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Athens, Athena, Zeus, and CBS’ ‘Intelligence’: Commonality and commentary

Marg Helgenberger is Lillian Strand, who leads Project Clockwork on CBS' "Intelligence."
Marg Helgenberger is Lillian Strand, who leads Project Clockwork on CBS' "Intelligence."
"Intelligence" Facebook Fan page.

Season 1, Episode 9 of "Intelligence"

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Episode 9 of CBS-TV’s “Intelligence” first broadcast on March 3, 2014, was entitled, “Athens,” quite appropriately, given the complex national security questions this episode posed. In Greek mythology, Athena, daughter of Zeus, was the goddess of wisdom. The earliest Olympic games in Greece for Zeus' pleasure were based on contestants' battles merely on physical strength alone. Pretty much also how the nation’s defense system operates today. Whether first-world problems in the intelligence community or theoretical battles within the community of "Intelligence," tonight Lillian Strand channeled Athena in possessing sufficient wisdom to lead her team to tonight's conclusion of "Athens."

Intelligence, Athens, Intelligence, Athens. Parallels and perpendiculars on the grid of U.S. Cyber Command. If you’ve not seen the show yet, each week you see the team of people who represents Project Clockwork, the center of which is agent Gabriel Vaughn (Josh Holloway), the man who embodies (literally and figuratively) the strongest of all warriors on behalf of the United States, whose mere existence serves to protect that which is most precious to our country. Tonight’s episode probably came closest to characterizing what goes on behind the never-seen doors, air locks, and secure chambers within the government’s intelligence operating centers.

To appreciate the concepts and genuine scenarios that are scripted each week, you have to rely on one basic operating principle: “Suspend all disbelief.” The minute you say “oh, that wouldn’t happen; that doesn’t happen,” not only do you rob yourself of the chance to enjoy the program, you might just be 100% wrong. Unless you work in the intelligence community, you just don’t know how close this show is, or could be, to the heartbeat of what it means to have a similar threat on freedom.

Tonight’s antagonist was Jin Cong (Will Yun Lee), whom the audience met earlier this season. Threats are real and as close to home as some loose-lipped supercomputer contract employee who decides he wants to shut down the intelligence community and leaks documents at will, harbored by those who hope to curry any advantage they can over the United States. Real world, real threats.

Gabe, our secret weapon, if you will, is guarded by Riley Neal (Meghan Ory), the Secret Service agent who physically protects him; he’s wired up and fired up by scientist Dr. Shenandoah Cassidy (John Billingsley) and son Nelson Cassidy (P.J. Byrne), who have the scientific and engineering training to make Gabe the “$30 billion dollar man.” Chris Jameson (Michael Rady) is Lillian’s slightly mysterious go-to strategic assistant, and then Lillian Strand (Marg Helgenberger) is (refreshingly) the woman in charge of her team.

At the center of conflict in tonight's “Athens” are the contradictions that defense analysts deal with daily. Who has the right to know the most critical of all defense secrets? Who’s in charge of vetting them and is there a real set of checks and balances in place to prevent corruption and internal breakdown of the team? What risks do the operatives take to have the knowledge and keep it safe?

Does a research scientist walk into work every day knowing that the enemy might be able to infiltrate the super-protected workspace using highly sophisticated circuitry and gadgets? A little over 12 years ago it just took some airplanes crashing into buildings to wreak havoc upon the nation. It was an overt, physical act of terrorism that took place and destroyed peace of mind for adults and children alike.

When even one single traitor to the United States intelligence community takes it upon himself or herself to release documents to the world at large because they (acting as one person) deem it to be their will to do so, that’s only a matter of keystrokes and timing required bringing an intelligence community (and risk the lives of others and safety of a free world) to its knees. Traitors have been around ever since freedom was born.

If these real-life scenarios are not far-fetched, then, neither is Gabriel, the human soldier with supercomputing analytical skills. Clockwork is the ultrasecret weapon that the country possesses to keep the free world safe. Gabe is the pivot point of Clockwork, but it’s a team that keeps the country safe.

But the fun part of tonight’s episode was when the writers took a giant axe to that safe premise and literally hacked away at the fiber of Gabe’s being—the chip implanted that governs his access to “real” intelligence. The person who saved the day, where Gabe and Cyber Command were concerned was unarmed—Riley. She didn’t have a keyboard. Put down a gun used for protection. She didn’t kill Gabriel. She put herself at risk, employing only rational discourse and logic to encourage Gabriel to use his heart to decide what was truthful and real.

Three key parts of Season 1, Episode 9:
1. There exists a very, very secret list of individuals who possess the correct genetic structure to accept chips like Gabriel’s in years to come. Problem is they’re children who are entirely unaware that they have been identified, targeted, and are now at-risk because their names and locations are on a list of names known only to Lillian and Dr. Cassidy. The list of names is not accessible on the traditional secure network structure. Good thing because Jin Cong kills and infiltrates his way into the ultraprotected confines of U.S. Cyber Command.

2. That the list exists is a dilemma in and of itself. Nelson Cassidy questioned his father, through his disbelief, about his role in creating the list. You think you know someone and then find out you don’t know them at all, perhaps, even if it is a parent.

3. The conversation between Lillian Strand and Dr. Shenandoah Cassidy.
Lillian: “We’re not dealing with respectable scientists. We’re dealing with the U.S. Department of Defense. Unlike you, I don’t have the luxury of ignoring orders. What I do is the best I can do. I keep the list as safe as I can and I will continue to do so, with your help. Like it or not, we are the ones that put them in danger and neither of us gets to walk away from that truth.”

S. Cassidy: ‘And now I am become death.’ Oppenheimer said that. ‘The destroyer of worlds. So much potential, so many reasons for hope, Oh, the irony.’

Of course, Oppenheimer is J. Robert Oppenheimer, key scientist in the Manhattan Project, the research of which spawned nuclear weapons and atomic bombs that were brand new so many decades ago.

Best line of the night goes to Lillian Strand. “We are the hope.” True enough.

A quick pass through some of the comments on the “Intelligence” Facebook page are written by those who love the show and anticipate each week’s episode enthusiastically. A few are rather quick to criticize the program because they have not yet dialed in to the rhythm of the dialogue and become locked in to the groove of the show. Granted it takes a little watching of previous episodes to get the full perspective, but all in all, the show is solid, even if fantastic. The premise of “Intelligence” is as acceptable as “Mission Impossible,” and definitely as much as “I Spy” from 1967, when Bill Cosby and Robert Culp were (literally) said to have “saved the free world” each week, while posing as international tennis players.

It’s called entertainment, and “Intelligence” packs a good three hours of entertainment into 60 minutes because you think about the show long after the broadcast. Suspend all disbelief and ask yourself, “what if?” There’s enough real-life ultracool technology to entertain all those who understand how it works and pique the curiosity of those who don’t grasp it all. Plus the super sci-fi graphics are entertaining and easy on the eyes.

“Athens” brought the ancient theme of competition to chase the end goal to prevail as best in the world, employing tactics, weapons and strategy, going toe-to-toe against the competition. The risk to the world at large was based on the decisions of a few–culled, chosen and sifted from a large pool of many—using the process of elimination until dominance was achieved and safety was guaranteed.

In the end, the world is made safe for all children and adults and good triumphs over evil. And with the wisdom of Athena, Lillian stands tall, stands firm, looks her opponent straight in the eyes, and shoots him, saving the day. And, speaking ethereally, Zeus watched the entire scenes atop Mt. Olympus, and at the end of the day, he smiled. All was right once again, in his world. And they lived happily every after, until next week, when the team is called back into action.

Commentary: Jump on in, the water’s fine

It’s taken eight weeks to get viewers on board to the point where they now begin to post on the show’s Facebook page, which currently has 71,795 likes. “Not too shabby” for two months’ time. There are several ways to follow the show on Twitter, including the show’s account, which has 9,868 followers (@intelligenceCBS). Then, the show’s writing team (and that’s a large group) has 3,033 followers (@IntelligenceHQ). The HQ folks include Michael Seitzman (@Michaelseitzman), show creator and executive producer, as well as Aaron Ginsberg (@DrLawyerCop), who has the perfect Twitter moniker because he does handles writing and producing for all three show types.

Other unsung heroes behind the scenes as producers are not as much on social media, but the cast of the show is definitely on board, and engaging almost daily on Twitter, online in a Reddit "IMA" meet-up (Josh Holloway, Michael Seitzman and Meghan Ory) last week, and even P.J. Byrne was on the Hallmark Channel the other day on their "Home and Family" show. Each actor is going all out to make this show a winner. The question is: do the viewers know how rare and special it is for actors to work as hard all day long in front of the cameras and then help build a constituency in their so-called spare time?

So what does all this social media mean, and what is the upshot of these numbers? Individually and collectively, the “Intelligence” team has committed 100% energy to making this show a hit. Nowhere else are you going to find a more affable, intelligent and engaging ensemble of creatives gathered together on Twitter, to watch the show while you do, and talk to you while you are doing it. And then repeat it again if you’re in a different time zone.

The only truly serious opponent to the show’s success is its time slot. It’s not that it’s opposite “The Blacklist” and “Castle,” as that is a problem easily solved by recording one (or two) and watching the other. What is really kind of a drag are the CBS programs leading into the show. Before you get to see real “Intelligence,” you have to deal with “Mike and Molly” and “Mom,” preceded by “2 Broke Girls.” Egad. CBS Programming division, please fix this and watch the ratings skyrocket, "to the moon, Alice, to the moon."