Generally, Covert Affairs is a pretty likable show. As Carrie has noted before me, it is unambitious and its pleasures are consequently rather limited. But within the standards set by other original series from USA (I’m thinking especially of Burn Notice and Monk), Covert Affairs will do in a pinch. Heck, even when the series’ passably clever banter doesn’t cut it, the show’s cast picks up the slack. Sure, Piper Perabo leans way too hard on her famous pout but that’s small potatoes in the long run.
Which is why I’m sad to report that I just couldn’t get into “The Wake-Up Bomb,” tonight’s mid-season premiere. The show’s family-comes-first theme just didn’t sit right this go-around, mostly because I don’t think the story was particularly good. “The Wake-Up Bomb” picks up after Annie tells her sister that she is not in fact an employee for the Smithsonian but rather a CIA agent. She’s been moved into a safe house whose location has been kept secret from everyone Annie knows, including people in the agency, like Augie. This is a contrived plot twist that I can live with since in theory it means that Annie has to finally forge a personality beyond her involvement with the people she already knows (ie: work-related friends and family).
This leads Annie to have an abortive affair with Zavier, a gourmet cook that she sleeps with and soon after discovers is actually a former member of the ETA, a group of Basque Separatists. Normally, the writers of Covert Affairs do a good enough job with the kind of light but unmemorable banter that, under ideal circumstances, would sell Annie and Zavier’s short-lived relationship. But tonight, the show’s writers just didn’t have it in them, making Zavier look like a stick figure.
We first meet Zavier after Annie stumbles into his restaurant. He charms her with lines that could only win over women in a Katherine Heigel romcom. First impressions matter so it’s important to note that Zavier initially shows Annie that he has no restraint when it comes to conforming to stereotypes about hot-blooded Latino men (“You have a very supple mouth[…]And we like to surround ourselves with beauty.”) Then he wins her over by making her to really relish the taste of a desert whose main ingredient is fresh cherries grown just down the road form Zavier’s childhood home: “Close your eyes—let the taste transport you.” That’s a line for Will Ferrell if ever there was one.
I wouldn’t object so strenuously to that stupid cherry line if it actually went somewhere. As in, if Annie remembered something about cherries or it made her think she wanted to do something with her new life after she’d moved out of her sister’s apartment beyond the basic imperative to learn how to, uh, cook eggs? Can that be right?
Annie doesn’t even need to know how to do it, she could just know that something’s got to change. Unfortunately, the show’s writers were clearly more interested in using Zavier as a disposable suspense plot du jour protagonist and love interest. He says some seriously cheesy lines, he gets under Annie’s skin and then he’s gone with no fuss, no muss and no real pay-off.
Meanwhile, Jai butts heads with people in his department and threatens to expose corruption after an investigation he’s working on gets shut down. Again, while the phrase, “They’re shutting the investigation down,” is a staple of Covert Affairs, I would have been ok with this subplot if it was executed with a modicum of conviction. I found Jai’s interactions with his father to be really wanting, especially since lines like, “I know where the bodies are hidden on this one, Cam, and who did the shoveling,” seems like the kind of thing even T.J. Hooker-era William Shatner would balk at.
Many of the clichéd phrases and smug lines that made “The Wake-Up Bomb” such a disappointment were used either by Jai or his dad. The episode’s last scene is just a colossal pile-up of lazy declarative statements like, “Do you know how many strings I had to pull to get you this promotion? All of them. That’s how many.” That line would have worked if the show’s writers hadn’t felt the need to tack on that niggling “That’s how many,” at the end. But overkill seems to be the watchword of tonight’s creatively deprived episode. It may sound cool to have Jai’s father snap at him, “You’re playing a dangerous game, son,” and then confuse everyone by genially saying, “Keep it up. I like it.” But it’s just confusing and ultimately meaningless. The smug little smile of self-satisfaction on Sendhil Ramamurthy’s face at the end of this subplot really irked me.
But Annie’s story doesn’t end especially for her either. She finds out that Gorka, Zavier’s shifty-looking brother, is the threat that his every shifty-looking action makes him out to be. Then she gets locked up in the back of a car and is made to pout despondently while
Gorka tells her, “You know what you look like to me? You look like a girl that’s been strapped to a car door before.” The fact that she keeps jutting out her lower lip during the lightning-quick reverse shots that we see of her hand-cuffed in the back seat really doesn’t help to sell a line that’s that proudly preposterous.
More than anything else, “The Wake-Up Bomb” is an incompetent episode in an already under-achieving but modestly enjoyable show. All the show’s runners really need to do to succeed is deliver a few slick one-liners and coast on the fumes of their cast’s salient charms. Still, even with those lowered expectations in mind, the dialogue and the hackneyed plot of “The Wake-Up Bomb” just don’t cut it.