Humanity as a whole has evolved to a point where the single most important thing to society, besides food, water, and shelter, is the internet. What if tomorrow the internet went away and it never came back? Civilization as we know it would drastically change. Thankfully that will never happen. The power of the internet will only continue to grow and shape our lives. Things like financial records and communication are already primarily driven by the internet and will only continue to evolve. The internet is almost always accessible to us now. No longer are we constricted to wired in PCs, we have access through our phones, tablets, and gaming devices. But what if we could put it directly into someone’s brain. What if that someone had instant access to the limitless information out there, including unrestricted government access, simply by thinking it? This is the question that CBS’s new show Intelligence explores. And so far, I am enjoying the answers.
Intelligence’s story centers around Gabriel Vaughn, played by Josh Holloway. Vaughn is your run of the mill super soldier. A highly decorated and lethal war hero, with an attitude and issues with authority. What sets him apart is that the US government has developed a super microchip that has been implanted in his brain. Of all the potential candidates, Vaughn is the only one that possesses a rare genetic trait that is required to keep the chip from killing the recipient of it. As you can imagine, Vaughn is considered to be quite valuable by the government. His program is ran though the cyber defense branch of our government, which is headed up by Director Lillian Strand, played by Marg Helgenberger. Strand is a hard nosed leader that is all about the greater good, but seems to have a soft spot for Vaughn. To help protect her asset, although Vaughn is a more than capable agent, Strand brings in a bodyguard in the form of Riley Neal, played by Meghan Ory. Riley was the youngest female agent ever assigned to the Secret Service to protect the President, so obviously she is good at her job. Also thrown into the mix are the creators of the chip Dr. Shenandoah Cassidy and his son Nelsen Cassidy, played by John Billingsley and P.J. Byrne respectively.
So how do all of these characters play out? Pretty well so far but there is certainly room for improvement. The show will at times take on a bit of a procedural element, as all CBS shows seem to do. But there is an underlying and continuing story here. What makes Vaughn a wildcard is his estranged wife Amelia, played by Zuleikha Robinson. Amelia was also an agent, and she was sent deep undercover. After going dark for many months, she resurfaced and participated in a horrible terrorist attack. Disavowed by the government and branded a traitor and terrorist and presumed dead, Gabriel is convinced she is alive and determined to prove that she is still in deep cover. Its an interesting part of the story, and after only two episodes, they have moved much quicker with it than I would have ever anticipated.
The opening scene was near perfect for this show. It was engaging and intriguing, and did a great job of demonstrating Gabriel’s abilities and establishing how his quest to find his wife will be a constant factor in his missions. He is all alone in a remote location in Pakistan (I think) where a secret government satellite facility is hidden away. All alone, Gabriel stands quietly once he is in range, and he instantly has access to all of their files. During this time, he takes the opportunity to find secret video footage and information on his wife’s debated terrorist attack. That is when we are treated to the coolest part of the show. An unexpected side affect of the chip in his head is Gabriel’s ability to render the information visually and interact with the information he sees. Its a great and cool visual aid for the audience to help draw us into the premise of the show instead of him just closing his eyes for a second and then repeating out loud what he found out so we aren’t left clueless. He is then is discovered and is forced to escape and we see that Gabriel is much more than just a vessel for the chip in his head.
I like Gabriel’s developing relationship with Riley a lot. It gives him someone to help him and for him to confide in, but to also help keep him in line and remind him of the bigger picture. What I don’t like is Gabriel’s relationship with Director Strand. While Strand is really by the books most of the time, but too often goes out of her way to help Gabriel in the end. The show would run a lot better if she was a constant opponent and obstacle for Gabriel and if she ever did help him, it would have a much greater impact. The Cassidy father and son duo are a great addition to the show. The Dr. is there to be the go between for Gabriel and Cyber Defense. He helps explain to them, and the audience, how Gabriel works and what his limits are. It’s a nice subtle way to help explain the “science” of the show. Nelson is the comic relief of the show and is a welcome change from the constant snark that we get from Gabriel and Riley. One of my favorite scenes in the whole show so far is where Nelson keeps trying to look up information in a meeting and Gabriel keeps beating him to it. It’s a really light-hearted and fun exchange in the middle of a very serious episode.
The acting is average, maybe slightly above, for a network drama. Holloway is tremendous. I loved his work on Lost and he is proving here that he can be a leading man and not just part of an ensemble cast. His delivery and demeanor are great for the quick witted and desperate Gabriel. Ory does a pretty decent job as Riley. She does the tough and sexy thing really well. The only problem is that she is often forced to convey this and a quick wit next to Holloway and it sometimes stands out that he is just better than she is. Helgenberger is one of TV’s most loved actors over the past decade after her stint on CSI. I thought the was good on that show not great. In this show, she just isn’t great. Again, part of it may be just the flaws in how the character is written, but a lot of her lines just seem pretty flat. Billingsley and Byrne are great and are easily the best of the actors outside of Holloway. Billingsley is very convincing as the eccentric scientist who cares. And again, Byrne is just spot on in his comic relief role. His timing and facial expressions are just great.
So will Intelligence make it? It’s hard to say. It has a lot of factors against it. It premiered to really great numbers, but in it’s second week viewership was down over 50%. That is never a good sign for a show. It still did okay numbers with over six million viewers, but that was only good enough for third among the networks for it’s timeslot. A large part of the problem is that it is running against established heavy hitter Castle and this season’s breakout hit The Blacklist, which wasn’t airing a new episode the week Intelligence premiered. Another huge factor is that Intelligence is a CBS show. Due to their ridiculous success, they have really high standards when it comes to their dramas and middle of the road won’t be tolerated. Also, CBS’s fan-base is much older on average than the other networks. Will this show be able to appeal to an older demographic? Time will tell.
Would I recommend Intelligence? Absolutely. Its a really fun show with an interesting premise. It is still finding its way and it will be interesting what kind of identity the show has established when we get through the first season. Through two episodes they have crammed a whole lot in, so I’m ready for the pace to settle in and to see what this show will be like on a normal basis. If they focus on developing the character of Gabriel more and furthering his relationship with Riley and sprinkle in the stuff with his wife to keep us interested, I think this show could really be great. It will always draw comparisons to the show Chuck, which had a very similar premise. The difference is that Chuck was a very light-hearted story with wit and charm galore. Intelligence is just a different type of show as it is much more serious and dire. And with such an out there premise as a man with a super computer in his brain, it’s much easier to accept when it is approached in a fun and goofy manner. I think Intelligence can work if it’s given the chance to iron out the kinks. Holloway is good enough to make the show cool and his wit is funny enough to help keep the viewers interested and not dwell on the legitimacy of the premise. Intelligence is a fun ride and a spy thriller for the new age. If given a chance, it has a story that could go far. I for one will be doing my part to keep it going.