A couple of months ago, I happened to walk by the TV as my husband was watching the pilot episode of Intelligence. “What’s that?” I asked.
“A show with Josh Holloway—he plays a man who’s had a computer chip implanted in his brain to help the government track down threats.”
“Seriously?” I said. “There’s a new show with Josh Holloway that has sci-fi elements and you didn’t tell me? Are there strong female characters in it?”
“I haven’t gotten that far, but it seems like it. The boss is a woman, and they’ve just brought on a new female character as his partner.”
“Well back that bad boy up—I’m watching it.”
I’ve been hooked ever since. Intelligence is off to a great start—it’s a show that empowers women, examines masculinity, explores the intersection of humanity and technology, and keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time. (And it stars Josh Holloway. I’m just sayin.)
Intelligence is clearly responding to the voices of women who want stronger, more realistic representation in the media. Marg Helgenberger plays Lillian Strand, head of Cyber Command, the division of the US government that oversees intelligence operative Gabriel Vaughn (Josh Holloway). I have enjoyed watching Lillian’s command of both her staff and herself—she is a formidable character, willing and able to make the kinds of decisions that most people don’t want to think about. She is also a human being—a mother, a daughter, an ex-wife. She is sometimes vulnerable, but that vulnerability is portrayed as human in female form, not weakness personified as woman. You’ve gotta love that in a show with a woman at the helm.
In the show’s most recent episode, “Cain and Gabriel,” Gabriel’s partner and protector, former Secret Service Agent Riley Neal (Meghan Ory), expresses her deep admiration for Lillian, who is a legend among women in the intelligence community. And Riley is a strong woman herself—when she is first assigned to protect Gabriel, he’s none too happy about it. After all, he’s a former Delta Forces operative who knows how to take care of himself as well as anyone else who happens to be around. Riley asserts herself from the beginning, but she doesn’t play power games with Gabriel—she becomes his friend. And while she’s at it, she thinks and plans and fights alongside him, with his safety always uppermost in her mind.
.Although Intelligence is a show about technology, it emphasizes humanity. In one of my favorite episodes, “Athens,” Riley helps Gabriel remember who he is when his memory has been tampered with by asking him to call on his emotions rather than his intellect. Like Lillian, Gabriel has his moments of vulnerability—and although he struggles with what that means for his masculinity, he doesn’t “man up,” pack it down, and find someone to dominate. His vulnerability is simply human in male form, not weakness to be loathed and overcome. The genius behind Gabriel’s fusion of man and machine, Dr. Shenendoah Cassidy (John Billingsley) often reminds Gabriel—along with the rest of us—that his humanity is his most vital asset.
The characters explore their humanity against the backdrop of danger and intrigue—this is, after all, a spy show, and it’s a riveting one. Gabriel’s chip allows him to scan the entire internet for relevant data in a matter of seconds, hack into security cameras, and render 3-D recreations of recorded events. His abilities are deployed to locate people bent on mass destruction, protect our nation’s assets, and generally save the day in the nick of time. Intelligence explores and expands our current technology, asking questions and posing scenarios about what is and what might be, inviting the audience to consider where we are and where we’re going.
I hope that wherever we’re going, Intelligence is with us for quite a while. And I hope you’ll check it out—it airs at 10/9 central on CBS, and its renewal is uncertain. I would be very sad to see this show go—I want to know more about all of the characters (their motivations, their backstories, their successes and failures), and I want to see them all in action for many years to come.