‘The Grey Hat’, this week’s installment of Intelligence, written by Heidi Cole McAdams and directed by Tim Hunter, focuses on two very real threats that we face in modern society, hackers and nuclear disasters, and what happens when the two threats merged into one potentially deadly attack.
The episode opens with Lillian telling her team about blackouts that have suddenly started plunging the U.S. West Coast into darkness. When Riley questions what this has to do with CyberCom, Nelson explains that the Cyber Defense Division has determined that the blackouts are being caused by a sophisticated and destructive cyber worm that a hacker has unleashed inside of the power grid.
All signs seemingly point to Cortez, a legend in the hacker community who specializes in ‘hostage ware’ or ‘grey hat’ scams, where he installs a destructive worm into a corporation’s systems and then blackmails the corporation into paying him to stop the worm. Riley questions how attacking a power grid would fit Cortez’s usual M.O. and Nelson chalks it up to ego, the desire to prove he’s the best high-level hacker out there. Nelson quickly realizes, however, that Cortez has made an error — the security system for the power grid only allows access to local IP addresses; therefore the worm had to have originated in Los Angeles. Lillian has heard enough and, taking charge, dispatches Gabriel, Riley, and Nelson to L.A. to find this Cortez and stop the worm: “Everyone, this is the cyber attack we’ve all been afraid of. Millions of lives are affected and we may not have seen the worst yet.”
When Gabriel, Riley, and Nelson track down “Cortez”, aka Troy Ricksen, and show him what they believe to be his handiwork, we are presented with our first major plot twist. Troy informs them that it’s not his worm — someone has cloned it and the design is such that he can’t stop it. In fact, it won’t stop until it has found and attacked its target. Ready to “bust some heads” because someone has stolen his worm, Troy tells Gabriel, Nelson, and Riley that the power grid is not the worm’s actual target. Using a vivid analogy, he explains that the worm to a kitten playing with a ball of string while it’s roaming the power grid. Once it finds its true target, the worm will transform from a kitten to a tiger and attack. With assistance from Troy and Nelson, who make quite a team, I must say, Gabriel determines that a nuclear power plant in California is the worm’s target. Whoever cloned Troy’s worm has sold it to terrorists.
Back at CyberCommand, Lillian meets with the heads of the other DOJ agencies to decide the best course of action. While they are discussing their options, they receive a video broadcast from Torbin Salvi, the leader of the anti-nuclear terrorist organization, NSR. He is willing to abort their attack if his brother, Dominic Salvi, was arrested by the FBI for bombing a nuclear research facility in Moscow and killing 52 people, is released from U.S. custody rather than being extradited to Russia where he is expected to be executed for his crimes. If Dominic is not released, the NSR will unleash a nuclear disaster on the U.S. West Coast that will rival Chernobyl.
Once Gabriel and Riley realize how dire the situation is, they seek Troy’s help in doing whatever it takes to stop the worm. Troy, however, realizing who has stolen his worm, gives Gabriel and the team the slip and goes to confront the thief. Rather than “bust some heads”, he tells the thief that the two of them are going to do the right thing — they’re going to work together to stop that worm before anyone else gets killed. Troy sees just how high the stakes are when the terrorists show up and start shooting. Thankfully Gabriel has tracked the vehicle Troy stole and he and Riley are able to stop the attackers before they can harm Troy, although his friend isn’t so lucky. When Riley and Gabriel tell him that he has the ability to stop the worm with a biometric ‘kill switch’ of his that was also cloned, Troy tells them that he can stop the worm but he needs the “mother ship,” the computer that was used to originally launch the worm, to do so.
Taking charge of the situation, Lillian presents a rather risky plan to DNI Adam Weatherly. She proposes that they pretend to give in to the terrorist group’s demands — to release Dominic long enough for Troy to gain access to the ‘mother ship’ and use the kill switch to stop the worm. Then take Dominic back into custody to return to the Russians. When Adam balks at her idea, mainly because of how many months the State Department spent negotiating with Moscow for Dominic’s extradition, Lillian fires back: “We are on the brink of a nuclear event! Doesn’t that trump the politics?!” There wasn’t much of Lillian in this episode, but she is a force to be reckoned with when she is there. Adam sees her point and agrees to go along with her plan. The plan hits a momentary hiccup when our, as Lillian calls them, “small minded, fear driven bureaucrats” move up Dominic’s extradition and put him on a plane to Moscow, but Gabriel is able get to the runway in time and ‘chip’ the plane and keep Dominic on the ground.
Lillian is then able to secure the Russian ambassador’s cooperation by guaranteeing that if she and her team can use Dominic to get what they need to stop the nuclear attack, she will return him to the Russians alive, a promise that she hopes she can keep. She confides to Cassidy that the only way she is going to agree to the trade is to have the exchange take place in the exposure pathway. Her reasoning for this is that all who are there, including the Salvi brothers, will be in danger if there is a nuclear meltdown and so Torbin Salvi should have every reason to bring the mother ship and cooperate fully to see that the worm is stopped. Her plan, while brilliant on one level, also puts the lives of Gabriel, Riley, and Nelson at risk, a fact she is well aware of. Cassidy is distraught by the potential ramifications of Lillian’s plan, but after thinking it over, finally concedes: “That’s why it’s the right call.” She’s right — the best way to ensure Salvi’s cooperation is to have him personally invested in the outcome of trying to stop the worm.
It wouldn’t be “Intelligence” without another plot twist, however, and instead of a happy reunion between brothers, we end up with a shootout, a pile of dead bodies including Torbin, an explosion that takes out the all important ‘Mother Ship’, and Dominic escapes. Lillian’s plan has severely backfired, she has broken her word to the Russian ambassador, and there appears to be no way to avert nuclear disaster. Adam Weatherly says as much when he asks Lillian: “Did we just lose this one?”
The CyberCom team never gives up though, and so with Troy’s guidance, they realize that if Gabriel can create a virtual nuclear power plant that is even more appealing than the actual power plant, then they might be able to divert the worm from its target and trick it into attacking the virtual one instead, thereby killing the worm and averting disaster. When their plan works, everyone breathes a sigh of relief, except Adam Weatherly who is shooting a rather ominous look at Lillian. His look reminded me of the mantra of Michael Seitzman and the IntelligenceCBS crew on twitter: ‘Trust No One”. When Cassidy and Lillian later talk about the hammer that is sure to fall, one has to wonder if Lillian is the one it is going to fall on.
Excellent episode overall, with all of those twists and turns and action-packed scenes that I love so much. Here are some highlights for me:
1) Octavius J. Johnson was an absolute delight to watch in this episode. I loved Troy – his sass, his brilliance, his heart, (and how cute is Octavius?!) It was so much fun to watch Troy interact with the CyberCom team, especially Nelson. If “Intelligence” is renewed for a second season, I would love to see Octavius added in as a series regular.
2) Lillian, of course, is always a highlight for me, because of the complexities of her character as she is faced with the nearly impossible choices she has to make in her job for the greater good. I always admire Lillian’s strength in those situations and this episode was no different. My heart broke for her seeing that look on her face when she had to tell Adam that she didn’t know if they had lost this one or not. Even though her screen time was limited, Marg’s performance was incredibly powerful. When she’s on camera, she is Lillian Strand and she is trying to keep the world safe from terrorists at all costs.
3) The special effects were amazing in this episode. The cyber worms, the virtual power plant, the explosion — just wow! I was very impressed.
Be sure to tune in next Monday night at 10PM for the first episode of the two-part season 1 finale! Screen captures of Marg from this episode —> Click Here