TV Review: Intelligence – "Where Good Men Die Like Dogs"

(Spoilers for the episode that aired Oct. 10)

The premiere episode of CBC’s Intelligence opens with Jimmy Reardon (Ian Tracey) piloting his float plane above the British Columbia coast, surveying the spectacular landscape below. It’s peaceful and idyllic … on the surface.

But in Intelligence, a little more information usually reveals that things aren’t quite what they appear on the surface. When Reardon touches down, it’s to collect drug money from his producers, who are feeling pressure from the biker gangs infiltrating the area.

His contact on the ground, Colin, tells Reardon he needs to quit the drug life to spend time with his family, now that his wife is dying of cancer. Jimmy’s a savvy businessman, ensuring there’s a succession plan, but also shows genuine empathy. Still, as he tells his right hand man Ronnie (John Cassini), he suspects its the biker gangs more than the cancer-stricken wife who pressured Colin to step down.

It feels wrong to like Reardon, and yet impossible not to. He’s such a decent, endearing guy. You know, for a drug kingpin who has people whacked. He and Ronnie discuss their plan to get Bill, a grower who turned snitch on Jimmy, out of the country as part of Reardon’s own special witness protection program. Then, oh so casually: “In a couple of months, we’ll deal with it.” “Kill them both?” “Yeah.”

But then he goes and shows that his little daughter, Stella, is his priority, answering her phone call in the middle of a business discussion. When strung-out mom intercepts the call, we get a peek at the kid’s home life – how sad is it that her stable parent is the drug dealer?

Mary Spalding (Klea Scott) is the head of Vancouver’s Organized Crime Unit, and the handler of newly recruited informant Reardon. Her subordinate Ted, barely hiding his insubordination despite repeating “we’re all on board,” lets her know that their witness Bill has disappeared, and he suspects Jimmy. Mary frets that if Jimmy has Bill killed, that could jeopardize her big opportunity to impress her bosses with the coup of landing Reardon, and therefore her promotion to CSIS, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service.

“It would be a major disaster for me,” she says to the man who would like nothing better than to see a major disaster befall her.

“A little rough on Bill, too,” Ted points out.

Mary is our clearest hero, the one on the right side of the law, the one not designated “the nasty bastard” in the ads, as Ted is. But everyone in the intelligence game, spy or criminal, is in it for themselves. Intelligence makes it hard not to feel guilty for rooting for anyone, since our leads, Reardon and Spalding, are unlikable nearly as often as they are likable.

They’re also both concerned with covering their asses, though Mary doesn’t resort to ordering hits. As she meets with Roger, the CSIS agent who’s job she’s about to take, she puts a wire on herself – so it’s spies spying on spies, as well as gangsters.

Roger thinks she’s inflated Reardon’s importance, but Mary points out that the old CSIS way of thinking – Roger’s way of thinking – has led to a Canada that’s “completely reliant on second-hand, inadequate, unreliable, and irrelevant, from foreign sources not working in the interests of this country.” In a time when CSIS is under fire for its mishandling of the Maher Arar case, among others, it’s a point that resonates.

Mary and Jimmy stage clandestine meetings throughout the episode. She warns him that Bill’s continued existence is crucial to their mutually beneficial relationship, gets him to refuse Roger’s request to be his co-handler, and lets him know she needs a juicy tip to prove his worth. It’s a balancing act of power between the two, and Mary seems to have the upper hand. At least, it looks that way on the surface … but remember what we said about those surfaces.

She dismisses his intelligence that bikers are infiltrating the island as common knowledge, and good-naturedly mocks his motivations for revealing that particular bit of information. “We should clamp down on your competition for you, is that what you’re saying?” she asks.

“I wouldn’t complain,” Jimmy smiles.

He ends up revealing that she has a mole in her wire room, a double agent for the Chinese Triads. She reveals this damaging information to a CSIS higher-up, while demonstrating that she has put the situation under control and getting him to agree that Reardon is hers alone to handle.

Our head spy and head gangster get glimpses into each other’s personal lives, too. Mary finds her messy marriage seeping through the cracks of her tightly controlled professional life, when her cheating, stroke-afflicted husband returns and gets violent, forcing her out of their apartment. Jimmy gets an earful when he tries to call her, and also an eyeful of the used bedroom in the safe house hotel room she chooses for their rendezvous, where her personal and professional lives suddenly, perhaps unwisely, combine.

Those hotel meetings seem almost like social calls, with the intimate setting and casual drinks from the mini-bar … except for the fact that they’re exchanging information like a commodity and jockeying to be the one with the biggest pile.

In exchange for the tip about the mole, Jimmy chooses to ask for Mary’s help in his custody battle. His ex-wife Francine is refusing to let him see her, leading to an intense confrontation between the exes. Though Francine is obviously manipulative and not entirely rational, my sympathy for Jimmy is precarious. We know she’s taken away what he values most in life, but we also glimpse his suppressed violence, and wonder at the life they must have had together.

Ronnie isn’t just Jimmy’s wing man professionally, he takes care of him personally, too. He arranges for a lawyer, plies him with food and drink, and tries to prevent Reardon from acting rashly after his battle with Francine – another hint that Reardon has some violence in him that needs suppressing.

Jimmy’s brother Mike (Bernie Coulson), however, is not quite as astute when it comes to acting in Reardon’s best interests. Recently released from jail, Mike is humiliated by his position as doorman, and resentful of Ronnie. He’s also highly impetuous, going from inviting Jimmy on a fishing trip to planning a trip to Mexico, presumably to bump off Bill, who ends up dead, to Mary’s dismay and Ted’s glee. Adding to the body count, Reardon’s man on the island, Colin, is assassinated.

Knowledge is power in this world of intelligence, and Jimmy desparately needs to tip the balance in his favour, so he asks one of his minions to collect background on Mary – any information, personal information.

In the final scenes, Jimmy is back sipping a drink in Mary’s hotel room, where she shows him a picture of poor dead Bill. He tells her the bikers have killed one of his men, asking her pointedly to let him know how that investigation goes. When she asks if a biker war is coming, he says he hopes not. But …

“What goes around comes around I guess, right?” he asks.

“Yeah,” she replies.

This is, of course, just the beginning. This first episode, following the pilot movie that aired last year, sets up the characters, relationships, and plots for what looks to be a slow burn – with threats of flash fires – throughout the season.

Intelligence next airs Tuesday, Oct. 17 at 9 p.m. on CBC.

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