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Take time to catch up with CBS’ ‘Intelligence’

Have you seen the tension between actors Josh Holloway and Marg Helgenberger interacting as employee and boss on CBS’ new show “Intelligence”? The fifth episode of the season will debut Mon., Feb. 3, 2014. Are you caught up on what’s happened so far? The series premiere, neatly cushioned in between “NCIS” and “Person of Interest,” drew close to 17 million viewers, enough to earn the title of “most watched new series premiere this season.” Why the fascination? Ask yourself: just as though the reality of a once far-fetched idea like Google Glass has been shown as reality today, would we decide, if selected, to have a chip placed in our brains that could change our lives forever? On Feb. 1, 2014, the peer-reviewed journal “Sleep” published a study that reported novel links between sleep duration, depression, and genetic codes of adult twins, as compared to young adults, ages 11–17. Way-out mumbo jumbo or really cool science?

On CBS-TV's "Intelligence," Marg Helgenberger portrays Lillian Strand, Head of U.S. Cyber Command. Gabe's boss is tough as nails, yet shows signs of compassion when convenient.
Robert Voets, CBS
Across the mirrors, political lines are drawn, turf is divided, for Agent Gabriel Vaughn (right, Josh Holloway) and Secret Service Agent Riley Neal (Meghan Ory).
Chris Helcermanas-Benge, CBS

In real-world, real-time science, we’re getting closer to understanding precise relationships between genetics, sleep, depression, and the genuine inner workings of the emotional human mind. “Intelligence” is a series with a sound premise, even if slightly far-fetched (remember Google Glass) basis. If you’ve missed the first four episodes of the show, you can still catch up. Click here to watch. You might find it worth your time to check out what you’ve missed, unless you'd rather watch flashbacks of Joe Namath's coat at the Super Bowl.

On the basis of possessing a simple genetic mutation, the gene Athens-4U7R, Delta Force soldier Gabriel Vaughn (played by Josh Holloway) is the only viable candidate for a chip implantation to give him powers that no one else has. Once he consents, he’s no longer his own person. He’s U.S. government property and question is: did he know the price he’d pay for agreeing to serve a mission that only he could serve?

The new hardware inside his brain is a microchip designed by a government researcher, Dr. Shenandoah Cassidy (John Billingsley); the software is a program controlled by two people, Dr. Cassidy’s son, Nelson (P.J. Byrne), and a lab tech cum self-proclaimed programming genius, Amos Pembroke (Elden Henson). Pembroke is admittedly irritating, but maybe if his styling didn't seem like a Matthew Grey Gubler knockoff, it would be less so. Not every computer genius sports 1980s fashion style. Really. Too many "Big Bang Theory" reruns giving nerds a bad rap.

Nevertheless, the show concept stems from the book “Phoenix Island,” written by John Dixon, who has co-authored at least four of the episodes you’ll see this first season. Gabriel’s new direct boss is Lillian Strand (played by Marg Helgenberger). She was pretty all about business on CSI, but now she's a slightly harder reincarnation of former "NCIS" director Jenny Shepherd (Lauren Holly), and you watch with that smile on your face as the women lead the secret agencies because they do know how to maintain confidences and keep top secrets, er, secret.

Gabe, as he is known to some, has a new full-time protector, U.S. Secret Service agent Riley Neal (Meghan Ory) assigned to him 24/7. She moves in to the building adjacent to his and has a bird's eye view on his window. Everywhere he goes, she goes and in the first four episodes, they find their way as a duo, ala Marty Deeks and Kensi Blye on “NCIS:LA,” constantly pushing one another’s buttons to get a reaction. Not your Stabler and Benson "I got your back" toughness, but the relationship has matured in four weeks' time.

Trust is still, mostly withheld between the duo. Interesting results; it’s all done and said with the eyes—narrowed, raised, strained, staring. Some fans posted emotionally on message boards that Riley's character was emotionless. Could be she'd rather be doing anything but protecting the latest science fair project from the Mensa Convention. Maybe she's just preoccupied with the guy who didn't arrive with an instruction manual. Time will tell.

Add in a slightly mysterious colleague, Chris Jameson (Michael Rady), who appears to be more than just a faithful sidekick to the Clockwork Project of the U.S. Cyber Command. Jameson is the watcher with an eye on everyone, and the fixer who can maneuver and close the gaps, should they arise, in an operation--solid but essentially silent so far. Blind trust is just not his nature. Suspect everyone: and then, you’re likely right.

If the debut night ratings are any indication, chances are that you have seen the show. If you missed Episodes 2, 3, and 4 because you were busy, what you’ve missed is Michael Seitzman’s month-long comprehensive symposium in neuroscience, engineering, the genetic code, human nature, top secret spy games, the intelligence community, political maneuvering and, of course, love. Did you drop out in week 2 or 3 because you didn't see how this all fits together? Some people did. But now, faced with the possibility of four straight hours of watching the bobsledding competition, you're looking around for alternatives.

Admittedly, the show was sort of a scavenger hunt at first. Upon reflection, you have to stop keeping count of errors and miscues and start diving into the technology to get "it." Not like you have to believe in transcendental meditation's "it," but just forgive a few pointless interludes and focus on outcome. Do you want to hang out with a really cool secret weapon whose mind can save the USA three times before lunch? Or would you rather watch Castle and Beckett talk sweetly to each other? Watch this, tape the other, or vice versa.

Four episodes of “Intelligence” aired in January, each with multiple angles to simply get you thinking: “what if?” This is not another rehash of “He’s a billionaire by day and saves the city by night” like “Arrow.” And, to reverse my initial reaction, it’s not “good looking bionic guy in a leather jacket does some stuff.” Took a few weeks, but after realizing that “Intelligence” is neither cartoon nor parody, I grew fascinated with the CGI that gave us the visual renderings that saw inside Gabe's mind traveling a full 360-degree arc. Once I stopped thinking about Lee Majors, I realized how far afield Gabe Vaughn is from Steve Austin.

Rather, “Intelligence” is an exploration of the engineering of the mind and a look at, and through, the mirror. Suspend disbelief. For a moment, don a lab coat, grab a clipboard and start thinking the way the Google, Oracle, Apple, Honeywell, Bell Labs, and Samsung employees do. Neuroscience—the power of the human mind is researched all over the world. New discoveries are made daily. Consider the sum total of all progress made in neuroscience during the past decade.

Scientists and engineers have learned about the mind, its power, its capacity to cause changes, good and bad, in our bodies, and our natural reactions to joyful events as well as life’s adversities. Genetics—the code by which our bodies make each of us unique, special, able to cope or likely to tend toward depression. Why are we all unique? Why are we all here? How long can we hold out before breaking when life starts going South?

What if—you had a rare genetic mutation that made you the only person in the United States whose DNA was exactly the one and only portal to accept a synthetic mutation of your own brain code? It’s not far fetched. There’s prominent international research ongoing every day. But if you are so special, who is it who knows this? Who finds out, who looks for you, monitors your activities for years, and then approaches you to serve your country in an ultimate role where there’s no going back? “Be all you can be.” “It’s not just a job, it’s an adventure.” Not just slogans for your car bumper. They mean it. Military service is not for the weak of heart. Protagonist Gabriel Vaughn has no fear. He’s the veteran of five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Political maneuvering—the chip and its uses, as well as its host, are all top secret as it’s truly never been tried before. Once Agent Vaughn is able to showcase a realm of abilities far beyond those ever before dreamed, enter the alphabet agency heads, proffering wisdom, seeking power, and basically wanting control. At first blush, it appears to be the current U.S. President (portrayed by Bill Smitrovich), who is schmoozing with Gabriel and fascinated, but that's the trick. You have to pay careful attention when watching. Figured it out when re-watching on and checking fan message (Intelligence Facebook page) notes, it is actually a "former" U.S. President on a diplomatic mission. Either way, stay in the moment. It's "that President guy" who somehow appears awestruck at your brilliance, person-to-person, but then he worries you could go out of (his) control and just overnight, the current administration creates new restraints for you, just in case. They call it "checks and balances."

Good luck with that. The guy with the chip makes the rules, or does he? Will he be reprogrammed? Who says? Is there room for the “smartest guy in the world” to fall in love? There’s some good humor in the dialogue. When Riley asks Gabe who taught him the Chinese language, he says “I have an app for that.” She quips back, “Well you need a software update because you just said ....(the wrong thing).” Brilliant technology 1.0, but wait! In 6 months’ time, there will be version 2.0, ala iPhone 5, 5S, and the new 6 on the way.

Who can capture Gabriel’s heart and override his programming? What does that cost? If you’ve seen “60 Minutes” interviews with Army researchers, who are making productive new computer/chip controlled limbs for wounded warriors, is “Intelligence” really just one big fantasy? Or does the premise of the show stand in place alongside Google Glass, something that would have had you laughed off your block if you’d have mentioned it five years ago (to anyone who didn’t read CNET blogs constantly, that is).

Visit and watch Intelligence here, and get caught up. Make a date to watch Monday night, and ask yourself one thing: If you had the technology at your disposal, if you possessed the correct DNA, would you trade places with Gabriel Vaughn?

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