Last week, Covert Affairs delivered one of the strongest episodes of the entire series but, in a sense, it was a bit of a cheat. Exploring the tortured backstory of your most compelling character in a “very special episode” sort of way is a difficult ball to fumble. More challenging is taking all of the disparate elements of your show and creating a well-balanced and fully “typical” episode and making it compelling, which is exactly what was accomplished with the strong “Welcome to the Occupation.”
For my money, the main reason the episode works so well is because Joan and Ben, two familiar characters, go on the mission with Annie. Annie’s missions often pair her up with a guest star, making instant chemistry between the two instrumental in the success or failure of the episode. Here, we have immediate rapport between all of the parties involved adding an ease for the audience and characters alike. Also, as cruel as this may sound, the more people involved in the mission the less Annie has to be front and center. A few weeks ago I posited that Annie as a character simply cannot carry a compelling episode all by herself, and I think this might be the episode I will point to as an effective example of using the ensemble.
In addition to giving Annie someone to simply share screen time with during the mission, bringing Joan (and, to a lesser extent, Ben) allowed for growth of both characters and their relationships with Annie. Joan has never been my favorite, as Kari Matchett has a cold presence I often find off-putting, but taking her out of the office and putting her in a field situation completely opened up my view of the character. Joan wasn’t always the stern, icy, unapproachable boss: she used to be a stern, slightly less icy, totally kick-ass agent. The combination of forceful and exciting was a good one, and the scene at the end where she shares a post-mission drink with Annie shows potential for their friendship to grow.
Beyond the initial chuckle of discovering who Arthur co-opted to join the mission, Ben’s participation was less interesting (we needed more cowboy crap!) but still probably essential for Annie’s arc this season. Since the pilot her relationship with Ben has, in a sense, defined her character in a way that was always a bit nagging. Now, with him off doing who knows what who knows where, Annie has finally begun to grow up from the idealistic girl who spent that week on the beach. Her final scene, which in a sense felt like her goodbye to him even though it’s doubtful he’s gone for good, was strong and vulnerable at the same time, and a good point for Piper Perabo to play. (Seriously, though, I wanted more cowboy crap.)
As for the mission itself, although it was a familiar plot its execution was sturdy enough to make up for any failures of imagination. A supposed eco-terrorist group takes the executives of a Mexico City oil company hostage, but makes a fatal flaw – they don’t realize a CIA agent is under deep cover in the company, and she immediately alerts the agency to the situation. Joan, who has a history with the embedded agent – giving the story a nice bit of extra layering – dispatches a team for reconnaissance duty posing as a news team from an environment-focused television channel. The hitch is that the eco-terrorists are less terrorists and more opportunists who are only interested in the ransom money. The ever-efficient Annie sniffs out their true motives and she, Joan and Ben (along with the embedded agent) work together to take them out. Nothing that happens at any point is a surprise, even when the head executive turns out to be in on the deal, but it is solidly written and directed, with slightly suspenseful moments and a good use of fun spy gadgetry. It’s the type of story Covert Affairs should be able to tell in their sleep, so it’s nice to see them pull it off without a hitch when in the past they've stumbled a bit.
One final note: I believe this was one of the only episodes of the entire season to give each regular character a storyline. Jai had the intrigue with his slimy father, Auggie did his regular mission point person thing, Annie’s sister had the inklings of a nascent storyline. Heck, even Arthur had the runner of being overly protective and worried about Joan. Not all of these things were as smoothly integrated as they could be, but it was nice to see them use the entirety of the ensemble. There are a lot of fine actors on this show. It’s nice to see them have something to do, no matter how slight.
- Do all Mexican outlaws have those silver-tipped boots of death? Is there a fashion blog they consult?
- If there was a demon attack at GG&E, Delgado and his Colt were totally ready.
- Annie’s doctor boyfriend kind of came back out of nowhere. It seems his purpose may only have been to plant a few seeds of suspicion in her sister’s brain about what type of job Annie might really have. Interesting.
- So, Jai’s father is the leak. I had forgotten the leak was even still a thing. Between Jai’s interrupted job interview and being blackmailed by his own father this week, he’s having a heck of a run of bad luck.