“Gabriel Vaughn, one of our nation’s most decorated soldiers. He’s a hero and now our country’s most secret weapon. Gabriel possesses a rare genetic mutation that allowed us to implant a microchip in his brain. We connected his mind directly to the information grid. At U.S. Cyber Command we created a highly specialized unit around him and assigned an agent to protect him. He’s the first of his kind, the next evolution of intelligence.”
These are the words spoken by Lillian Strand (Marg Helgenberger), director of the U.S. Cyber Command, in the voiceover introducing each new episode of “Intelligence,” one of the most entertaining and imaginative new shows on television. Each week a new challenge confronts Cyber Command, and it’s up to Gabriel (Josh Holloway) and his team to combat the forces of evil throughout the world. Every episode brings a different mission, and so far two of them have involved thrilling rescues of people held captive by some really nasty villains. And one of the most recent shows contained a surprise twist that made we want to stand up and cheer.
In addition to Helgenberger and Holloway, the regular cast includes Meghan Ory as former Secret Service Agent Riley Neal, whose assignment is to protect Gabriel at all costs. At first glance Riley may appear to be an unlikely bodyguard for Gabriel, but she is as lethal as she is pretty, and she’s completely fearless.
The other two key members of Gabriel’s team are Shenendoah Cassidy (Josh Billingsley) and Nelson Cassidy (P.J. Byrne). Shenendoah developed the microchip implanted in Gabriel’s brain, and Nelson is his son, who is a bit envious of Gabriel.
The headquarters of Cyber Command are in Washington, D.C., and the show’s format consists of alternating between wherever Gabriel and Riley happen to be and headquarters, where Lillian monitors and directs each mission. The locations for the assignments also vary each week and have been as diverse as Syria, Arizona, and Mexico.
One of the main reasons the show works so well is that the three major characters – Lillian, Gabriel, and Riley, – have been perfectly cast. All of these actors are veterans, and, of course, Heldenberger had quite a run on “CSI,” as well as winning an Emmy for her role as a prostitute on “China Beach.” In “Intelligence” she is in charge of Gabriel’s operations, and in a recent New York Post interview she explained why Lillian wears a wedding ring even though her husband hasn’t appeared yet.
“I said to the property masters, ‘I want to wear a wedding band, even though there is no mention of a husband.’ I was thinking that the writers would eventually reveal a husband or that I’m still in love with my ex-husband. On ‘CSI’ I played a woman who was divorced, and this time, I just wanted to play someone who was married. A powerful woman like this, making very important decisions like this, I don’t think she wants to go through life alone.”
Ory, who starred in “Once Upon a Time,” imbues the character of Riley with a nice blend of toughness and vulnerability. Riley is not indestructible, but she also is a highly trained agent who would not hesitate to take a bullet for Gabriel. In an interview with Collide.com she offered some insight into her character.
“Riley is such a great character. She’s so strong and independent and tough, but also sensitive and compassionate and warm. She’s just such a complex, rich character. As a woman, to be able to play somebody right alongside all the boys is pretty awesome and hard to find and really fun to play.”
As far as playing the hero is concerned, Holloway is terrific. When we first meet Gabriel, he’s pretty much of a tortured soul because he has been estranged from his wife ever since the C.I.A. sent her to Mumbai, India, years ago to prevent a terrorist attack. His relationship with her is resolved in the first few episodes of the show, and Holloway succeeds beautifully in making us share Gabriel’s emotions and feelings. He’s one tough dude, but there’s also a softer side to him. In an interview with Collide.com Holloway explained what attracted him to the series.
“Well, it was a number of things. First off, I’ve always wanted to play a spy. I had three brothers, growing up, and we’ve been playing versions of that game, my whole life. So, there was that. And I had a skill set there that’s not really been used. I have a movie coming out, very soon, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and (director) David Ayer, called ‘Sabotage,’ and David required us to go through SWAT school. It just trained me up. All of my skills are tight for this type of role. So, I thought that was fun, too. There’s the fun being-a-spy side that I was very attracted to, but I didn’t want to do a rehash of what’s already been done a thousand times.
“And then, there was the adding of the computer chip and the technology, and the questions that poses today, in our everyday life. What is our relationship with technology and our own humanity? How do we communicate with each other? Do we need a gadget? If you’re a teenager, yeah, seemingly. You won’t look up from that thing. So, these are now questions about technology and how we’re going to push it. Where does our humanity lie, in that? When will technology surpass it? Is this the end of the world where, once computers start thinking for themselves, we’re done? So, these are real questions. It was just fantasy before, but now they’re developing thinking computers and drones. So, I thought it was very current without being sci-fi.”
What I really like about Gabriel is that he doesn’t have super powers. Yes he has an amazing mental advantage over everyone else, but he’s still a human being in that he isn’t “… faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive (or) able leap tall buildings in a single bound.” He possesses great fighting skills, but if someone shoots him, he will bleed, and he definitely is not immortal.
“Intelligence” is a consistently fast-paced show with plenty of action and suspense, and the special effects are excellent. Watching Gabriel access various databases or infiltrate inaccessible files is at as intriguing as it is fun. And what makes it all the more fascinating is that the whole premise isn’t much of a stretch when you consider the scope of modern technology.
The only thing I don’t care for in the show is Billingsley’s portrayal of the scientist. I find his character both silly and obnoxious, but maybe that what he’s supposed to be. At any rate, I think the program would not suffer if Billingsley managed to develop a microchip for initiating his permanent disappearance.
Despite my dislike of Billingsley’s character, I never miss the show because his character is not a major one, and everything else about the series is so outstanding that it earns a highly respectable eight. Perhaps the best thing of all about the program is that, unlike so many of the moronic offerings on television these days, this one doesn’t insult your intelligence.