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Stupid Enough to Not Be Its Own Legal Guardian: 'Intelligence' Review

By Alexander Joenks | TV | January 9, 2014 |

By Alexander Joenks | TV | January 9, 2014 |

I suppose they could have just called the show Goldfish because it’s as much about the little ten cent fish that die if you look at them wrong as it is about anything remotely connected to the word Intelligence. And I also could make the joke that the series will probably last as long as the aforementioned lifespan-challenged fish, but let’s face it, it’s on CBS with NCIS as a lead in so the pilot landed over 16 million viewers. So it’ll probably run for eleven seasons.

Cobbling together actors from other shows, we’ve got Josh Holloway (did he always look and act exactly like Aaron Eckhart? Must be the haircut) from Lost, Marg Helgenberger from CSI, and Meghan Ory from basically every other show on television.

Naturally, Holloway’s character (I’m not looking up the names of these pointless characters, so we’ll just go with Shorn Sawyer) is the best at everything. Tier 1 Delta Force! And Ory, she was the bestest Secret Service agent ever! She saved the president’s kids with a stick of gum and sardonic wit! And her back story is that she killed her step-father for raping her throughout her teenage years! Oh, um.

Come on CBS, I know you wanted a third act reveal of what it was she was hiding about her past in order to cement the budding trust between the two leads, but dude, really? You went there? For thirty seconds of the pilot right before the final silly shoot out? I’m sure as a CBS procedural, they will thoughtfully and tastefully explore the abuse in the heroine’s past over the course of the season. Ha! You’ll never hear about it again except at random points when they bring it up because the writers are too lazy to think of a different way to crassly manipulate the audience.

And now what am I supposed to call the character? Because any clever nickname I give her will be colored by this and make me look like the ass. Well, anonymous terrible television writer, no one makes me look like an ass but me, so I’m just going to call her Manny, which is short for Manipulative Plot Device.

Anyway, Shorn Sawyer has a government microchip in his head. It magically hooks him up to electronic stuff. So he pieces together all the random digital noise and recordings from various sources and gets to magically knows things and see things. So, he’s basically got a Google Glass prototype embedded in his skull.

This is the sort of thing that would have really interesting societal implications. Instead they make it magically able to automatically hack and download everything from everything electronic. That’s dumb. There’s not even a need to parse it out or mock it, it’s just face value stupid and lazy writing. It’s not even what technically illiterate people think about technology, it’s what technically illiterate television writers think that stupid people think about technology. It’s Dumbception.

It could have just been called Enhance! The Series, because it takes the infuriating lack of any comprehension of technology that procedurals have enshrined in their constant requests to “enhance” photographs in order to magically make them have more data than is there, and builds an entire show around applying that logic to everything. At one point, Shorn Sawyer reconstructs in his fancy head an abduction, and notes that the abductee does not have a look of fear, but of recognition on his face, which he then uses to interpolate that the bad guy must be someone in particular he knows. Except as Manny points out, the camera couldn’t see the abductee’s face, so how can Shorn Sawyer have seen it? Oh yeah, his brain fills in the gaps.

WITH WHAT? I scream at the television. You have to have data to fill in the holes in the data. A picture of the back of a guy’s head does not tell you the expression on his face. You want a show about a psychic, go for it, but quit stapling “science” onto this crap and trying to pass it off as an imaginative exploration of the implications of technology.

The show veers wildly between his abilities being things that are just magic handwaved as science, and things that would be much more efficiently done with a dude on a laptop than with some guy and a billion dollar chip in his head. Seriously, he taps into data with his brain. That’s not a superpower, that’s a laptop. And if you can make a chip to magically hack into every data source within a hundred miles and integrate it into something useful, then um, you could plug it into a computer and have fifty guys working the data instead of relying on what Shorn Sawyer sees inside his mind fortress.

I’m beyond exhausted of the complete inability of television shows to understand technology in the slightest. I don’t even mean on the technobabble level, I mean on the fundamental level of what technology is. Technology is not a golden bauble, it’s the ability to build golden baubles. The entire plot of this pilot revolved around a magic computer chip stuck inside the protagonist’s head. There are exactly two of them in the entire world.

Gosh, that’s useful.

The bad guys try to steal said chip. Note, that they do not try to steal the plans for it. Because that would involve understanding technology. Instead, they kidnap the head scientist who built the chip for the sole purpose of having him implant it in a new person. Instead of, I don’t know, having him build them more of the goddamned chips.

I know, I know, it’s like the six zillion dollar man, the parts are totes expensive, right? Except that there was a second chip that the designer built in his garage after retiring. So the show’s own story directly contradicts the notion that this magic chip is built of some billions of dollars of rare plot elements.

Look, give a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach a man to fish, and he’ll commit piscine genocide. Why is this such a difficult concept for script writers to understand? Stealing an object is a pissant bit of amateur hour compared to stealing the ability to build said object.

Part of the problem is that the ability to create a thing that is fantastic changes everything. The thing itself does very little. But lazy storytellers prefer to deal with the thing itself, because that allows them to not bother with the creativity necessary to imagine a changed world.

See, the atomic bomb in itself does not change the world, nor does the mushroom cloud or two from the first of them. It’s the ability to build thousands of them that changed everything we knew about war and international relations. That’s what technology does, it transforms the world by changing what we can do.

Writers, especially for television series, love to come up with gorgeous technical toys with all sorts of superpowers. And then they invent infinite reasons why the serum/chip/mutation/device/McGuffin is a one-time thing that can never be duplicated ever, as if it was handed to us by some trollop in a lake instead of by dint of people figuring out how things work.

That’s the difference between science fiction and playing with the trappings of science fiction. The former has the balls to actually deal with how the world changes when we can do different things, while the latter cowers from such imagination and focuses instead on the implications of one single item.

Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at You can email him here and order his novel here.