Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Covert Affairs: "World Leader Pretend"

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Well, we’ve come to the end of the second season of Covert Affairs, and it’s time to take a little inventory assessing where we’re at in the series as a whole: What’s changed or evolved this season, and what’s stayed the same? Unfortunately for us (and for the show) the answers to those questions, apart from one main exception, are “practically nothing” and “almost everything,” respectively. It hasn’t been a very eventful summer, folks.

Let’s talk about the exception first, because it was easily the best thing about the finale. After realizing last week that her sister was growing suspicious and deciding she no longer wanted to lie to her, the main emotional focus of tonight’s finale was her confession to Danielle and the aftermath. Danielle’s reaction was less than positive, both because she was hurt Annie had kept secrets from her and also because she was worried about her daughters’ safety with Annie living in their house. Both are valid points, and although Danielle softens on the betrayal portion of her dissatisfaction she still insists Annie move out. All of Piper Perabo and Anne Dudek’s scenes were well done, and it’s nice to see something change in this world for once. The decision to bring Danielle in on the secret also opens up possibilities in the future for closer interaction between the two and hints at a potential for Danielle’s character to be more extensively featured. It’s not a sea change, but it’s enough of a tweak to make things a little bit more fun.

Thematically, Annie’s decision to finally trust her sister is paralleled somewhat elegantly (in that inelegant television way) with the episode’s mission, which also hinged on trust. Annie’s mission is to extract Chinese hydroelectric engineer Shen Yue while he is on American soil at a conference and help him defect so he can become an intelligence asset. The extraction goes well, but afterwards they discover that Shen was deliberately poisoned by someone who obviously knew of his plan to defect. This someone turns out to be his close friend at the Asian Cultural Organization, who Shen trusted with his secret but actually turns out to be a spy.

Annie wants to find out who is responsible, but the State Department has forbidden the CIA to investigate Shen’s poisoning. Annie and Auggie decide to ignore this order, go rogue and investigate on their own, but as soon as Annie figures out the culprit she is immediately shut down by Joan because Auggie is arrested for conducting an illegal investigation. Ultimately, despite a few hiccups Annie’s mission is successful when Shen manages to write a letter containing the location of all of his intelligence just before he dies of radiation poisoning. Although he chose to trust the wrong person and it cost him his life, the CIA’s trust in him was not unfounded.

The State Department involvement in the case seemed a bit arbitrary, but it did allow for one truly delightful part of the otherwise kind of snooze-worthy complication, as Arthur actually got to have some fun for once. His giant “screw you” to the gruff department representative, complete with the tussle in the men’s room, was kind of a scream. More physical violence for Arthur! Otherwise, I’m not quite sure why the State Department and CIA seemed to automatically be at odds here. Is it kind of like what happens when the FBI and the local police force have to work together?

As for Annie and Auggie going rogue, I have much more of an issue. I’m not sure what they were hoping to accomplish by completely disobeying direct orders again, but it is starting to wear thin. It’s beyond ridiculous that Annie can always follow her hunches with no consequences later, and it’s even more frustrating that her hunches all stem from her almost pathological idealism. It’s tiring, especially because she ends up being right every single time. (Once, she just needs to be horribly wrong and have her idealism thrown back in her face. It would do wonders for her character.) These transgressions deserve a reaction from Joan. Sure, tonight Joan got angry and yelled, but there were no professional repercussions for what Annie and Auggie did. In fact, at the end of the episode Annie is getting sent on yet another mission. It’s no wonder she doesn’t change her actions, when they are basically being endorsed by her superiors.

As for the entirety of the season, Covert Affairs feels like a show that’s still struggling to find a consistent version of itself. Considering it’s wrapping up its second season, this feels like a pretty big problem. The show still has many elements that make it fitfully compelling – mainly Auggie, but that’s still something – so it’s hard not to wish it would be better. I suppose if you are looking for an absolutely commitment-free hour of television, this fits the bill. The trouble is there are so many commitment-free shows fighting for our eyeballs; it would be nice to have a few more reasons to want to be non-committal with Covert Affairs.

Stray observations:

  • Jai finally quit bouncing around from happy to dissatisfied and back again in every episode and landed fully on “totally fucking fed up.” I understand: it’s way hot in Phoenix! (So, who do we think he was calling? His father or Liza Hearn?)
  • There was a lot of Annie/Auggie closeness and flirting. Are they going to move to more than friends next season? It’s going to happen eventually.
  • As one of my astute Twitter followers pointed out, Annie should not have called the language she was speaking Chinese, but used a name of one of the dialects. So, anyone have any idea what dialect she was actually speaking?
  • Also, would the Chinese man really refer to the soup as “Chinese food?” Discuss.
  • Piper Perabo couldn’t even walk in those ridiculous heels she wore to the banquet a.k.a. HER MISSION. It was highly stupid.
  • A nitpick, but the cheesy note voiceover made me want to die a little bit. We can read!
  • Bye bye, Dr. Scott. We…didn’t know you at all, actually.
  • I know they mention it, but taking your blind friend to a baseball game seems kind of not okay. I hope he has a radio so he can at least listen to the play-by-play.
  • “Just because you’ve known someone a long time doesn’t mean you can trust them.” (Ding, ding, ding, I think we have a theme!)
  • “I can’t believe you’re pulling a Lando Calrissian on me.”