We're only two episodes in and Intelligence's approach to plot arcs is already crystal clear: why take a whole season (or more) to delve into something when it can be dispatched right at the beginning? The pilot mentioned Gabriel's wife so much, you'd think the writers would spend the whole season slowly moving the search for her forward. Nope!
Spoilers. . .
In a way, the second episode of Intelligence had a lot in common with the pilot. The "plot" was largely unimportant, when there were character beats to hammer home. The episode started with a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, with a senator being the apparent target. However, the bomber was searched thoroughly before he exploded, so the team is trying to figure out how he did it. They do figure out pretty quickly that bomber has a brother who's made his way to D.C., so the team immediately searches for his next target.
Like the abduction plot in the pilot, the action in "Red X" is essentially a vehicle to hit us in the face with the premise. And – like the pilot's aversion of expectation by starting years into Gabriel's time with the chip, rather than starting the series with Gabriel just getting used to the chip – this episode avoided expectation by immediately finding Gabriel's lost wife. And then appearing to kill her.
The brother, Hassani, is spotted with a chess set. Using his super-chipped brain, Gabriel is able to figure out that all the chess pieces are the same color, which seems like a very stupid oversight for a man who successfully delivered a bomb into a U.S. military base. Therefore, the chess set must be made of the magically-undetectable plastic explosive he intends to use. Moreover, Hassani's been spotted meeting with the same person person Gabriel's wife was with when she turned traitor and with the back of a woman's head. Which Gabriel is immediately sure is his wife, Amelia.
And he's totally right. He's not, as you might expect, emotionally compromised by his search for his wife. I mean, he totally is. But he's emotionally compromised and correct. Which is why Lillian tells Riley, essentially, "Gabriel won't be able to take his wife out if she turns out to really be a traitor, so make sure you don't hesitate to take her out if need be."
Then Gabriel and Riley are sent to stop Hassani. The team reasons (they do this a lot, and it's all guess work based on very little hard information) that the bomb will be in one person, but that the detonator will be held by another. To prevent the bomb-person from having any second thoughts. So Riley goes after Amelia's co-conspirator, Gabriel goes after the bomb-person, who turns out to be Hassani, and the rest of the team work to block the detonation signal from headquarters. Gabriel kicks the bomber down an elevator shaft. The detonator fails, and Amelia and her traitor friend get away. Riley, likely prompted by Lilian's "pep talk," just keeps shooting at them.
Gabriel's not exactly happy that a) Riley shot at Amelia and b) that Lillian was all "Shoot her!" Dr. Phlox and his son perform an autopsy on Hassani to remove the explosive he swallowed from his stomach and determine that there's a lot more left from the plastic-explosive chess set. The team's investigation leads them to a mosque, and to a hospital visitor badge a boy there took from the would-be bombers.
Gabriel finds Amelia, who tells him that a) she's the bomb b) it's on a timer, so there's no chance of disabling the detonator again and c) to get out because she never loved him anyway. The last one is obviously a lie, and Gabriel's desperate to save her. He wants to short the timer with a defibrillator. Riley arrives, and she's still all about the "shoot Amelia" plan. At first. Then she dives at Gabriel, and the two crash through the window and land in water. Then there's an explosion. And since we have no body, what're the chances that Amelia's only dead until the writer's feel like bringing her back?
The episode ends with Lillian visiting the boy that gave Gabriel the hospital badge. She's figured out that it was Amelia who arranged for it to be found. This is more in keeping with the Lillian in the pilot, who didn't believe Amelia had turned. On the other hand, she spent this whole episode being very pro-shooting Amelia. So who knows? She shreds the badge.
Once again, the show stops to have conversations making the central thesis clear. 20 minutes into the episode, Dr. Phlox tells Lillian that they worried about selecting Gabriel to put the chip in because, "if Amelia becomes involved he could become irrational." Then Phlox and Lillian have this exchange:
Lillian: Well then, find a way to control him, because I am not taking my best asset offline in the middle of an active terrorist attack.
Phlox: I can patch glitches, fix bugs, repair hardware, hell I can even reprogram the chip. But it's not the chip that crashing.
Again, the show really wants you to get the whole "man or machine" question being put out here. They do it again when Phlox and Lillian later discuss how much of his processing speed is used up searching for Amelia. See, emotions are complicated. Wouldn't he be a more efficient machine without them? (Sidenote: how does Phlox know that "on an average day," he uses 25-30% of it to look for his wife? That's a creepy thing to be able to figure out.)
More interesting than this ham-fisted insertion of that conflict is the one that Riley's facing. When Lillian's giving her the worst pep talk ever, she asks Riley if she can take out Amelia when Gabriel won't. Lillian lets her know that the hesitation, where she's thinking about how emotionally devastated Gabriel would be, is all that's needed for the bomb to take him out. This is echoed after the explosion, when Riley tells Gabriel that he couldn't have saved Amelia, all he would have done is died, too. And he responds that then Amelia wouldn't have died alone. Gabriel points out that Riley succeeded, since the chip is fine. Riley says it's him, not the chip she saved.
It's interesting because Riley's been assigned to protect Gabriel. Lillian clearly prioritizes his physical safety over his emotional one, and she's swayed Riley to that way of thinking. But is Gabriel any good if he's mentally destroyed?
If he is just a machine, a tool to save lives, as Lillian sees him, then obviously saving the technology is important, to the exclusion of the mental. On the other hand, it's going to be very difficult for Riley to protect someone who doesn't want to live or who is now very angry at her and unlikely to cooperate. That's the problem with ignoring the effects of emotion.
It's almost the same point as the one the writers keep hitting us with, but more subtle. Also, better executed. If the show can pursue this kind of emotional arc rather than repeatedly reveling in it's own concept, that would really work. Or, it can just have Riley and Gabriel warp past this to being friends. A show that's so fond of bucking convention by skipping set-up and getting on with everything might do that.
The other interesting bit in this episode is Lillian shredding the badge at the end. Her sudden conviction in Amelia's guilt, after displaying the opposite belief in the pilot, is confusing. As is her figuring out that Amelia left the clue that saved all lives but her own, and not telling Gabriel. Gabriel insisted that she was in deep cover. Could he be right? And Lillian's change of heart could be explained by her being informed of Amelia's mission and being ordered to protect it. Or, she doesn't care, she just wants Gabriel to give up on his search, which is easier if he thinks she died a traitor. Either way, I'm keeping an eye on her.
Finally, a few random thoughts:
- The Phloxes appear to be that kind of scientist that Hollywood loves: the ones who can tell you about plastic explosives, hack computers, build sophisticated computer chips, and perform autopsies. Because all science is basically the same, right?
- Younger Phlox is going to be the geeky comic relief. And while his "butcher, baker, candlestick maker" joke got exactly the stony response it deserved, his comments during the father-son autopsy was genuinely funny.
- Marg Helgenberger and John Billingsley are still the best, and they're interrogation of the Swiss representative of the company that created the undetectable explosive was great. Can they do that more?
- Speaking of the Swiss company, they didn't tell anyone when the undetectable bomb material they made got stolen? SERIOUSLY?
If Amelia's on the back burner for now, the next few episodes are likely to be procedural. Or, if the show wants to blow through the threads from the pilot, we'll be seeing and killing the Chinese operative Phlox implanted with a chip really soon.