“Athens”, this week’s installment of “Intelligence”, is my favorite episode of the series to date. In addition to featuring the usual roller coaster ride of action-packed twists and turns, which always makes for fun viewing, it also further explored the theme of trust, which is one that we’ve explored in previous episodes. Who can be trusted and who can’t be trusted? And, in particular, can we trust our government? The events of the episode also served as a test for the CyberCommand team members – can they be trusted to take action as needed when they come under attack?
The episode opens with a familiar face from the show’s pilot, Jin Cong, being broken out of a Chinese prison. While we have no idea at this time what his intentions are, we know that we can’t trust him. No good can come from Jin Cong being a free man.
Back at CyberCommand, Lillian and Jameson have the unfortunate task of dealing with a pair of Department of Defense Security Auditors as they question all of the safety protocols in place at the agency. There is a brief moment of levity when one of the auditors, while looking for security flaws in CyberCom’s live tissue palm recognition software, inquires as to what the protocol would be if a user “gets their hand cut off in a freak gardening accident?” Without missing a beat, Lillian’s sassy response is to order Jameson to conduct a hand count: “Make sure everyone has two.” And then with a big smile at the auditors, she quips “I feel safer already.” Clearly dealing with government security auditors is one of the necessary evils of Lillian’s job so why not have a little fun with it?
The fun ends almost immediately, however, when CyberCommand faces a very real threat and their security protocols are put to the test. An aggressive virus attacks and takes down their entire network and it becomes apparent that whoever is behind the attack is after the country’s most sensitive information. Also problematic, however, is the fact that the attack has also erased Gabriel’s memory and in essence taken the country’s most valuable intelligence weapon out of commission. Lillian and her team know they’re in trouble when Gabriel starts to panic and asks, “Who the hell are you people?”
What I particularly liked about this episode was that the women were the ones who took charge at nearly every opportunity. Lillian and Riley, brilliantly played by Marg and Meghan respectively, are two of the strongest female characters I’ve seen on television in a long time and they are thrilling to watch each week. When Gabriel loses his memory, and along with it, his trust of those around him, he physically lashes out at Jameson as he tries to escort him to ClockWork. He easily takes Jameson down with a sucker punch and it’s Riley who steps in and stops Gabriel. It’s also Riley who takes the lead in trying to calm Gabriel down and remind him who he is, that he is part of their team, and that he can trust them. While Riley is taking the lead when it comes to Gabriel, Lillian takes the lead when it comes to dealing with the threat at hand. Back in the control room, while Nelson, clearly overwhelmed by the speed and severity of the cyber attacks, is frantically running around and announcing each new assault on the network while simultaneously making nervous jokes to the auditors — “How are we doing on that security audit?” — it’s Lillian who takes matters into her own hands. She quickly and calmly assesses the situation and realizes the attacker’s true intent. Knowing that sensitive data must be protected at all costs, she makes the decisive call to neutralize the threat: “Okay, that’s it. I’m formally instituting the Orion Protocol.” When the security auditor balks at her decision because “Orion is a protocol of last resort,” Lillian swiftly neutralizes her as well: “Take a look around. There are no resorts left.” Once she has put a muzzle on the auditor, Lillian commands Jameson to “cut the trunk,” effectively cutting CyberCommand off from the outside world and thus stopping the cyber attack. When the auditor once again questions her judgment, Lillian’s defiant response is: “Put it in your report.”
Unfortunately, while “cutting the trunk” puts a stop to the cyber attack, that threat is also accompanied by a physical attack. Jin Cong and his thugs, dressed in American military fatigues, infiltrate CyberCom headquarters and, guns blazing, make their way to Lillian and her team. Jin Cong’s intentions are now clear – revenge: “After all the trouble you caused me, did you really think I wouldn’t be back for you?” Once Jin Cong seizes control of CyberCom, he has his men comb through the network looking for specific information. While Nelson and Jameson have no idea what Jin Cong could possibly be after, Lillian immediately suspects that he is after something called the Athens list. The theme of trust comes into play here as well: Jameson and Nelson are unfamiliar with the Athens list, but because they trust Lillian completely, they are both willing to die to keep it safe for her. Reluctantly, Lillian confesses to her team that the Athens list is a list of children who contain the same mutation that Gabriel has. It is basically a list of potential candidates for the microchip. It is unclear how Jin Cong came to know of the existence of this list.
Once he realizes he can’t locate the Athens list on his own, Jin Cong decides to use Gabriel to find it. He manipulates Gabriel into trusting him by corrupting the personnel files of both Lillian and Riley so that Gabriel considers CyberCommand the enemy. Jin Cong almost gets what he wants, but in another awesome display of that ‘girl power’ I love watching so much, Riley is ultimately able to get through to Gabriel through his emotions and sense of memory and makes him realize that Jin Cong is the true enemy that needs to be taken down. (As a sidebar, it was also quite fascinating to watch Gabriel first react to the idea that someone has put a microchip in his brain, then him re-learn how to use it throughout the episode, and then to actually discard the chip data to focus on Riley and his emotions.)
Most of my favorite moments of the episode focused on Lillian’s interactions with Jin Cong. The strength of character she displayed throughout the crisis was incredible. Even though she was obviously scared for her team’s safety as well as fearful that the nation’s most sensitive information would be exposed, she still managed to remain not only cool as a cucumber, but was also downright defiant when it came to Jin Cong. I actually laughed out loud when Cong sent a couple of his goons to track Gabriel down: “You’re sending those two for Gabriel? Good luck.” Even with a gun to her head and with Jin Cong threatening to cut off her hand to gain access to the Athens list (which was foreshadowed during the security audit), Lillian still remained fierce as hell: “You’re not going to get away with this. Someone will stop you and when they do, you’re going to pray for those days when you were back in a hole in China being used as a pin cushion by the guards.” And that someone turns out to be Lillian, who puts a bullet in him as he is attempting to make his escape. Jin Cong learned the hard way not to mess with Lillian.
The episode ends with a further exploration of just what a complex character Lillian is and how her conscience is often at odds with her government’s questionable interests. In addition to dealing with pesky security auditors, another one of the necessary evils of Lillian’s job is to follow orders whether she agrees with them or not. It turns out that Lillian, against her better judgment, kept the Athens list after she and Dr. Cassidy had agreed to destroy it. Cassidy is distraught that the list still exists and chastises Lillian for not destroying it since, in his mind, the children on that list are now targets. Equally distraught, Lillian defends herself by saying that she had no choice – that she had to follow the orders issued by the Department of Defense and the DOD was determined to keep that list: “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.” Cassidy tries to bow out, saying that he wants no part of it, but Lillian reminds him: “Like it or not, we’re the ones that put those children in danger and neither of us gets to walk away from that truth.” Cassidy then sadly compares himself to J. Robert Oppenheimer, a famous physicist whose scientific discoveries have become synonymous with the deadly atomic bomb. The episode concludes with Lillian reassuring him that it doesn’t have to be that way as she points at their CyberCom team, who has passed their latest test with flying colors, and says “We are the hope.” For me, the message in Lillian’s words is that CyberCommand is who we can trust. I’ve said this in an earlier review, but moments like this lead me to believe that we are headed for some kind of showdown between CyberCommand and the other DOD agencies. If so, my money is on Lillian and her team.
Screen captures of Marg from the episode can be found in the gallery —>> Click Here
If you haven’t already read it, I also highly recommend John Dixon’s “Phoenix Island”. This incredibly well written novel was the inspiration for “Intelligence” and is well worth a read to give episodes like this one more context. You can purchase it on amazon.com.