FINALLY. It wasn't perfect, but last night's episode aimed straight at "spy procedural" and actually hit it. They even managed to turn a previously frustrating mistake into running joke! Y'all, I have tears of pride in my eyes.
In any other show, the addition of a wise-cracking child genius with a sad (but not too sad!) past would derail the whole episode. But on Intelligence, the character of Troy instead seemed to eat up the time usually spent speechifying. This vastly improved the viewing experience.
The plot this week was a worm working its way through the western United States' power grid. The Phloxes identify the worm as one by the "hostage hacker" Cortez, who has an M.O. of releasing a worm into major corporations and demanding a payment to make it stop. Since the getting to the power grid requires local access, they figure that Cortex must be in Los Angeles (where the power outage started) and track him there.
Because no episode is complete without a moment of Gabriel incompetence, Gabriel shoots the man they find in the apartment, right after Riley reminded him that they needed Cortez alive. Gabriel could have tried for a disabling shot, but he instead puts two in his chest. Sigh. Given that we learn that the worm can only be reliably stopped by a live Cortez later, Gabriel is really lucky that this wasn't the hacker, but just a guy sent to kill him.
The hacker is instead Troy, a teenager who used his mad computer skillz (that's how kids these days talk, right?) to get himself out of foster care by creating a fake foster mother. Troy insists that he had nothing to do with the power grid hack, which it turns out is true — another hacker copied his code and gave it to a group of anti-nuclear terrorists. They demand the release of one of their own, Dominick, in exchange for stopping the attack.
The attack isn't on the power grid. Troy says that the worm won't stop until it reaches its target; it's just working its way through the power grid "like a kitten playing with a ball of yarn." That's the third episode that's had a weird cat reference. Between that and Leland Strand's epic "Hakuna Matata" rejoinder to Lillian's, I've decided that such references herald the coming of an entertaining episode. More cats! Cats for everyone!
Troy points out how the target is hidden in the worm, and Gabriel deciphers it right there with his brain. Now, normally, that would be another sign that Gabriel is incapable of hiding his use of the chip from anyone and is the worst. However, in this episode, he does it so much, it becomes funny.
The target is a nuclear reactor. Troy storms off, so they send Gabriel to talk to him about all the people the worm will kill and how he needs to help them. Gabriel seems quite pleased with himself, right until he leaves Troy alone in a car, which he of course steals and runs off in. Right when the Phloxes realize that the worm has a kill switch activated by Troy's heart beat. And now he's gone. Oops.
Gabriel tracks Troy to another hacker's hideout. This is the hacker who copied Troy's code, gave it to the anti-nuke terrorists, and is shot by them before Troy can get him to reveal where the worm is being run from. Turns out Troy was affected by Gabriel's chat and wants to stop the worm. He tells them he needs to original computer the attack was launched from to activate the kill switch. Except, oops! Dominick's been extradited to Russia and is on a plane with the Russian ambassador as they speak.
The Russians are not cowed by Lillian, which is ridiculous. I'd do anything she told me to do. So Riley drives onto the runway and Gabriel uses the chip to hack and ground the plane. Troy questions what just happened, and Gabriel goes, "Uh, I guess we got lucky!" LOL. Awful cover story Gabriel. Try again.
The extra time the plane spends being grounded gives Lillian time to work her magic on the Russians. She promises that they'll get them Dominick back and that they're only going to fake release him. She also makes the anti-nuke people promise to do the exchange at the power plant, so that if the worm can't be stopped, they'll all be killed. Phlox is sad about this, but, in a genuinely nice moment, acknowledges that it's exactly what they need to do to make sure the real computer gets delivered. No speeches, just upset resignation. I can't believe they passed up an opportunity to give Phlox an anvil to drop!
At the exchange, Troy and Phlox jr. stay in the car. Troy's all upset because he says someone needs to verify that they're being given the right computer. Phlox jr.'s all "No, Gabriel's got it." Troy is appropriately confused by that, but Phlox is insistent. Seriously, no one on this show seems to care about hiding Gabriel's abilities anymore.
Of course, the whole thing goes wrong. Dominick gets away and the computer is blown up. The team, with Riley's inspiration, realize that they could try creating a fake virtual nuclear reactor for the worm to attack. Then it'll have reached its "target" and stop. Phlox walks Gabriel through doing it, with Gabriel going "I'm compiling it now." Again, Troy's like "I'm sorry, you're compiling? What?" Riley jumps in with "It's a . . . figure of speech." It's such a small thing, but the show's finally realized that a) Gabriel never bothers to act not-weird when he's using the chip b) people, especially smart people, are going to notice and c) they should at least try to offer up some explanation. And a bad one is funny!
They succeed, there is much rejoicing, Troy has a job waiting for him at CyberCom when he's 18, and they reunite Troy with the brother the system separated him from. Meanwhile, Lillian's definitely in a pile of shit with the Russians. So she says they have to find Dominick; look for that to come up later this season.
I'm sure, absolutely sure, that if every instance of "hacking" last night was replaced with "magic," the episode would be equally realistic. And yet the pace was good, the stakes kept believably changing, and Gabriel actually used the chip. Yeah, Gabriel and Troy's conversations about having "gifts" and being able to save or destroy the world were a little on the nose (and Gabriel quotes Phlox in one, because he can't be completely removed from acting as the patron saint of black and white morality on this show), but they were short. And way better than the usual "MAN OR MACHINE" anvils we usually get. It was an example of the route this show should absolutely be taking – spy procedural – rather than the melodramatic attempts at deeper philosophy it has thus far failed at.
A for effort, show. A for effort.