Covert Affairs: Pilot

Aw, crap. I knew I should’ve joined the CIA, but noooooo, I had to pursue that important screenwriting degree instead. Just going by Covert Affairs, the CIA looks like great fun. Shootouts! Skydiving! Fistfights! Fabulous outfits!

We open with new CIA recruit Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) taking a pre-admission polygraph test. This gives her a handy chance to divulge a few chunks of her backstory right off the top: She’s 28, she speaks six languages, and her last relationship ended two years ago when the hot guy she met on a Sri Lankan beach (Eion Bailey) abandoned her without explanation, leaving an enigmatic note on her pillow: “The truth is complicated. Forgive me.” We see flashbacks of Annie frolicking around Sri Lanka with her beau while speaking fluent Sinhalese, so, y’know, she’s probably not kidding around about this “six languages” business. Perabo, by the way, is great in the role: She’s smart, she’s athletic, she’s goofy, she’s gorgeous. Thumbs up for the casting.

A month shy of completing her training, Annie gets mysteriously yanked off the Farm -- the colloquialism for the training facility at Camp Perry -- and sent to CIA headquarters for an immediate assignment. Upon arrival at Langley, she meets smug young agent Conrad Sheehan (Eric Lively), who flirts with her in a condescending way and announces, “I’m both lazy and predatory.” I have this sinking suspicion we’re supposed to find Conrad roguish and charming instead of dickish and off-putting. This is a bit worrisome, but there’s no sense getting too worked up about it: Conrad, rumor has it, is around for this pilot episode only, then will be replaced by some other actor. I’m not clear on the details. Hang on, let me do a quick search here… Sendhil Ramamurthy? Mr. Cheekbones? He’s going to be in this?

Why, I had no idea.

Annie dives right in to her new position in the DPD -- Domestic Protection Division -- which falls under the auspices of the DCD -- Department of Classified Services. Icy, brittle Joan Campbell (Kari Matchett) heads up the former, while her icy, brittle husband Arthur (Peter Gallagher) heads up the latter. There’s an attempt to explain away the problems in the Campbells’ crumbling marriage (Arthur might be unfaithful; Joan might be paranoid) as an inevitable byproduct of their high-stress Agency careers, but really, it seems far more likely the strife is caused by them being -- and I say this with love, because both Joan and Arthur seem sort of awesome -- moderately horrible people.

Annie also meets Auggie Anderson (Ugly Betty’s Chris Gorham), who works in Tech Ops and appears to be her new partner/mentor/confidant/best friend/prospective love interest. Blinded during a mission in Iraq, Auggie has a talking watch, a laser-pointer walking stick, and a Braille keyboard. He’s also got faint traces of Conrad’s smug skeeziness about him, but he comes across as a fundamentally cool, decent guy, so I’ll let it slide for the moment.

Annie’s super-important mission: Purchase vital intelligence from Stas, a Russian assassin. Joan instructs Annie to meet with Stas at his hotel suite. “Did you call me in here because I can speak Russian?” Annie asks. “Yes, and you can also pass for a call girl,” Joan blithely replies, then goes on to say, in response to Annie’s flustered query as to how she should dress to look appropriately whorish, “What you’re wearing now is fine.”

Yeah, I sort of love Joan.

At the hotel, Stas and Annie make the exchange: Stas transmits spy secrets from his fake Blackberry/super-spy device, while Annie simultaneously transmits payment from her own identical device. In the middle of this, a sniper in a nearby building riddles Stas with bullets and tries to take out Annie as well. Annie gets out of the hotel in one piece, though she leaves the vital information behind. Joan is not pleased about this.

Ever plucky, Annie waltzes back to the crime scene and flirts her way past the FBI agents investigating the case, then waltzes back out with the intelligence. The intelligence turns out to be completely worthless, but nonetheless, full points to Annie for style and moxie.

(Insert unnecessary, lengthy, and inadequately explained car chase scene here.)

Acting on her own initiative, Annie investigates and determines that the man she thought was Stas was Estonian, not Russian, and thus might’ve been an imposter. To confirm her suspicions, Annie and Auggie break into the Federal morgue and examine Stas’s corpse. A series of wacky hijinks ensue, which I don’t especially feel like summarizing. End result: Annie confirms that the man who was shot in the hotel suite was an imposter, and that the real Stas murdered the fake Stas as part of a needlessly elaborate scheme to assassinate a Russian journalist at an awards dinner held at the Smithsonian.

The CIA thwarts the assassination attempt. Annie takes off on foot after Stas and chases him into the subway system. They have a rather splendid scuffle on the platform (Annie jumps on his back, he pulls her hair, they kick and scratch each other, he tries to throttle the life out of her), which ends when Annie’s mysterious ex-boyfriend pops up out of nowhere, kills Stas, and disappears onto a passing train.

Well! That was delightfully random.

Annie receives a commendation and a permanent assignment to the DPD. Joan tries to convince Annie she was saved by another agent, not by her ex-boyfriend. Joan then has a clandestine conversation with Arthur about their long-range plan: Use Annie to smoke the boyfriend out of hiding.

Annie returns home, where she lives with her sister (Anne Dudek) and her sister’s husband and kids. Annie’s sister, by the way, believes Annie has a dull desk job at the Smithsonian; I strongly suspect there’ll be a running zany and/or poignant plotline about Annie hiding her double life from her family while worrying about placing them in danger. Annie, my friend, perhaps it’s time to find your own apartment. Maybe something on the other side of town?

And in the final moments, we see Annie’s mysterious ex-boyfriend in a car parked on the street outside the house, watching her through the windows.

Good stuff. Pretty slick and fresh and entertaining. The script, by Matt Corman and Christopher Ord, is strong overall--snappy dialogue, crisp action scenes, nice pace, good characters. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here.

Comments

starrdust411 said…
I think the only thing I liked about Conrad was his "I'm lazy and predatory" line, but I'm not going to bother to get interested in him since it does seem like Sendhil is going to replace him. (I'm already betting that Conrad is the one leaking information to that reporter)

Overall I thought this first episode was pretty good. I rarely ever fall in love with a show right off the bat, so I'm not disappointed that the pilot didn't leave me wanting more. I'll wait until next week's episode to actually pass judgment. I do like the visuals though. This show looks like it was shot as a movie (I hope the quality doesn't go down after the pilot) and is it just me or do all the guys that work for the CIA seem like mansluts? Gorgeous mansluts, but mansluts none the less.
obscureviews said…
I enjoyed it! The only character who did not make much of an impression was Conrad, but this may only be because they removed the interesting aspects of the character because he was getting written off anyway. :3

Damn, I had more to say, but the heat is killing my brain.

And yes, it definitely looks like every guy at the CIA is a slut. In this context, Joan's suspicions make a lot of sense! Hah. She's not paranoid, folks, she just knows what it means for her husband to be a guy who works for the CIA.
Morgan Richter said…
In this context, Joan's suspicions make a lot of sense!

Yep! I imagine we'll find out that Joan's suspicions about Arthur are 100% correct. Collectively, the agents seem like a tremendously oversexed lot.

A thoroughly likeable show. Good energy and a good tone, overall. I don't know what the budget was, but it looked like an expensive show -- as Starrdust411 pointed out, it looked like a movie, and the sets, wardrobe, etcetera were pretty high caliber. I thought it made the White Collar season premiere, which aired immediately before it, look a little rough around the edges by comparison.
obscureviews said…
And that marriage counseling, I realize now, took place in the CIA building, so it is a special CIA marriage counselor. They expect the general sluttiness to be a strain on any marriage. They are clever.

It did look good, the show. I'm curious whether the episodes after the pilot will look somehow different, or if there will be many noticeable changes, aside Sendhil. Maybe the average episode will have less action scenes - that is fine with me. I agree that in retrospect, the car chase didn't really add anything to the episode other than... a car chase.
Morgan Richter said…
The car chase felt to me like they decided after the first draft of the script was written that they needed another action beat, and "car chase" won the coin toss. Plotwise, it could certainly be explained away easily enough, but it seemed unnecessary. I tend to glaze over during car chases, and this one, while well choreographed and shot, didn't bring anything new. Driving on sidewalks, hairpin turns, crashing into a flower stand... I've seen it. I also thought Annie and Auggie breaking into the morgue was a little too broad for the tone they established in the first half of the show -- they're cute together, and it's nice to see them having fun, but I thought Annie escaping from the hotel room was a more successful action sequence.

Even if the per-episode budget goes down after the pilot (which I imagine it will), I hope they manage to keep the quality up. They set a good tone; I hope they can maintain it. The ratings last night were huge, which is promising; if it's a success, hopefully USA will continue to put money into it.
starrdust411 said…
I wonder if all women eventually turn out like Joan -- icy and bitter -- after dealing with CIA men for so long. Auggie did say that the CIA encourages dating within, but knowing you're hooking up with a manslut's only fun until it's a committed relationship.

I imagine we'll find out that Joan's suspicions about Arthur are 100% correct.

I think she's right as well. After all, Arthur's CIA so he'll know how to cover his tracks. Making everything seem business related is an obvious way to throw Joan off his trail (and she probably knows it).

Auggie and Annie in the morgue kinda reminded me of when Henry and Betty broke into Mode in a season 2 episode of Ugly Betty. Only the whacky hijinks were cuter and more fitting with the tone of the show.(Sorry, but with Chris Gorham on the show, I'm going to make a lot of Ugly Betty comments.)

I wasn't fond of the car chase either. I guess you gotta be kind of a car person to like those types of sequences. On the other hand, I guess they sorta set up for it given that it was said she was an expert driver. Hmmm, I wonder if that means we'll be seeing more car chases?
Morgan Richter said…
I thought it was interesting that even Auggie -- who seems genuinely smart and cool and considerate -- has "crappy boyfriend material" written all over him. He flirts with that random agent in the hallway, then immediately makes fun of her to Annie for wearing too much perfume in a shameless attempt to attract him. He makes a point of only being interested in hot women, even though he's blind. He enlists Annie's and Conrad's aid in scamming the law student at the bar into going home with him. Much like Conrad simultaneously flirting with/mocking Annie in their first encounter, there's a strange ruthlessness to Auggie's seduction technique. Makes sense -- after all, these are spies, and the writers are smart to assume they'd use the same sneaky tactical skills in their work lives and private lives. And it's strangely refreshing to see a blind character on television who's kind of shallow.

So, yeah. The CIA: Great for quick hookups, crappy for long-term relationships.
Dan said…
From now on, I intend to append 'and you can also pass as a call girl' to any 'yes' answer I might give.

"Is this the right bus to get to the Sydney CBD?"

"Yes, and you can also pass as a call girl."

"Do you think it's a good idea for me to get drunk off my scone and ride a crocodile?"

"Yes, and you can also pass as a girl."

"Would you like fries with that?"

"Yes, and you can also pass as a call girl."

It's an experiment that I know won't end well, but one well worth undertaking. This is for science, damn it!
Dan said…
(Of course, the dude who rode the crocodile is passing as a 'call girl', not just a 'girl'. Stupid early morning typo fingers.)
Morgan Richter said…
Australia must be a strange and wonderful place, Dan:

"And I'm walking and walking and I went past this incubating place, where they're incubating the crocodile eggs. It was all lit up and they're making babies in the eggs there. Then I looked over to my left and I seen the city, the lights, and then I remembered the way I got in.

"So that way I went out and I climbed out that way and I felt the blood splurting out of my leg and as I'm putting pressure on my leg, I can feel on the side of all my kneecap that it's all cracked and shattered."


I just wish he'd ended the interview by saying, "...and it was totally worth it!"

"Yes, and you can also pass as a call girl."

There must be something uniquely disconcerting about showing up to work on the first day of your exciting new job dressed in your very best suit, and having your boss coolly tell you that, in order to convincingly pass as a hooker, you don't need to change a damn thing.
Dan said…
Then I looked over to my left and I seen the city, the lights, and then I remembered the way I got in.

Looking for the city lights to determine the best way to get out of a crocodile enclosure is, of course, one of the first things they teach us in school down here. It's an ancient Aboriginal survival tactic, don't you know?

I just wish he'd ended the interview by saying, "...and it was totally worth it!"

Pretty sure that bit was edited out by the anti-fun-mongers.

in order to convincingly pass as a hooker, you don't need to change a damn thing.

Yeah. I don't know if we'll get this show or if I'll watch it when we do. But Joan is already my favourite character.
Morgan Richter said…
The best part is, I don't think Joan was saying it to be mean or even subtly undermining to Annie. She just thought it was a damn good thing for their purposes that Annie looked like a hooker.

I love Stupid Drunk Crocodile Enclosure Dude (can't be bothered to go back to the article and find his real name). His joie de vivre is impressive.
Rosey said…
I liked it too! Can't wait to see where it goes. Nice set up with the ex showing up.
obscureviews said…
Speaking of Annie's hooker style, I have seen several comments by people who think Annie was showing too much cleavage.

Is America really that prudish?
Morgan Richter said…
I have seen several comments by people who think Annie was showing too much cleavage.

Oh, you're kidding. Well, I'm sure you're not kidding, because I can believe it, but still... I really didn't note the extent of her cleavage one way or another, other than to notice she looked fantastic and her outfits were fabulous. I loved her slinky red dress in particular.

Between Annie's wardrobe (with the special focus on her Louboutin shoes, which run $700-$1200 per pair) and the fact that, pre-CIA, she did a lot of globe-trotting while apparently not working (she might've had a pre-CIA career, but if it was mentioned, I missed it), I'm assuming the source of her apparent wealth will be revealed later. Most 28-year-olds with entry-level jobs aren't spending that kind of money on shoes.
obscureviews said…
Yeah, the thing is... Annie was definitely showing less cleavage than I am showing on a normal (summer) day, haha. So... yeah.

As for the money question, I am sort of used to TV characters being better-dressed than real life people. Also, nice, big houses and cars and gadgets, depending on who's sponsoring the show, ahem.
Morgan Richter said…
depending on who's sponsoring the show, ahem.

In the case of the Covert Affairs pilot, that'd be BMW, so yeah.

I caught a brand-new Covert Affairs promo on USA last night that had footage of Sendhil and identified him (and Perabo, Gorham, and Gallagher) by name. I haven't seen it pop up on YouTube or on USA's site yet, but it was good one.
obscureviews said…
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh I will be keeping an eye open for it...
Patrick said…
Just watched it - having seen that it was recapped here!

Was fairly good. The journalist (who used to be in Smallville) will presumably be a regular. I don't think Arthur is having an affair. Joan seemed disappointed to discover that he wasn't - I thought that might be because the alternative to him having an affair was him being a traitor. I think there will be something there.

I love the fact that the CIA needed to pull someone from the Farm because they needed someone who could speak Russian. Ah yes, I'd say that is an obscure language in the CIA.

I liked the way Annie could spot the girl had a trace of Dublin in her accent - and that her parents were 'off the boat'. Not sure if that was offensive or not.
Morgan Richter said…
Hey, Patrick! Is this airing in Ireland, or did you find it online? (I know it's free on iTunes right now). Yeah, I probably should've pointed out, for Dan's sake if nothing else, that Emmanuelle Vaugier -- Lex's evil second wife -- played the journalist. She tends to crop up everywhere in these sexy, slinky, shady roles.

I love the fact that the CIA needed to pull someone from the Farm because they needed someone who could speak Russian. Ah yes, I'd say that is an obscure language in the CIA.

Heh. Good catch. Yeah, can't imagine the CIA would have anyone who speaks Russian on their staff. Nope, sure wouldn't be any use for that...
Dan said…
Yeah, I probably should've pointed out, for Dan's sake if nothing else, that Emmanuelle Vaugier -- Lex's evil second wife -- played the journalist. She tends to crop up everywhere in these sexy, slinky, shady roles.

Ah, Dr TotalBabe. I think I've missed you most of all...
Patrick said…
Not airing in Ireland - went and found it online because I saw it recapped here (and I used to kind of like Piper Perabo years ago).
Morgan Richter said…
(and I used to kind of like Piper Perabo years ago)

Big Coyote Ugly fan, huh? Poor Piper -- in reviews of the show, reviewers keep namechecking all these dubious films from her past: Beverly Hills Chihuahua keeps coming up. I think in this, though, she definitely showed she's got chops.

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