Covert Affairs: Houses of the Holy

Ah, Covert Affairs: Putting the “domestic” firmly into “Domestic Protection Division.”

Here’s what I’m looking for in a show about secret agents, and bear in mind that this list is by no means comprehensive: Memorable villains. Cool action scenes. Exotic locales. Sophisticated intrigue. Complex relationships. Sendhil Ramamurthy leaping wildly from the tops of shipping containers in pursuit of miscreants.

Sadly, Covert Affairs kind of fumbled the ball on all fronts this week.

I should be clear: This is not a bad episode by any stretch. It’s just not terribly interesting, or evocative, or exciting. In fact, if I’m judging it harshly, I’d have to say it’s… pretty dull. There’s a strong motif of crumbling marriages and cheating spouses running throughout this episode, most of it only peripherally linked to our major players, which is not what I’m looking for in an action-packed spy show; it’s difficult to become emotionally invested in anything that happens in this hour.

Crucial information about overseas missions is getting leaked to foreign powers, and the CIA has narrowed the culprit down to a member of the Senate’s Intelligence committee (smartypants Jai chimes in, “No member of the Senate has been convicted of treason since 1797!” -- that'd be Senator William Blount of Tennessee, for all those Congressional history buffs out there). Joan summons a bunch of junior-level operatives, Annie amongst them, and directs them to cozy up to various senators to pinpoint the leak. Annie is assigned the task of shadowing Senator Gil Jarvis (D.W. Moffett), the chair of the committee. Joan puts Jai in charge of overseeing the operatives, which gives him a chance to hang out at Annie’s desk and flirt sexily with her while Joan lurks in the background and looks displeased.

In her semi-permanent cover as a Smithsonian employee, Annie shows up at Jarvis’s office to supply him with new artwork. She meets Jarvis’s vapid wife Madeline (Lauren Holly) and his attractive young Chief of Staff, Ashley Briggs (True Blood’s Anna Camp). Annie chats in fluent Portuguese (chalk up another language on her ever-growing list) with the Brazilian custodian, Frederico, and discovers Jarvis always stays in his office extra-late on Tuesdays. Annie swipes Frederico’s access card and slips into Jarvis’s office at night, where she spies on Jarvis getting it on with Ashley.

Annie orchestrates a chance meeting with avid rower Ashley at the Congressional Rowing Club. They go out drinking together, and Annie expertly pries the truth about the affair out of her new best friend. Ashley also spills the beans about Madeline’s close friendship with Tina Varma, the shady wife of the Indonesian ambassador. This scene really plays to Annie’s strengths as a spy -- Piper Perabo is great here, wheedling information out of poor Ashley under the guise of engaging in a little innocent girl-talk.

In other news, Auggie, currently on loan to the Special Activities Division, has been working late hours on something called Operation Goliath. He’s remotely helping his former Army unit track down and capture a pivotal tribal leader named Nasir on the Afghan border. At one point, Joan tries to pull him away from the mission so he can help out the DPD; when Auggie explains how important it is for him to reconnect with his old buddies from before he lost his sight, she immediately relents. Joan’s awesome: She’s hard-edged and brittle and brusque, but there’s something fundamentally nice about her. It helps greatly that she’s smart and competent, too. Thumbs up for Joan.

Auggie’s plotline, on the other hand… I like Auggie just fine, and it’s good to see him getting a bit more character development, but watching some guy sitting at a desk listening to a bunch of other guys describing some offscreen action taking place halfway around the world doesn’t make for compelling viewing.

If the B plotline is less than a rousing success, the C plotline is, sadly, even duller: Annie’s sister Danielle frets that her husband Michael, who has been working late hours, is growing distant. When Annie spots Michael leaving a hotel in the middle of the afternoon, she suspects Michael of having an affair. She confronts Michael about this, and Michael explains that he was fired from his job two months ago and hasn’t yet worked up the nerve to tell Danielle. He was at the hotel for nothing more nefarious than attending a job fair. Annie advises Michael to come clean with Danielle; Michael does, and Danielle appears to take it well. Danielle is fine in this episode -- for a nice change of pace, she’s not acting either bitchy or condescending toward her sister -- but that doesn’t mean her mild and easily-resolved marital difficulties are a source of great fascination.

Once again, Annie skulks around Jarvis’s office after hours. She finds a flash drive belonging to Madeline which contains a draft of a memo ostensibly from Jarvis explaining how Ashley has been fired for selling government secrets to a foreign power. From this, Annie deduces that Madeline is the leak -- she’s passing information to Tina Varma, who is passing it along to the Indonesian government -- and she’s plotting to frame Ashley to take the fall for it.

Madeline is not especially villainous -- she’s a scorned wife who is taking revenge against her husband and his mistress, and she seems legitimately unaware of the scope of the mess she’s in. Tina Varma is the closest this episode has to a villain, and we meet her in one brief scene where she’s a bit snotty and aloof to Annie. It’s not enough. Covert Affairs really needs to come up with some interesting and compelling villains to anchor these plotlines and give the episodes a bit of weight.

Joan assembles a meeting of the DPD to hammer out a course of action against Madeline. Some nasty little worm named Marty mouths off to Joan and orders poor Annie to fetch him coffee; Annie starts to obey, but Jai wordlessly (and awesomely) places a hand on her shoulder to keep her in her seat. I like Jai. Marty wants to plug the leak immediately; Joan wants to keep Madeline in place so the CIA can use her to pass false information to the Indonesians.

Annie shadows Madeline as she meets with Tina at a restaurant. After Tina leaves, Annie joins Madeline, tells her the jig is up, and takes her into CIA custody.

At Langley, Joan grills Madeline, who claims it was all Tina’s idea to pin the leak on Ashley. Madeline passed the state secrets along to Tina because she wanted to destroy her husband’s career in retaliation for his various affairs, in the hopes that she and Jarvis could then return to the happiness of the early days of their marriage. It’s never quite explained why Madeline thought committing high treason would be a better option than getting a divorce or going to marital counseling or writing a sensational tell-all memoir about Jarvis’s infidelities.

Joan gives Annie the bad news: Because the CIA wants to keep Madeline in place, Ashley is going to have to publicly take the fall for the leak. Annie thinks this is pretty sucky. She claims Ashley is an innocent party whose life will be ruined because of one indiscretion, but Joan points out that Ashley got herself into this mess with her ill-advised affair with Jarvis. While she’s going on about the hazards of workplace romances, Joan throws Jai a meaningful look. The logical interpretation of this is that Joan is trying to warn Annie of the dangers of hooking up with beautiful Jai, but I prefer to think that Jai and Joan once had a scorching office affair that went south, thus creating all the weird tension between them.

Speaking of Jai, he somehow gets it into his pretty head that the Indonesians will try to kill Ashley to tie up loose ends. I regret to admit I was so distracted by Jai’s cheekbones that I missed whatever led him to draw this conclusion; all I know is he charges up to Joan, filled with sudden wild concern about Ashley’s safety, and Joan sends him scampering off to intercept Ashley and Annie.

Anyway, Auggie’s plotline finally hooks up with the main plot (kinky!) when it’s discovered that Madeline leaked vital information about Operation Goliath. With the mission well underway and no way to warn his buddies, Auggie gives the order to smash a drone into a nearby building, thus alerting them that danger is afoot. His buddies get the message, and the mission is aborted.

Annie meets Ashley at the rowing club and breaks the bad news about having to take the blame for the leak. Ashley does not react well to this. As Annie slinks off, feeling wretched about ruining Ashley’s life, a man working for the Indonesians ambushes Ashley and tries to throttle her. Annie, who for once is wearing sensible flats instead of teetering heels, jumps into the fray and fights him off. Jai rushes to the rescue, only to find Annie already has the situation well under control, having thwarted Ashley’s attacker through the use of oars and a handy flare gun. It’s not a bad fight scene, but it’s the only bit of action in the entire episode, and it can’t hold a candle to Jai and Ben leaping madly around on shipping containers last week.

Since the Indonesians are already hip to the fact that the CIA knows about Madeline’s treason, there’s no longer any need for Ashley to take public responsibility for the leak. Jarvis gives a press conference about the treason charges against his wife and humbly apologizes for his messy personal life.

Not a bad hour of television, but Covert Affairs is capable of much, much more.

Comments

Rosey said…
I 100% agree. Nothing too special but not that bad.

Did you see that car Jai was driving when he rushed to help Annie!? It was very LOL :)
levitatethis said…
I liked the episode just fine. Not great, as you noted, but passable.

How amusing to note that Anna Camp was from "True Blood" since I spent the episode thinking D.W. Moffett sounded like Bill Compton. Anyway...

On a totally superficial note, I like how Sendhil is playing Jai. He's smart and flirty and though I don't think anything will (or should) come of him and Annie, I like the lighthearted banter between them.

I did get a "hmmm" moment when Joan was talking to Annie about complicated work relationships and eyed Jai through the glass. BTW, totally digging Joan for all the reasons you stated already.

How many episodes are in this first season?
Rosey said…
^I got a "hmm" moment too when Joan did that. The first thing I thought was Joan and Jai had an affair but then I thought she is probably talking about Annie and him flirting lately.
Morgan Richter said…
Did you see that car Jai was driving when he rushed to help Annie!?

I missed it! I'm not a car person, so I didn't really pay attention. I'll have to rewatch.

On a totally superficial note, I like how Sendhil is playing Jai.

Ditto. Jai's a cool character. I liked the suggestion in this episode that Joan can just hand off assignments to him, and he'll take care of them, no problem. I like watching competent adults doing their jobs well, especially since it seems like television shows these days are crowded with mercurial nitwits.

How many episodes are in this first season?

Way too few. Only eleven, I believe, which means we're more than halfway through, which is kind of awful to think about. However, USA Network loves doing these odd short seasons and spacing them throughout the year -- if Covert Affairs gets renewed (nothing has been announced, but both the ratings and the buzz have been very strong), it's possible the new season will go into production relatively quickly. For example, Psych is midway through an 11- or 12-episode summer season right now, and it was just announced that it'll kick off its winter season -- presumably another 10-12 episodes -- in November. Ditto for Burn Notice. It'd be nice if Covert Affairs followed that pattern.
starrdust411 said…
Can I just say that I called it when I said that Annie might throw in another language to the six she claimed to be fluent in? I totally nailed that.

Also, somebody needs to take away Covert Affairs's "Cheating Spouse" card, because they have clearly maxed it out in just six episodes. Seriously. Maybe they can try a cheating wife next time just to shake things up :P

And the whole thing with Michael and Danielle was dumb. He didn't tell his wife that he got fired!? What an unnecessary lie! Especially since he claimed they were living off of the savings account. What if Danielle needed to take money out for some sort of emergency and saw that the numbers didn't add up?
Morgan Richter said…
Can I just say that I called it when I said that Annie might throw in another language to the six she claimed to be fluent in?

You totally called it! At this rate, by the end of the season, Annie is going to have a dozen or so languages that she's trotted out. Well, good for her. The more languages she knows, the more useful she is as a spy.

The whole Danielle-Michael plotline left me pretty cold. I guess it was to establish that they don't have great communication in their marriage? "Deceit and secrecy" certainly seems to be a running theme in this show. I totally get feeling embarrassed and ashamed about losing a job -- unemployment can really do a number on self-esteem, I say from personal experience -- but not telling his wife for two months is a little pathological. If Michael was worried Danielle would leave him because he lost a job, that doesn't speak well for his opinion of his wife and the strength of their marriage. The whole plotline seemed like a weird and unnecessary digression for the episode to take -- I think more than anything they're just having trouble incorporating Danielle into the episodes.
obscureviews said…
Which languages do we have?

I'm not sure if Sinhalese counts, she spoke so slowly, I can buy that she isn't fluent, just has decent knowledge. It's terribly hard to find TV shows differentiate between "fluent", "good", "passable" or "some" language skills, so who knows what we're supposed to think, I'm willing to give them some leeway.

Russian, Spanish, Hebrew, Portuguese, German... still not past six, even including English. Although counting English seems silly when it's for an American... native language usually sounds extra, right? And does not need pointing out.


Anyway, like the rest of you, I enjoy it when people are good at their jobs. This episode even had people who were good at their jobs, and nice to each other. It was a feel-good episode.


(I had to laugh in he beginning when Michael had actual lines. In the previous episodes, he was just lurking in the background being a husband. When he suddenly started talking, you knew at once there would be a sidestory involving him. ;) He also looks so damn generic. I have trouble remembering his face. When Annie ran into him later the episode, I thought for a moment he was one of her CIA co-workers...)
starrdust411 said…
He also looks so damn generic. I have trouble remembering his face. When Annie ran into him later the episode, I thought for a moment he was one of her CIA co-workers...

I had that problem too. When she stopped to stare at him I just kept thinking "Who is that guy and why is he important?"

Also, I would not be surprised if this were the last time Michael got any attention at all. Maybe he'll have one more line in a future episode and that's it. This dude is definitely the Lyle of the house.
Morgan Richter said…
I'll say this for the actor who plays Danielle's husband (Evan Sabba -- I had to really search for that, because he didn't get billed at the top of the episode, and his name appeared on the third page of guest stars in the end credits; mind you, Emmanuelle Vaugier, who plays Liza Hearn, was billed at the top along with Lauren Holly et al, and she didn't even appear in the episode): he's completely forgettable at a distance, but up close, when he was talking to Annie outside the house, he has some really striking bone structure -- super-sharp cheekbones.

It seems a weird choice to make Danielle a member of the main cast but to have so little attention paid to her family (do we know her daughters' names? And as starrdust411 points out, this is the first episode in which Michael has had significant dialogue), since thus far the only scenes we've had with Danielle have been... at home, with her family. It seems like they're having difficulties making Danielle a significant part of the series. It hardly seems worthwhile if she's just going to pop up every third episode to share a few quick scenes with Annie (I don't know how satisfying that would be for Anne Dudek, either), but I don't see how they're going to weave her into the plot more than that.

As the show continues to find its footing, I wouldn't be surprised if they phased Danielle and her family out of the picture altogether. I'm sure the intention was to show a side of Annie's life outside of work, but since Annie herself doesn't change much from work to home -- she's equally friendly and goofy in either environment -- it seems superfluous.
starrdust411 said…
I think this show should take a page from Ugly Betty and have Annie home life and work life mix together at times. In Ugly Betty one of the most interesting parts of the series was when Betty's co-workers (and occasionally love interests) would show up at her door and get swept up in the Suarez house hold. And of course, seeing Betty's family wandering around through her job was also fun, because even though Betty (like Annie) was essentially the same person both at home and at work, it was still interesting to see those two aspects of her life meet.

Now of course since Annie works for the CIA we can't expect to see Danielle in the girls wandering around the DPD bull pin causing chaos, but it would be interesting to see one of the other agents (Jai) come to Annie's home to drop off information or something like that. Kind of an out there idea, but that's the only thing I can think of to keep the family aspect of the show interesting.

Otherwise, I definitely can see Annie moving out of her sister's guest house come season 2. Yes it's been established that the CIA doesn't pay well, but I doubt that their pay is so bad that Annie wouldn't be able to afford a half decent apartment. (Maybe she can sell those designer shoes for rent money :P)
Morgan Richter said…
(Maybe she can sell those designer shoes for rent money :P)

She could. Just did a check on eBay, and pre-worn simple black Louboutin pumps like Annie's go for several hundred dollars. I'm assuming, based on the way Annie has spent most of her twenties traveling around the world (before settling down to get a job in... the CIA. Ah, I love escapist television) that money is not a big issue with her. She could definitely get her own apartment, even on a CIA salary. Oh, sure, she might have to start buying shoes at Payless...

If Annie starts dating Jai (which I'm none too sure she will), maybe she'll bring him home to meet Danielle. Huh -- you know how Annie's NOC (non-official cover) is a Smithsonian employee? What do you suppose Jai's NOC is? I'm going to go ahead and guess "male model." Alternate guesses: "tennis coach for lonely DC housewives at the local country club", "internationally-renowned jewel thief", or "strangely hot geneticist with crackpot theories about the next stage in human evolution."
starrdust411 said…
LOL! I was actually thinking Jai's cover would be that they're co-workers at the Smithsonian, but I'm certainly in favor of all of your covers, especially the last one since it will no doubt include a British accent and a rainbow scarf XD
Morgan Richter said…
I would love this show forever if Jai ever went undercover on an assignment while wearing a rainbow-striped scarf and sporting an English accent.

Other possible covers for Jai:

Bollywood star
High-class escort
Sexy CIA spy (...what?)
obscureviews said…
Oh, Michael's actor is actually kind of good-looking! :o I am definitely not complaining about him, it's just the character's function in the show. He is the Lyle, absolutely. Since he only appears briefly, wearing a suit like basically everybody else we meet: how is he supposed to stand out! :D
doppiav said…
Stardut, I loved Betty Suarez's family moments!
But if, on Betty's side, we have a colorful, gleeful family made but a sweeet, loving father; a brain scattered yet caring big sister and a flippy gay nephew on Annie's side we have a dull, boring white upper class family with communication problem.

It's a shame, really: I loved Anne Dudek when she was the Cuttroath Bitch on House MD!

As I said once, I think the whole format is non ideal for the show. I thinki they better used a classic procedural series scheme, at CSI or Criminal Minds style: a team of professional, whom have a personal space assaigned for personal development&family relationship; more focus on the case then on charachter's story.

This would make more sense, as they chose the stand-alone episode format.

Furthermore, I keep say: Annie is not interesting enough as main charachter. She is nice and pretty, like a porcellain doll and cute, but that's all.

Honestly, another charachter I am not really buying is Auggie. The actor is great, and the charachter is more interesting then Annie. But, a BLIND Cia operative? A BLIND survellaince technician? Even with the stellar technology he's using to compensate, it seems pretty unlikely to me.
doppiav said…
Sorry for my spelling: the grammar control has set , on indipendent will, on Italian; and I am far too lazy to a manual control, right now.
Alicia said…
which is not what I’m looking for in an action-packed spy show; it’s difficult to become emotionally invested in anything that happens in this hour.

I have to disagree with this entirely, and I think it's because I'm not watching this show as an action-packed spy show so what I'm expecting from it is entirely different from what you are. I get bored with Annie's action scenes and always zone out anyway, and for me, this show is workplace drama.

I do agree that the show could do more, though. But I think that's on the emotional, character-based front, not the CIA intrigue or action. It could go deeper. We'll see.
Morgan Richter said…
I had zero emotional investment in the whole Jarvis-Madeline-Ashley situation (I didn't like Jarvis for cheating on his wife, I didn't like Madeline for committing treason to get back at her cheating husband, and while I was moderately sympathetic to Ashley -- sucks to get your life ruined over an affair -- I agreed with Joan that she got into the mess with her eyes open: Sleep with a married US Senator, and you should know you're risking public scandal). So that whole plot bored me, especially when the villains were revealed, in a hazy and formless way, to be "the Indonesians." I like crisp, interesting antagonists with crisp, interesting motivations.

for me, this show is workplace drama.

I like that too, because I like our cluster of lead characters and I'm interested in their relationships with each other, but we didn't get much substance on that front, at least compared to last week's awesome Jai-and-Henrypalooza. I liked seeing Joan's concern for Auggie, I liked seeing how Jai conducts himself when he's in charge, and I liked seeing the hints that Joan disapproves of whatever's going on between Jai and Annie... but it wasn't enough to compensate for the tedium of the main plot. It also hurt not having Arthur in this episode (the show is always better when he's around), because he's got intriguing dynamics with Joan, Jai and Henry, all of which I want to know more about.

I'm always satisfied with the scenes set at Langley. But in terms of Annie's assignments, I think the show could be doing more to make them interesting and memorable. With the very notable exception of Eyal in "No Quarter" and maybe McAuley last week, the show isn't developing guest characters that grab my interest, and it's also not coming up with strong, compelling missions for Annie. Since so much of the show is devoted to watching Annie carry out her assignments and interact with the guest stars, that's a problem.

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