There were a lot of anvils being dropped on Intelligence last night, because this show does not trust its audience to pick up on anything subtle. And Gabriel was inept as ever. But this episode also had a climax that hit me right in the feels.
I don't know what it is, but John Billingsley is so charming in this show. Not quite enough for me to learn his character's name, but enough that I can forgive the fact that he's often forced to deliver some really heavy-handed scientific ethics lectures. So the fact that this episode put him through the ringer was genuinely upsetting.
Gabriel's still a clod, though.
The plot involves the mysterious deaths of several prominent biomechanical engineers – specifically those in Phlox's field. At the announcement of the deaths of his fellow scientists, Phlox's sadness is actually very nice. Unfortunately, the discovery that they've been killed by super-advanced nanites prompts him to utter the anvilicious line: "Why does every advancement in technology have to be used in anger and violence?" Sigh.
Anyway, the next victim in line is Bryce, who Phlox describes as his most "ambitious" student. Not his best or smartest. His most ambitious. Which was enough to clue me in that he was totally responsible for everyone's death.
Gabriel and Riley try to get to Bryce before he's infected with the death nanites, and they get to him before he gets the package. Unfortunately, he calls his assistant after she's opened the package, and she dies. So Bryce is hauled into CyberCom for his safety and, judging by the rest of this episode, to help.
Bryce ups his chances of being the murderer by being seriously, creepily, into the notion of machines being alive. He says of the nanites, "I defy you to tell me the difference between a living organism and these." For the sake of everyone's sanity, we won't be transcribing Bryce's speech on the joys of transhumanism, but we should note that Bond villains have been less subtle.
With each of the nanite packages was a letter in binary that translated to "Welcome to the future." Bryce has them zoom in on the numbers, which are hiding a microscopic, handwritten, 35,000-word manifesto. An analysis of the manifesto leads them to Gordon Grayson. Who was apparently a pioneer in the field of nanotechnology before he freaked out at the idea of sentient AI, and became a stereotypical crazy-wall paranoid government conspiracy theorist.
But when Riley and Gabriel go to get him, THE BEST THING HAPPENS: They chase him down, and he activates the TRAP DOOR he's installed. Which deposits him on a cushion of cardboard boxes, so Grayson can run to the car he'd hidden there, and get away.
Eventually, Riley and Gabriel catch up to him. But, as they interrogate him, he develops the nanite nosebleed of death and expires. Not before he can share his feelings about the scientists going all "Frankenstein" (anvilicious, drink!) and his "crazy" idea about the government putting chips in people's heads, of course. IT'S FUNNY BECAUSE GABRIEL HAS A CHIP FROM THE GOVERNMENT IN HIS HEAD, GET IT?
Phlox and Phlox Jr. realize that the nanites can't be treated like a disease, and that they could lie dormant in a person's system until they are activated. These ones are activated by a frequency carried by a cell phone call made to a phone near the nanites. Riley remembers that her phone buzzed during the interrogation by a blocked number. No one can call into the CyberCom building, so it had to be someone there. Security camera footage reveals that it is. . . Bryce. So shocking.
And he left behind a cell phone on a timer in Phlox's lab. He's the next target.
The last act's a race to save Phlox. They put him under an electromagnet in order to slow the nanites. And then everyone goes right for the feels. Lillian asks if he's in pain, and it's the first time she's exhibited a strong emotion other than "pissed off." And as he declines, she gets more and more upset. And as Lillian gets more upset, the more I want this all to stop.
Phlox tells his son that he'll have a child that he'll will be as proud of as Phlox is of Phlox Jr. Phlox Jr. replies that he would like to go back to making jokes. AS WOULD I.
He says similarly touching things to Gabriel, who hauls off to interrogate Bryce. Bryce doesn't say anything useful, but Gabriel realizes that the nanites have been "dying" shortly after their hosts do. So it's body heat they're using to decide when to shut down. This is pretty dumb — but Gabriel actually contributed to the resolution, which is nice.
They cool down Phlox's body temp, with Gabriel monitoring the the nanites through the electromagnet (because. . . science?). It works, of course. And then Phlox goes to confront Bryce, opening one of the nanite packages and starting to dial the the sequence on his cell phone that will activate him. He's cool as a cucumber and while also steely in the face of Bryce, and it's a nice bit of acting from Billingsley, whose character hasn't shown any kind of coldness before.
There's a slight chance that I'm so fed up with Gabriel as a character that everyone else looks good in comparison. But I was honestly not okay when Phlox was lying there. In comparison to last week's disastrous attempt at pathos, this week worked because we know Phlox, we identify with him, and the reactions of his friends and family feel earned.
So that was good. Bad was that this episode was riddled with anvils. In addition to Phlox's comment about angry, violent science and Grayson's paranoid-but-accurate ramblings, there's 1) Riley telling Gabriel that he's not a machine, because machines don't make decisions, and he does 2) Gabriel calling himself a freak and Riley objecting 3) Bryce calling Gabriel "Phlox's creation" 4) And Bryce asking Gabriel how much of him was human. IS GABRIEL MAN OR MACHINE? THINK ABOUT IT!
Yet again, the episode worked best without Gabriel and his chip. Gabriel was the worst a lot this episode, to the point of hilarity.
- Gabriel uses the chip so much in front of Bryce that Bryce figures out, in like five minutes, that he has it. Riley and Phlox try to cover for him, but Gabriel is, as usual, the worst.
- Gabriel can't hack the security cameras at Grayson's because they're "too encrypted." Yeah, governments have fallen to him before, but a loon in an abandoned building outwits him.
- He tells Riley everything she did over the weekend and says, "It would be nice to come on Monday morning and not already know what you did all weekend." Which, he doesn't have to check, right? He's just being creepy.
- He gets some basic details about the car Grayson escapes in, but it's Riley who figures out that it's a Ford. What is Gabriel even for?
- He turns off the security cameras when interrogating Grayson, and reveals the chip to him. After Grayson dies, Gabriel tells Lillian to "Feel lucky [she has] her own freak." Lillian's deadpan "Yes. I feel very lucky" is a thing of beauty.
And I'm still struggling to figure out just what makes the chip so great, or Gabriel such a great match for it. Which is a criticism I'll push to the side when there's enough going on with the better characters to divert my attention. So this show either needs to get much better at writing Gabriel or much better at writing everything else.