Intelligence's pilot used skywriting where it needed subtlety

Intelligence's first episode really wanted you to understand its premise, so it talked it to death. Which was an odd choice, since it's a) not that complicated (Chuck crossed with Covert Affairs, but grittier) and b) it comes on before Person of Interest, which manages to dispatch its more involved concept in just a few sentences.

To be fair to this pilot, it did do some things that were genuinely unexpected. First, I honestly didn't guess the identity of the traitor. Second, it didn't begin with Josh Holloway's Gabriel Vaughn just getting his computer-chipped brain. That would be the obvious route to go, to have Gabriel and audience get used to the device at the same time. Instead, the audience proxy is Meghan Ory's Riley Neal, a Secret Service agent pulled from protecting the president and newly reassigned to protect/reign in Gabriel. This means she spends most of the episode catching everyone's explanation of the premise.

Intelligence's pilot used skywriting where it needed subtlety

The episode begins with Gabriel and his sweater wandering the "Himalayas." As he does so, his brain's projecting a freeze-framed event and helpfully showing floating headlines and files on the people in it. There's Amelia, Gabriel's wife, with a gun and apparently working with a terrorist. A floating headline helpfully informs us that she was a CIA agent-turned-traitor. She gets mentioned a lot in this episode. Gabriel's apparently been searching for her for five years, so that's apparently his entire motivation.

He gets caught, tells the man who's holding him that the woman he works with hates that he hits on her, opens a door with his mind, hits some dudes in the face, and escapes. Meanwhile, Dr. Phlox is getting abducted by the Chinese. I'll admit that the cheap sympathy ploy of showing Dr. Phlox feeding and talking to his cat right before that happened totally worked on me. Poor dude, he just wanted to discuss computing power with a kitty. (Sidenote: It looks like John Billingsley's going to be a regular on this show, so at some point I'll have to learn his character's name. But he'll always be Phlox to me.)

Then we get introduced Riley, and Marg Helgenberger plays exposition fairy for her and us. She works for U.S. Cyber Command and works on a project called Clockwork. What's Clockwork? Well, it's the Manhattan Project. No, seriously. She takes some time to explain the Manhattan Project to the audience and then says that Clockwork is the 21st century equivalent, has a 100% success rate, and created a chip that lets amputees control artificial limbs with their brains. That... doesn't actually help, but okay.

Riley meets Gabriel and his technician, Amos, who's running Norton Antivirus on Gabriel's brain. Gabriel then uses his super-powered, wi-fi enabled, hackin' brain to bombard Riley with information about herself, including the fact that he can look at a photo she sent a boyfriend a while back. Ick. He sees a sealed juvenile record and wants to open it, but is foiled. How? Some sort of encryption? Basic human decency? No! Marg Helgenberger just tells him not to!

Anyway, the rest of the plot, such as it is, revolves around getting Dr. Phlox back. He created the chip that was installed in Gabriel's brain and, as it turns out, made a new and improved version at home, pretty much because he was bored. He made Gabriel's, put it in his brain, and the Clockwork just sent him home to write his memoirs. That's stupid. He's stupid for thinking he should make one of those in his unsecured house, and Clockwork's stupid for not giving him another project. Of course the Chinese kidnapped him to put the new chip in one of their operatives.

Intelligence's pilot used skywriting where it needed subtlety

Riley and Gabriel get kidnapped by the Chinese, because they would like Phlox to remove the chip from Gabriel's brain so that they have the only Internet-capable human. Then it turns out that Amos is the traitor. This was honestly surprising, since Amos had all the markers of "geeky comic relief sidekick" and not "greedy spy for hire." Phlox and Gabriel actually manage to improvise a pretty good plan to get out, and then they save Riley. Finally, Marg Helgenberger trades a Chinese operative for information on Amelia, who is apparently alive.

Other things we learned that are likely to be important later:

  • Riley's sealed juvenile file is from when she killed her abusive stepfather. She wasn't convicted or anything, but it was sealed all the same.
  • Phlox has a son who works with him, and is also jealous of Phlox and Gabriel's relationship.
  • The frozen event thing Gabriel does is essentially his using facts and extrapolations to reconstruct how something happened. It looks like a mental holodeck.
  • The reason there's not a ton of chipped people running around is that the chip needs its user to have a rare mutation.
  • And, if the ending is any indication, it looks like Phlox managed to implant the Chinese operative with a chip before he got away.

There was a scene near the middle of this episode that essentially jumped up and down and screamed "THIS IS OUR THESIS. GET IT? GET IT?" It has Marg Helgenberger telling Gabriel that he's too reckless and emotionally invested in things. He wants Phlox back because he's essentially his father-figure. And he keeps trying to find Amelia. Helgenberger just wants him to do as he's told, dispassionately. Like a machine. Because he's got this chip, so he's essentially a machine, not a person anymore. GET IT?

And in case you didn't, Gabriel leaves and Riley enters in order to write this thesis on an anvil and drop it on our heads. They argue about Marg Helgenberger's treatment of Gabriel, and she says that Riley's job is to "keep it safe." Riley then responds, "Him, not it." OF COURSE SHE DOES. Because just because he's part machine, he isn't one. GET IT YET?

Intelligence's pilot used skywriting where it needed subtlety

The show has potential, it really does. We all know Josh Holloway can be very charming. Marg Helgenberger plays her character with a great "been there, seen that, just do what I tell you" attitude. She and John Billingsley were the only two who seemed in total control of their characters. In particular, the Phlox/Gabriel breakout scene was really good. We'd heard that they had this close relationship, and Billingsley actually showed it in their scenes together. Honestly, they had better chemistry than Holloway and Ory. Dear show, do more of this instead of endlessly telling us everything. It would have been nice to simply see how Amelia's "betrayal" affected the characters, rather than everyone bringing it up all the time.

If this show can fall a little out of love with its premise, and instead focus on its characters and their dialogue, it could be a fun ride.