Tonight’s Covert Affairs is sporadically helmed with enough finesse that director Allan Kroekker frequently makes up for the shortcomings of tonight’s scenario. “Letter Never Sent” has a couple of fairly well-paced scenes, specifically the big action and chase set-pieces. These sequences are so uncharacteristically well-choreographed that it’s easy to lose sight of the fundamentally lightweight material that they’re embellishing. Episode co-writers Matt Corman and Chris Ord didn’t exactly drop the ball tonight, but a lot of the material that they gave Kroekker to flesh out was pretty rough. Kroekker makes “Letter Never Sent” work when it counts most, though it’s apparent that the episode was not built to last whenever the plot slows down long enough for characters to speak.
Part of my disappointment with the script for “Letter Never Sent” has more to do with how much it selectively develops what had been set up before tonight. Tonight is the episode where dangling plot threads, like when Annie got permission to learn how to shoot a gun, are tentatively wrapped up. After she learned how to defend herself, there were no signs in the remaining couple of episodes of Covert Affairs’ second season that the specific trauma that led her to want to learn how to shoot a gun ever really resurfaced. It was just a convenient way to give a little heft to the ending of an individual episode. Now, in “Letter Never Sent,” there’s a brief acknowledgment that, yes, Annie did learn how to shoot people. But so what? Is Annie any stronger or emotionally surer of herself than she was before she learned how to shoot a gun? That’s pretty much up to the audience.
Another storyline that gets wrapped up with mixed results in “Letter Never Sent” is the subplot with Annie’s sister Danielle. Danielle has complained once or twice before that she’s emotionally unfulfilled now that her husband Michael is away on the road, leaving her alone with her two daughters. Finally, something gives when Danielle finds out Michael is having an affair. Annie offers to help by going on vacation with her sister to Stockholm, where works predictably catches up with her, endangering both Annie and Danielle’s lives. Unfortunately, Danielle never really talks to Annie about how the break-up with Michael makes her feel, nor even does she do anything to hint that, gee, a major event has occurred in her life.
Still, one of the things I found pretty satisfying about the basic sketch of an idea Corman and Ord had for “Letter Never Sent” is the fact that they don’t present Danielle as being totally innocent. She’s not been idle while Michael’s been gone. In fact, she’s been corresponding with a schoolmate named Magnus, who happens to live in Copenhagen, for six months. I like the casualness of this discovery and the fact that Danielle isn’t treated with much moral outrage over the fact that yes, she has needs to, was unhappy, and wasn’t just a victim waiting around for the other shoe to drop. Then again, the fact that her relationship with Magnus doesn’t really come to much of a resolution also speaks to the fact that Corman and Ord, more often than not, just didn’t flesh out anything in tonight’s episode.
That having been said, I do think Kroekker deserves equal attention for what he got right. The scene where Annie is supposed to meet her contact at a party is terrific because it expresses almost everything we need to know in sleek images. Never mind the fact that it seems awfully risky to have secret agents walking around with business cards describing exactly what to look for when they meet each other. Watching the camera pivot around the room while Annie and the badman that’s trying to kill her find each other was pretty compelling, and the same is true of the later scenes where Danielle and Annie are evading arrest and then later assassination. The last scene where Annie finally guns down her pursuer is pretty exciting because it’s primarily driven by the strength of the scene’s pacing, sound editing, and camera movement, not exposition or characterizations. For that, I’m pretty grateful.
But plot and half-assed little details plague another big subplot that gets resolved in tonight’s Covert Affairs or at least gets addressed: Jai Wilcox’s inevitable betrayal of his father. Jai winds up telling on his dad and, not surprisingly, does it all for the sake of climbing a little higher on the corporate ladder. The scene where he haughtily explains this to Arthur should come earlier than it does but then again, when has Jai’s story ever been more than just a footnote to Annie’s story?
It feels like there should be more to this story than there is. Jai has always been an opportunistic character, so the discovery that he basically got his father imprisoned just to get a better gig is kind of a no-brainer. And since there are no signs that he’s having an internal struggle before he turns daddy in, there probably should have been some kind of indication that there was more to this story than what was already fairly self-evident. The closest Corman and Ord get to this is Augie’s confrontation with Jai in the elevator, where Augie warns Jai that he’s on a steady road to alienating everyone around him. Which, again, would be a good scene if there was any kind of sign that Jai was concerned that Augie was right. Here’s where an extra scene would have gone a long way. Or maybe just an extra-long elevator confrontation, one that ends with some indicator that Jai is mulling over what Augie has said.
“Letter Never Sent” doesn’t, however, end with Jai’s story but rather back with Annie and an image of her finally starting over. She’s on the open road in a ’67 Corvette that Augie generously gifted to her. And has decided to move back in with Danielle. It’s a return to the show’s status quo, one that, like Jai’s story, seems pre-ordained. The show could end after tonight, and there wouldn’t really be anything that needed resolving. Though it would be nice to see more Kroekker-directed chase scenes…