What do a group of the world’s foremost geniuses, a kind waitress, and Homeland security have in common? The answer – 56 planes about to crash into LAX in CBS’s new Monday night drama, Scorpion. Featuring a cast of talented actors, including Walter O’Brian (Elyes Gabel, Game of Thrones), Paige Dineen (Katherine McPhee, Smash), and Agent Cabe Gallo (Robert Patrick, Terminator 2: Judgement Day), the show follows a group of highly gifted geniuses that put their skills together to help Homeland Security solve the hard problems, like a software virus at the LAX control tower, with the help of a waitress, Paige, and her son, a child genius named Ralph (Riley Smith).
The pilot begins with a SWAT Team dropping into the middle of Ireland to arrest a young Walter O’Brian, for hacking into NASA from his home. Agent Gallo’s interest in O’Brian begins here and the show jumps forward to show O’Brian leading his tactical team of outcasts – a shrink, Toby Curtis (Eddie Thomas, American Pie); a mechanical genius, Happy Quinn (Jadyn Wong, Cosmopolis); and a mathematician, Sylvester Dodd (Ari Stidham). The team has been working odd jobs, such as fixing the Wi-Fi at a local diner and creating an automated conveyance system for a contractor.
Agent Gallo, as part of Homeland Security, recruits the team to fight a virus in the software at a control tower at LAX, and gives the group two hours before the planes that are circling the airport run out of fuel. The tower has lost communication with the planes in the air, and the team is working against the clock to stop to prevent Homeland Security from having to shoot the planes down into the Pacific Ocean. The team commandeers a diner and with the Paige’s help, they restore the airport control tower’s software just in the nick of time.
Scorpion is faster paced than most of the procedural dramas that are currently running like Law and Order or CSI, it has more action and hype, but lacks a bit of substance and falls into the clutches of stereotypical gender politics. Only one of the four geniuses is a woman – Happy, and even the child genius, Paige’s son Ralph (Riley Smith), is male. The only other women in the pilot are O’Brian’s girlfriend of three years, with whom he breaks up with at the start, and Paige, the waitress that knows how to handle geniuses as her son is one.
Along these lines, we see Paige become a mother figure to the group, fulfilling the domestic roles. She hands O’Brian a glass of water; she scolds him for giving up and gives him a pep talk. As she isn’t a genius, she can only pick up the role of guiding them through the real world and offering them a layman’s perspective to help get things done. All in all, it is a bit of a cliché, the group of smart loners work with the normal girl to liaison with the needy party in this case, Homeland Security.
The show also falls into the trap of the “socially inept genius” trope. All the highly intelligent people shown are unable to connect with normal people as that is apparently the trade-off for having such high IQ’s – they can process math or physics at high speeds, but are unable to deal with people in the normal world. Throughout the episode we see the geniuses unable to communicate with the normal people, even their own family, especially in Paige’s struggle to connect to her son.
O’Brian also seems to resent his high IQ, as he tells Paige, “I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but your son is a genius,” which seems to follow the arc of the hero who thinks he is cursed, only to learn to use his power for good. It seems that in many ways the writers chose the easy way out, the road with least risk, in order to present a show revolving around a group of geniuses. They chose to follow overdone clichés with a new spin, instead of making a new path.
On a more positive and emotional note, Scorpion uses the evolving relationship between Ralph and O’Brian to tug at the audience’s heart strings. O’Brian promises to ‘translate’ Paige’s son for her in exchange for her help translating the real world to the team. O’Brian understands what Ralph is going through, and doesn’t want him to grow up the way he did, and wants to be a friend.
Although the show does have platitudes and stereotypes that is not to say that is isn’t breaking the mold in some small ways. It is definitely a show for our generation: the millennials. With the great technological advancements that have occurred, we face a new breed of criminal. We have to worry about our iClouds being hacked, if people are watching us through our laptop webcams, the real vulnerability of any digital electronic to be hacked, and more. It will be interesting to see what scenarios and parallels with our lives the writers of Scorpion come up with, such as the parallel between the virus in the control tower software and the slew of hacking scandals that have popped up in recent years.
The show does bring to light a good question, how will we be able to combat the more sophisticated crimes that are going to happen, both in the shows reality and in ours. Our old techniques aren’t working; we need people who understand every aspect of this new world. Agent Gallo makes a valid point, “The bad guys are getting smarter, and I can’t train my agents to think like you.” We have a new class of villains, which calls for a new smarter, stronger strain of heroes – geniuses.
Scorpion airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. on CBS.