Last night's episode was by turns fun and plodding. Unfortunately, the best parts proved that the main character is the weakest thing in this show. Oops.
Spoilers. . .
Once again, this show's McGuffin is completely ancillary to an exploration of Gabriel's feelings. This is a problem because Gabriel's the worst part of this show. If the show was actually a procedural with stronger McGuffins, the rest of the cast could hold it up better. This is also a shame because Josh Holloway should be more engaging than this.
Anyway, here's the McGuffin: Her name is Kate, and she's on the run from her former employers at the CIA. She has a ton of information to bargain with, but her contact at MI-6 is shot before she can get safety. She's being pursued by Mei Chen, the woman that Phlox implanted with his super-duper new chip in the pilot. So she runs to the Chinese embassy looking for help. Later, Lillian finds out that she was put in charge of the CIA spying on Cyber Command, so what she has to bargain is all the information on Gabriel and his chip. So the team is trying to get her back.
That all takes a back seat to Gabriel's manpain, though. Lillian is told they have to get Kate and her information, but she has to tell her boss that Gabriel's missing. Then this happens:
Lillian's Boss: Telling me Gabriel is missing is like telling me an aircraft carrier is missing.
Lillian: Except he's not an aircraft carrier, he's a person!
CLANG. Well, I hope everyone else dodged that anvil. I rolled to side the second this conversation started. Don't know what I'm going to do about my anvilled sofa, though.
Gabriel's in Mexico, drinking, getting in bar fights, and recreating his wife's "death" in his head. I can't believe this show thinks anyone will believe she's dead without actually seeing her die. Riley shows up in Mexico, asks him to forgive her for saving his life, and tells him to return before the U.S. government chases him down. Gabriel tells her that he thinks there's someone else in his mind when he's in the "render" (aka, his mind holodeck). He thinks it's Amelia. Of course, we saw Mei Chen at the beginning of this episode. So we know it's her. Gabriel can't know that, but it still makes him seem like a moron who thinks his dead wife's a ghost in the machine.
Gabriel returns to America, where Phlox tuts over him like the surrogate father his character is. Gabriel asks if it's possible for a ghost Amelia to access the chip and try to communicate with him. He says the renders feel more real. (Again, it's clearly Mei Chen and her better chip). But Gabriel thinks that, somehow, having a chip that connects him to the Internet also connects to the afterlife. This is fucking stupid, but Phlox lets Gabriel down fairly lightly.
Gabriel renders the scene from the start of this episode. And here's where we run into another major problem with the show: they haven't actually made Gabriel and the chip that impressive. In this episode, they have him use a recording of Kate saying she could go to China, a recording we saw Lillian listen to with her bosses before Gabriel heard it, and then see that the house she was in when she said that was two blocks from the Chinese Embassy to figure out that that's where she is. That's not something a magic chip is needed for. Anyone could have figured that out with the recording and Google maps.
Another problem is how redundant the render is. It's actually just showing us the opening scene over and over. They could have eliminated the entire first scene and just had the render and fixed the problem of the audience spending 15 minutes watching characters figure out things they already know. Just saying.
Gabriel's brain glitches as he sees Mei Chen in the render. Riley, to my eternal delight (and actual foreshadowing?), hits Gabriel in the leg to snap him out of it. Phlox explains that Mei Chen's better chip means that she can now use the renders to essentially hypnotize Gabriel. He can't turn the chip off, it's too difficult. Only putting Gabriel in a Farraday cage would protect him from Mei Chen. Some think this is a good idea, but they need Gabriel to get Kate.
And yet, if this episode proves anything, it's that they don't need him. On the plane, Mei Chen gets in his brain and has Gabriel point a gun at Riley. Once again, she punches him to snap him out of it. So he's a security risk. When they get to England, Gabriel figures out that Mei Chen's already got Kate. But literally seconds after he says that, Phlox junior calls with the same news. Phlox junior's also the one who figures out that Mei Chen must have Amos (the traitor from the pilot) hanging about as tech support. And he's the one to realize that Amos will have left them a trail to Mei Chen. So, how is Gabriel the only one who can find her? He's just a security risk.
Oh, and then there's another "We need to protect you"/"You mean the chip"/"There's no difference." and "I am the chip now" set of conversations. CLANG. There goes my coffee table.
Mei Chen downloads Kate's info on Gabriel and the chip into her own brain and destroys the hard copy. Then she uses the chip to overload computers, distracting Riley and Gabriel while she gets away. She's so much more competent than Gabriel, it's hard not to root for her.
Phlox technobabbles that if Gabriel can lure her into his brain, the team can hack her chip and delete the info she got from Kate. Alternatively, it'll leave Gabriel's brain totally open to her. So as the team hacks, Gabriel and Mei Chen have a conversation in his brain. Mei Chen's decided not to turn the info over to her bosses. She thinks they're not worthy, that she and Gabriel are the "Adam and Eve" of a new race. Oh good, she's gone all Magneto on us. And Gabriel's no Professor X. To wit: his riposte is that she's not Eve, she's the Serpent.
So the episode ends with the info deleted but Mei Chen still out there.
So here's what really worked last night: 1) Mei Chen was really efficient. The scene where she uses her chip to hack a swipecard, while a guard ran her fake card, made the chip actually useful. 2) Phlox still really sounds like everyone's uncle. 3) Phlox junior and his cohort are genuinely funny. 4) Marg Helgenberger is still flawless. She's so awesome, I forgive the fact that her character flops between "he's a person!" and "It's a chip!" 5) I want Riley to hit Gabriel all the time. 6) Amos explaining that he only does what Mei Chen wants because "She's really mean." The scientists on this show have all the best lines, truly.
Notice how nothing on that list included Gabriel, other than him getting hit? He needs to be better at his job, immediately. The only defining characteristic he had was his angst over his wife. Which was massively bungled by this episode. It brushed past any tension Riley and Gabriel should have, given that he was blaming her for not letting him die with his wife last week. Instead, he spent a large chunk of this episode thinking his wife's ghost was in his brain. That did not help make him sympathetic. However, I will give this to Josh Holloway: He really tried to sell the line "Get out of my head, you crazy bitch."
Particular to this episode is the problem that Gabriel could have been removed from everything but that last scene, and the plot would have worked better. We'd lose the repetitive render. We'd lose all the moments where the team works just as well as the chip, making it seem useless. We'd lose the anvil-heavy conversations. A show that works better without its lead has a real problem.