that has a flashback embedded in a flashback when Reese sits in Jessica's house in 2011, remembering Jessica calling him in 2010.
- In “Aletheia” The Machine directly showed Arthur Claypool some of his past memories.
- “Beta” has the smallest number of flashback sequences among episodes featuring flashbacks: one, and also the only flashback presented from the point of view of Samaritan.
List of Flashbacks
Main article: Flashbacks (Season 1)
Main article: Flashbacks (Season 2)
Main article: Flashbacks (Season 3)
Main article: Flashbacks (Season 4)