For a show that craves to be taken seriously, Intelligence seriously dropped the ball last night. There were a couple of moments last night that had kernels of a real questions about Gabriel and his chip. But in the grand tradition of this show, they barely had time to germinate before the show gave you the answers.
And then there was a really bad attempt at pathos.
Look, I realize that this is a personal bias, but I'm way more interested in Lillian Strand's battles as the director of Cyber Command. There's a good conflict between the need to put Gabriel in danger to complete missions, and the need to keep the technology of the chip in action. Of course, this episode had Phlox voice that concern, and then her just sending Gabriel to Texas to investigate a highly contagious disease — but still.
And there could be an interesting theme in CyberCom's increasing power and importance (partly due to the chip) and its conflict with the more traditional intelligence players. Just these guys who've been around forever who can't keep up with the rapidly changing world of cyber threats constantly shutting her down.
Sadly, that was not to be. Last night's episode opens with an execution in Texas. We'll find out that the criminal's name is Luther, and he killed two cops. Much like a few weeks ago, when the show began with Mei Chen, we know immediately that this guy's going to be the person that the team's looking for. Once Lillian tasks the team with searching for the carrier of a mysterious disease that's infected a bunch of people in Texas, that's sealed.
In this case, the reason Gabriel and his chip have been pulled in is that the initial outbreak occurred at a music and arts festival, which was being filmed by everyone there. He needs to go through the footage and identify the person that all the infected had contact with. And the footage reveals: a man in black hoodie with no face! A) It's so good to see this show coming down on the side of "dark hoodies = bad guys" side of the debate. And B) he stands out so much in the crowd of brightly dressed concert goers, it doesn't make Gabriel's finding of him seem that impressive.
On the other hand, this scene did try to make the chip look impressive. It mentioned that he was faster at doing this kind of facial recognition than other equipment. It also was a nice incorporation of using the footage filmed by everyone every day into intelligence gathering, rather than just looking through security camera footage.
It throws the team for a loop when Gabriel does eventually get a look at patient zero's face, and it's the dead guy from the opening. Phlox points out that the renders Gabriel does aren't purely mechanical, Gabriel's mind provides some of the logical gap-filling that makes them. So could this be a case where Gabriel's human mind thwarts the technology? Was the opening scene a red herring? Are we going to spend this episode with Gabriel trying to convince everyone that what he's discovered is true?
No, of course not! Minutes later, we see Luther menacing a guy, so Gabriel's right and the chip's infallible. And shortly after that, Gabriel and Riley discover that Luther's death was faked, as the machine that showed his vital signs during his execution is still programmed to flatline. Plus, Gabriel intercepts a message from a guard there about it.
So, while this episode could have been about how only Gabriel truly knows what the chip's capable of and maybe thrown in some bonding between him and someone (doesn't matter which character) believing him, the episode hurtles past this conflict and settles on the Gabriel always being right.
Luther, it turns out, was fake-killed so that he could be a human guinea pig for a defense contractor's foray into biological weapons. The disease he's carrying was manufactured to mutate too quickly to be cured without access to the strain he was pumped full of. And it's transmitted through touch, since it lives in sweat. If someone in the comments could tell me anything about the science of this episode, that'd be great. I suspect it's BS, but I can't be sure. They technobabbled so fast, I couldn't keep up. But we did get Phlox saying that he's all about creating science to make humanity better, and these people are about destroying it.
I used to like Phlox, but he got a lot of the major theme-exposition speeches this episode. He was the one who said "[Gabriel] isn't a machine, he's just as susceptible as everyone else." GET IT? GABRIEL'S NOT A MACHINE. He had this little speech, which was themed around "Some science is good, some is bad." Every time he showed up, I started dodging anvils again.
A high point of this episode was Riley. When Phlox objects to sending Gabriel into a disease zone, Lillian says, "Riley will keep him safe." And just as I yelled, "FROM A DISEASE? HOW?," Riley joined in my incredulity by saying "ARE YOU SERIOUS?" She's also the one who figures out that Luther had a girlfriend who sent him letters, and she's the one who tells Gabriel that he should get the copies stored on the prison's server to figure out where Luther is. She also takes Luther out when he tries to take her hostage. And then she decks him again at the end of the episode, when he decides to kill himself because that will mean he can't be used to find a cure. It was nice to see her being so competent.
Utterly ridiculous this episode was Luther. Luther escaped the lab he was being experimented on by pretending to be asleep and then just leaving when no one was looking. If you're going to be engaged in the extremely illegal activities of human experimentation and research into biological weapons, maybe you'd have better security? And later, when he's recaptured, he manages to get a gun off of the Special Forces guys holding him. Is Luther actually a mastermind? The crime he was "executed" for was shooting two cops, which doesn't seem like something a smart criminal does.
And just awful was this episode's attempt at pathos. It was so designed to tug at the heart strings, I was offended as a viewer. Phlox Jr.'s in the field with Riley and Gabriel, and he talks to a young infected boy, saying that his father's the kind of doctor that can help him. Later in the episode, his father dies, and we're treated to Phlox Jr., Riley, and Gabriel watching as the boy and his mother, also infected, cry at his bedside. Phlox Jr. goes "We can't let them die, too," and the team's . . . inspired, I guess. And at the end, Phlox Jr. goes to give the cure to the two of them. It was so perfunctory. Maybe if Phlox's interactions had been seeded with a few smaller scenes, it wouldn't have been such obvious emotional manipulation.
There were two other plots strung throughout this episode. First, there was Riley and Gabriel's partnership. She forces him to put on gloves before they confront Luther, to keep him from getting infected. When Luther grabs her, she knows she's infected, so she instructs him not to touch her. And when the military locks them in a barn and sets fire to it, he makes her grab him (thus infecting him) in order to get out. His comment is that "either we're partners or we're not." Either she's just there to protect him or they're partners on missions. Surprisingly subtle, for this show.
Granted, the last scene where they talk about how he feels about the chip now that his wife's dead, while gazing at each other from the windows of their respective apartments was not subtle. But I'll take this show's successes where I can.
Second, we had Lillian figuring out that a company wouldn't be doing these kinds of experiments without a buyer. She also knew that the military's been interested in biological weapons for a while. So when Gabriel tells her that one of the incriminating phone calls is to the Pentagon, she tells the Director of Military Intelligence about it so that they can see how he reacts. Granted, he reacts by sending Special Forces teams to capture Luther and kill Riley and Gabriel, but at least it's confirmation. She busts down his door, and he's carted off to prison. This is labeled a huge coup for Lillian, and she's told that Clockwork (which is the codename for the work with the chip) has expanded the scope of her agency.
It's remarked that the only thing worse than an agency with too much power is a single agent with too much power. Lillian responds, "Are you talking about Gabriel or me?" If he's smart, it's you, Lillian. Gabriel's the worst. In any other show, CyberCom's growing power would be a long-haul plot, with exploration about the pros and cons of consolidated information. In this show, I'm betting that next week ends with Lillian running the whole world and no one really bothered by that fact.
Honestly, I'd be okay with that, too. Lillian's best moment was when Phlox Jr. demonstrated the copter he'd developed to be remote controlled by the mind. He told Lillian she could have it if she apologized for thinking he was the mole that got his father kidnapped in the pilot. She gives the right response, which was "How about you and your father apologize for creating a second, better, chip without telling anyone? Dumbass."
On the other side of the spectrum was Riley saying that she could bring Gabriel to his knees with one hand. Just from the look on his face, she knew to call him "disgusting." Ew, Gabriel.
And even though I'm totally on board watching Lillian roll her eyes at her team and dominate the old guys in the other intelligence services, credit has to go to Marg Helgenberger's seemingly endless reserves of composure. But the other thing is that she keeps making deductions that are more impressive than Gabriel's. Last week, a single word exposed her father and the drug lord's entire history. This week, she figured out that it wasn't just anyone in the Pentagon working on biological weapons, but that it was the Director of Military Intelligence. If this show revealed that she had the really impressive chip, and Gabriel had the crappy prototype and was being used as a decoy, I'd buy it. Hell, it would even make her tendency to send him missions that would get him caught or killed make more sense. This show needs some kind of explanation like that, because we still don't really know why Gabriel's so special.