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Women of courage lead CBS' 'Intelligence' in high style and in high fashion

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“Look at me, trust me; that’s how we’re going to get out of here.” That’s what U.S. Secret Service agent Riley Neal (Meghan Ory) tells college coed Mackenzie Bradshaw (Abbie Cobb), as both are stranded on a dirty basement floor, bound and bruised, kidnap victims in a jungle hideaway in Mexico. Episode 5 of Season 1 of CBS-TV’s “Intelligence” delivers plot twists galore, but never waivers as it shows women in charge, comfortable and confident. On Feb. 3, 2014, “The Rescue” had more messages for women, subtle and overt, as viewers explored more depth to the characters leading the world of the U.S. Cyber Command. In fact, agent Gabriel Vaughn appeared to just be the means to the end for the mission that called for the expertise of the Clockwork Team.

The plot premise is fundamental when you’re dealing with international espionage. From the “Intelligence” web site on cbs.com:

When the daughter of a Senator is abducted from her college dorm, Lillian sends Gabriel and Riley to Arizona to hunt for clues to their whereabouts. Lillian’s father, the powerful and secretive Leland Strand (Peter Coyote), originally brought her footage of the abduction containing the kidnapper's demands.

Think you have it all figured out? Oh no, you don’t. Close your eyes and imagine the global world of politics and power that emanates from Washington, DC. Keep your eyes closed and envision a long conference table, around which sit people of power, prestige, and principles. As long as there have been separate agencies of intelligence gathering and diplomatic give-and-take, the kings, czars, dictators and directors have been, by and large, men. Powerful men are usually attractive. Powerful women, well, there are definitely some serious stereotypes to have to break through. Time. It just takes time.

Two decades ago, as the very clunky Osborne personal computer morphed into the affordable, yet ingenious (partial show sponsor) Microsoft Windows tablets, women have entered the realm and comfortably taken the reins of leadership. Time has proven them effective in protecting their country, whether on the front lines of the field of battle or in the boardrooms making daily life-and-death decisions. Wall Street may have gone into a tailspin today, but the U.S. Cyber Command is flourishing in the capable hands of Director Lillian Strand.

Marg Helgenberger has been able to make a quantum leap in the past two weeks to bring Lillian to life to showcase the power she wields and the decisions she weighs. And she overrides the wishes, dictates, and incontrovertible orders of men—at will—when she plays by the same rules they do. And spineless senators quiver and quake with ineffectual indecision.

If you haven’t yet seen tonight's episode, no plot spoilers here, just a few pebbles tossed along the trail for what to watch. Four powerful women frame “The Rescue”: Lillian Strand, Riley Neal, and two University of Arizona coeds, Mackenzie Bradshaw and her college roomate, Samantha Royce.

There's a history lesson comfortably couched in the middle of the show: the memorable rivalry of Mexican warlord Pancho Villa and the man who brought him down at the Battle of Celaya, Alvaro Obregon. Updated for present-day, the space-age tech part of the night focused on a longtime, if not predictable battle between evil—drug lord, Hector (Carlos Sanz) and good—Leland Strand (Peter Coyote), an unidentified freelance super-spook and, by the way, the father of Lillian Strand.

Watch as U.S. government policies made within the unbounded world of black ops can stand unfettered, as rules are batted about, bent, and broken by men—at will. And how’s that working for them? A key U.S. senator, Thomas Bradshaw (Robert Curtis Brown) is clearly the most pathetic excuse of an elected leader and public official. He is entirely disengaged from emotion upon learning his daughter and her roommate were kidnapped and taken to Mexico, all for the want of blocking a U.S. spy satellite that might hinder drug traffic flow across the U.S.-Mexico borders.

Leland Strand is a paradox and such a calculating double-dealer with a conscience, brilliantly played by Peter Coyote. Watching the father-daughter dialogue go down between Lillian and Leland is good stuff. The looks, nuances, line delivery there is “spot on.”

Gabriel (Josh Holloway) is shown to have his first emotions of sorts toward Riley Neal (Meghan Ory). Chris Jameson (Michael Rady) doesn’t have many lines this episode but he wisely conveys mountains of dialogue, simply by using looks, eyebrow raises and knowing nods. Jameson is that guy whose picture you’ll see under the phrase “still waters run deep.”

There are four women in harm’s way tonight. Some are physically bound by constraints; others are constrained by rules and the dictates of men who theoretically possess all the power, literally, in the world. But the women have the last word, on a number of levels.

“It’s not your call to make.” How many times Lillian Strand had to hear that phrase. And yet, she has the very last word, and the satisfaction to go along with it. Her team, her rules, can only be overriden by another woman, and that’s okay with her. The ultimate in trusting your gut, Strand and Riley have some great scenes via satellite. And Riley is there as advocate and angel for the two young kidnap victims, and she leaves clues for Gabriel to find. And he cyber-does that.

The best scene of the night is at the end of the program. Women of intelligence across the country likely fist pumped the air at least once as Marg Helgenberger, looking resplendent in a red gown, joins her father for a night at the opera, and does a little business at intermission. A virtual/cyber high-five to Barry O’Brien for tonight’s script and three cheers for director Alrick Riley for keeping you on the edge of your seat with action-packed solid scenes. Riley knows how to run the spy game series; he’s a veteran director of many television series, the most relevant of which is “MI-5.”

Gabriel Vaughn remains clearly “the smartest guy in the room,” no question. He does his job, but really, tonight it was all about the women. Brilliant, beautiful women. The best line of the night was delivered from Lillian to Leland: “Get a leash on your lion, Dad.” You just have to watch it back to understand why. It’s all about the women.

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