Covert Affairs: In the Light

There’s a whirlwind of activity in the Domestic Protection Division: An errant shipment of surface-to-air missiles is en route from Johannesburg to an unknown port in the United States, courtesy of notorious Sudanese arms dealer Hasaan Waleed. Annie is given the task of trying to convince the CIA’s former expert in East African affairs, bitter recluse Christopher McAuley (Eriq La Salle), to come out of retirement and help track down Waleed.

Meanwhile, the former Director of Clandestine Services, Henry Wilcox (Gregory Itzin, who, careful observers will note, doesn’t look a blasted thing like his onscreen son Sendhil Ramamurthy) stops by to chinwag with his successor Arthur. Annie and Auggie talk some gleeful trash about Henry, who, per Auggie, “ran more Dark Ops than anyone since the Cold War” during his reign. Auggie drops a chunk of exposition about Jai’s past -- his mother was Henry’s contact in India, whom Henry married and then dumped for a younger woman. While Auggie yammers on about Henry being known as the Prince of Darkness, Jai creeps up behind him on little cat feet and puts in his own two cents on the subject of his dad: “My favorite was always Satan’s Little Helper. Has such a nice ring to it, don’t you think?”

(Seriously, Jai hovers a couple millimeters away from Auggie, and Auggie is wholly oblivious to his presence. Either Auggie wants to single-handedly disprove the theory that the other senses grow super-enhanced to compensate for blindness, or Jai is a ninja. A smoking-hot ninja.)

After Auggie slinks off in mortification, Annie and Jai engage in some flirtatious banter, which culminates with them maybe agreeing that they might possibly want to go on a date at some indeterminate point in the future.

Annie drives out to McAuley’s remote cottage. McAuley, who bears a severe grudge against the agency stemming from something that happened under Henry’s administration, pulls a shotgun and sics his dogs on her. While Annie wins over the dogs, she has less luck with grumpy McAuley. Still, she does manage to impress him with her superior fly-tying skills -- which, we see via flashback, were taught to her by her mysterious ex-boyfriend Ben. Yes, we get a flashback devoted to optimal knot-tying techniques. I look forward to further flashbacks to Ben and Annie’s sweeping romance in which he shows her how to properly grout tile and snake a clog in the kitchen sink.

Hey, speaking of Ben, here he is in Khartoum, pummeling the hell out of some knife-wielding dude while searching for… Hasaan Waleed. Small universe, no?

Jai and Henry drink Scotch and engage in some tense, uncomfortable father-son banter at a local tavern while Annie and Auggie lurk at a nearby table and observe the spectacle. Henry expresses disdain at Jai’s decision to cut short his prior assignment in London to come work for Arthur. Jai complains that he’s offering advice after the fact, whereupon Henry breezily replies, “It wasn’t advice, it was criticism.” Ah, I think I like Henry. He might be evil, but he’s kind of fun.

Annie plops herself down at their table and introduces herself to Henry. From his stricken expression, Jai appears to think this is a ghastly idea. Annie and Henry get along like gangbusters -- Henry lectures Annie on how everyone in the CIA eventually gets his or her hands dirty, while Jai guzzles Scotch and sulks. Jai is a festive piñata filled with daddy issues.

While looking through McAuley’s file, Annie discovers he had a long-standing relationship with Vanessa Sinclair, an agent who was murdered by Hasaan Waleed in Sudan five years ago. Annie thinks she can use this information to lure McAuley into helping them find Waleed, though she feels guilty about manipulating his emotions in this manner. Annie and Auggie commiserate about the shady and unethical nature of their job. Kids, you probably should have sussed out your feelings about the morality of using trickery and deceit for the greater good before you decided to become spies.

McAuley finally agrees to help Annie, provided the CIA gives him $100,000 to pay to his contact in New York in exchange for information on the whereabouts of Waleed. Equipped with a briefcase filled with cash, Annie, Jai, and McAuley wait at a café for the contact to arrive. “Your father’s an asshole,” McAuley tells Jai, by way of making small talk. Jai shrugs and sips his coffee.

While McAuley meets with his contact in private, Annie and Jai flirt some more. Having spent some quality time poring over Jai’s file, Annie drops another exposition bomb: Jai’s mother is a neurosurgeon from Mumbai, he spent the past five years on overseas assignments to get away from his father, he drinks lattes, and he’s a former champion squash player -- or lacrosse, per Jai’s bio on the official Covert Affairs site. I am sure there are those who can argue passionately about the differences between squash and lacrosse. I am not one of those people, so I’ll limit myself to noting that they’re not the same sport, and move on.

Anyway, McAuley pulls a fast one. He finds out Waleed’s location, gives his contact the hundred grand, and takes off, hell-bent on exacting his own revenge against Vanessa’s murderer. Annie and Jai are left in the lurch. Maybe if these two gorgeous kids had focused less on their mad chemistry and flirtatious banter and more on the task at hand, they might have been able to prevent this.

Annie and Jai convince McAuley’s contact to give them the same information he gave McAuley: The ship carrying Waleed and the missiles will be docking soon at the Brooklyn shipyard. Joan orders Jai and Annie to return to Langley, but Annie heads to the shipyard to prevent McAuley from killing Waleed. Jai reluctantly goes with her.

Waleed’s ship docks. As the missiles are unloaded, the CIA’s Ops team moves into position, ready to apprehend him. Jai and Annie track down a rifle-toting McAuley, who tells them Waleed’s criminal activities were funded by the CIA, which kept working with him even after he murdered Vanessa.

And then Ben pops up out of nowhere and shoots Waleed.

To repeat my comments from the pilot episode, in which Ben pops up out of nowhere and shoots the assassin Stas: Well! That was delightfully random.

Ben tries to flee the scene, but runs smack into Jai and Annie. Annie doesn’t notice him, but Ben and Jai make Incredibly Meaningful Eye Contact. Without alerting Annie, Jai takes off after Ben on foot. They scramble their way over and around and in between shipping containers, leaping in the air and tumbling to the ground and generally being kick-ass and awesome. More awesome parkour scenes, Covert Affairs! Fewer wistful flashbacks about knot-tying lessons!

Jai leaps off a container and lands behind Ben… who pulls a gun on him. Jai freezes. They exchange some more meaningful eye contact (ohhhhh, I hope there’s a good story between these two), and Ben scurries off.

So Waleed is dead, but the CIA gets their missiles back and prevents an embarrassing incident. There’s a big ceremony where Arthur dedicates the shiny new Ops center to Henry. Annie and Jai exchange flirty smiles while Auggie sulks. And Ben sits in a grungy room somewhere and drinks Scotch while staring wistfully at photos of Annie.

Fun episode. The plots still seem a little sketchy and shallow, but there’s some interesting stuff going on that will hopefully have a good payoff in later episodes. Kudos for the burst of character development and screentime for Jai -- he’s sexy, he’s shady, he’s likeable, he’s kind of awesome. The show isn’t there yet, but it’s moving in the right direction.

Comments

levitatethis said…
This episode was a lot of fun. Yes, the plot still has its thin areas, but for the most part blanks are getting filled in and some of the characters are becoming a bit more developed.

Let's get this out of the way first -- LOVE that we got more Jai and in a way that fleshed him out more. Pinata of daddy issues, heh. Sendhil's got a nice, natural rapport with all of the cast which makes Jai's various interactions all the more enjoyable to watch. How thrilling to see Sendhil being used (so far) properly by a show.

Henry is a dick. So of course I enjoy him and hope he sticks around.

I'm continuing to enjoy Joan and Arthur. Mad chemistry but we also see the toll that their jobs can take on their personal relationship. There's this constant two steps forward~one step back.

Very cool to see Eric La Salle on my tv screen again!

I think every other episode should have Ben randomly showing up to shoot someone. The chase scene with him and Jai? Awesome. I want a backstory on these two, and I want it NOW.

Overall this is two episodes in a row I've really enjoyed so things are looking decidedly improved.
Morgan Richter said…
The writing on Covert Affairs has been somewhat inconsistent, but one thing this episode nailed? The dynamic between Henry and Jai. Oh, man -- Henry's first scene, where he tries to play mind games on Jai by implying Jai was pulling a power trip (which he wasn't) by leaving him loitering in the lobby (which he didn't), set up their relationship brilliantly: This is someone who has spent his life deliberately trying to mess with his kid's head.

Loved finding out more about Jai. Love this character, really. He's good-natured, charming, competent, funny... and probably totally messed up.

I usually find televised scenes of marital strife boring as snot, but I like both Arthur and Joan so much that I'm actively interested in their relationship. I like both Annie and Auggie just fine -- Annie's chipper nature is appealing, and Auggie is great at bringing the snark -- but for me, they're taking a bit of a backseat to the supporting cast. I don't need to see any more scenes of Annie moping over her past relationship with Ben... but I definitely need to find out Jai's connection to Ben.
Rosey said…
Yes it is all about Jai and Ben! What is going on with them? Is it that Jai's only real job is to take Ben in and they don't know each other or do we have a back story of some hatred? Both?? But from the exchange of looks between them I'm sure they have a back story of knowing each other.

Is it just me or does Annie/Piper always have this "oh shoot what are we going to do look" on her face? Is that just me? :)
Morgan Richter said…
I would not be shocked to discover that Jai's return to Washington from Europe is mostly/entirely about Ben. I loved the suggestion that Ben and Jai have some kind of history together. I think the more the show builds intrigue with these links between characters, the stronger it's going to be.

Is it just me or does Annie/Piper always have this "oh shoot what are we going to do look" on her face?

Exactly! I think she's bringing a nice mix of plucky-yet-uncertain to the role: She doesn't always know what to do, but she's game for pretty much anything.
starrdust411 said…
I don't know what it is, but I seem to never really get the plot of these episodes until I read this recap. Although I always take notes on the characters and what they're doing. I don't know if that's a sign that I'm bored by the mission of the week storyline or just not paying enough attention to the overall story.

Anybody else feel like the Ben/Annie flashback was kind of the same as all the previous ones even though there were talking about something completely different? Did those two only ever lie half naked on the beach together and share "deep" post-sex musings on life? Because that doesn't seem like enough to fall madly in love on and cling to that love for two years. I don't know, maybe I'll care more about the Ben/Annie flashbacks once we get to know more about Ben.

Also, second episode in a row without Danielle. I was actually thinking she was going to pop up since we did have scenes with Annie at home.
Morgan Richter said…
Yeah. I don't feel invested in Annie/Ben at all. The flashbacks to their whirlwind courtship are repetitive, and we haven't seen anything about Ben yet to indicate why he's so special to Annie. It was a three-week relationship -- in order for it to have defined Annie's future so sharply, there needs to be more to it than great sex and walks on the beach. And, uh, knot-tying.

Starrdust411, the plots are definitely a little flimsy, which is probably why you're having trouble focusing on them. The show has its work cut out for it coming up with missions that: a) are CIA-appropriate, b) are involving and interesting, and c) can be wrapped up in 44 minutes. I know they're partial to standalone episodes, and I totally get the logic behind that, but I really think the show would be stronger if each mission was a two- or three-episode arc. I'm not saying it has to be The Wire, where each police case lasted an entire season, but I think it would benefit from exploring each of Annie's assignments in more detail.
starrdust411 said…
I think the episodes would definitely worked better if they spread out the missions a bit more. Especially since there's always some sort of curve ball thrown in during the last act. Usually it's something that has you thinking "no way they can wrap all this up in the next seven minutes," but then they do and it feels a bit too rushed.
doppiav said…
I think they might be using the wrong format for the kind of arc they propose.

In other standalone episode based crime serielas- like CSI or Criminal Minds- there is a minimum or low focus on characther's private lives, while each episode focus upon the case of the day and relative guest stars. Information on chaqrachters are diluited within the whole arc ofr the serie, season after season.

In Covert Affair case, they seem to want to ocus in detail on charachter's lives, particoularly Annie's. This would give take space from the mission of the day and give more space to characther's development.

The problem, IMHO, is that Annie is not a particoularly brilliant charachter. She is likeable, funny and somehow clumsy, but there's really nothing intriguing about her. I can't find myself interested in her life only because she has a sister and nieces or because a guy gave her a good shag two years ago -forgive me my Welsh.-

I'd rather have them give more space to other characthers, and not making them orbitate around Annie.

On another note, someone knows where I can find this episode online?
Morgan Richter said…
Usually it's something that has you thinking "no way they can wrap all this up in the next seven minutes," but then they do and it feels a bit too rushed.

Exactly! A lot of hourlong action shows have this problem, but it's particularly pronounced on Covert Affairs. With this episode, we got a lot of expository build-up about how Hasaan Waleed was such a bad guy (he murdered Vanessa, he's got long-standing dubious ties to the CIA, he's MacAuley's sworn enemy, Ben is hunting him down in Sudan) -- but Waleed himself only appeared in one short scene in the opening, and then he was abruptly killed at long-range at the end of the episode. I realize the episode was about: a) exploring MacAuley's distrust of the CIA, and b) setting up the conflict between Henry and Jai and forcing Annie to think about the unethical nature of being a spy, but still, it seemed odd to spend so much time giving lip service to a villain and then dispose of him without ever paying off all that buildup.

She is likeable, funny and somehow clumsy, but there's really nothing intriguing about her.

I guess that's sort of a problem I'm also having with Annie. I like her, I think Perabo is great casting for the role, and I enjoy watching her fumbling her way through assignments... but I'm finding her personal life -- both her relationship with her sister and her past with Ben -- pretty unexceptional. It's also a little disheartening to have a series centered around a strong female lead where the main mystery in her past (and the entire reason the CIA is interested in her) involves some dude she dated for three weeks two years ago.

On another note, someone knows where I can find this episode online?

I'm not really sure. I know they have it streaming on Hulu and on the show's official site... but I have the feeling it's probably blocked outside of the United States.
doppiav said…
That is my point. I think it is very tricky to introduce proper, intruiguing female charachters,nowaday. What's especially tricky is to have female charachter who are actually liked by female audience.

One more thing that hurts me about Annie is how, pretty everyone around her, keeps pointing out how much she is beautiful, hot, smart etc. etc. It reminds me of thye Claire-Bear effect, who had that chrachter pretty much loated but every XY viewer.
starrdust411 said…
One more thing that hurts me about Annie is how, pretty everyone around her, keeps pointing out how much she is beautiful, hot, smart etc. etc. It reminds me of the Claire-Bear effect...

I feel that that always tends to happen with any female character who is the focus of a TV show/Movie. Even in the case of Annie where the writers not only feed us lines about how brilliant and beautiful she is, but also show us how resourceful she can be and how she can use her looks to accomplish her goals without seeming slutty/overly flirty. Although it's less annoying than in the case of Claire who would just sit around and do nothing but whine and then have another character randomly pop up and tell her how brave/smart/special she was.
doppiav said…
Personally, my favourite female charachters on TV were Betty Suarez on Ugly Betty and Erica Strange in Being Erica; both were underdog, person who, for different reasons, were not give so much credit. They were often put down and they had to struggle a lot; so, every time their achievement were recognized, I felt they deserved it.

I am not saying every female on TV must be an underdog; but I don't like neither that writers feed me with their judgment. I want to deide myself if a charachter is sexy/smart/talented, and I want to do so by watching real achievements.

Annie is ok; but like Morgan said, it seems that much of her given credit in CIA came from the guy she shagged two years ago. Simply, I can't neither emphatize for her, nor estimate her.
doppiav said…
I just forgot to add: one of the reason I do not like female charachters whose ego is constantly flattered-wheter with reason or not- is because...well, in real life, women are not always sourrouded by people who tell them how fantastic, sexy, smart they are...quite the opposite, actually. This is why I could emphatize for Betty Suarez , and not For Claire-Bear, or why I don't shed tears on Annie's trouble.
Morgan Richter said…
I figure Annie's slight goofiness and her enthusiasm for her job help temper all the gushing about her that the other characters indulge in. It's a little unnecessary to have other characters comment on her awesomeness (in this episode, Joan, Arthur and MacAuley each make references to Annie being good at her job)... but, to the show's credit, at least we're also shown clear examples of, yep, Annie being good at her job.

Covert Affairs could stand to have fewer male characters panting after Annie (the fake Stas in the pilot, Diego in "South Bound Suarez", Eyal to some extent, to say nothing of her relationship with Ben and the potential sparks with both Auggie and Jai). If they keep up this pace, it's going to get a little ridiculous. Annie's hot, and she's got an appealing personality. Obviously, a lot of people are going to find her attractive, but the show's in danger of hitting viewers over the head with that information.

Although it's less annoying than in the case of Claire who would just sit around and do nothing but whine and then have another character randomly pop up and tell her how brave/smart/special she was.

Very true. No character suffered as much from shoddy development as Claire, who became increasingly self-absorbed, selfish, and sullen as the series progressed, almost to a monstrous extent (as when she and Gretchen were mocking/spitting out food in the Indian restaurant), and yet other characters kept randomly insisting she was special (Angela to Claire in "1969": "I wish I had half of your strength." The hell?). Lazy writing.
Patrick said…
Great recap! Enjoyed the episode and the Jai/father developments, but thought some of the plot was a bit rushed. It was 8 mins in before we had the opening credits and a lot of that was exposition (for example, the bad guy shooting someone just to establish that he was a really bad guy). I suspect in real life bad guys get to the top by being more discriminating about when they shoot someone.

At Vegas at moment but back home in Ireland soon so can return to analysis from long distance.
Morgan Richter said…
Vegas? Patrick, I'm waving at you from Los Angeles. I hope you're staying at a posh hotel/casino with a gimmicky theme.

Yeah, the show is definitely suffering from rushed-plot syndrome. The whole scene in the opening with Waleed shooting the uncooperative henchman was totally unnecessary, but then again, it was the only screentime Waleed got, apart from being shot at long range by Ben. For someone who was built up as such a formidable villain (...we're never going to find out why Ben shot him, are we?), that was kind of weenie.

I hope Vegas is treating you well. Be sure to drink plenty of novelty signature cocktails served out of oversized glasses.
obscureviews said…
It's a little unnecessary to have other characters comment on her

It was noticeable this episode because McAuley and Arthur said "You're good" and "She's good in subsequent scenes, almost in subsequent lines. They could have used a different adjective at least - although Arthur makes it better by turning the subject around to praising Joan. :)

I have also noticed online that a lot of viewers need these clear statements about a character, because they rely very heavily on them. I think that's stupid, and can result in really bad writing, but there we go.

Considering that some people were confused because Auggie does not like Jai - but Annie likes Jai - and what are we supposed to think of Jai now?!
Morgan Richter said…
- although Arthur makes it better by turning the subject around to praising Joan. :)

I like to think Joan was quietly thinking during that scene, "Hey, I've always been much better at this than Annie." But she's trying very hard to keep her marriage together, so she didn't say anything and just accepted the compliment from her husband gracefully.

Considering that some people were confused because Auggie does not like Jai - but Annie likes Jai - and what are we supposed to think of Jai now?!

Ah, you noticed that too? :-) Auggie doesn't like Jai, and Auggie is one of our heroes, so clearly we're not supposed to like Jai either... but what's this? Annie is sticking up for Jai to Auggie? Has the world gone mad???

I like that Covert Affairs is thus far giving us some fairly complex relationships between characters. It's not as cut-and-dried as Auggie being good, or Jai being bad. There are a lot of nuances, and I hope they keep that up.

For instance, just because we've seen a lot of obvious friction between Henry and Jai, and just because Henry told Arthur, "Jai doesn't tell me what he had for breakfast" when Arthur asked if Jai had tipped him off about the case involving Hasaan Waleed, doesn't mean Jai wasn't the one who told him about it. It doesn't mean he did it, either -- it seems unlikely from what we've seen of Jai thus far -- but it's possible. We don't know enough about Jai's loyalties, or his motivations, to know if Henry was telling the truth to Arthur. We also don't know if Auggie is a reliable judge of character -- does he have good reason to dislike Jai, or is he just unable to separate Jai from Henry? Or is he simply jealous that Jai gets a lot of attention and gets to go out in the field? We don't know. And I like that about the show.
obscureviews said…
Ah, you noticed that too? :-) Auggie doesn't like Jai, and Auggie is one of our heroes, so clearly we're not supposed to like Jai either... but what's this? Annie is sticking up for Jai to Auggie? Has the world gone mad???

Haha, exactly! It's completely puzzling. How can people honestly be confused by two likeable characters having different opinions of a third character? It happens in real life all the time, it should at least feel realistic - not impossible.

And just from what we have seen so far, there isn't really much to support Auggie's negative view of Jai. He's an OK guy. I don't need further information and backstory to understand why Annie doesn't find Jai so bad, but I feel I really am missing information to understand why Jai dislikes him so openly.
That's fairly obvious - I think.
Morgan Richter said…
How can people honestly be confused by two likeable characters having different opinions of a third character?

I think the trend in television has been to hand-hold viewers as much as possible--it's gone beyond explaining the plot every step of the way, to explicitly pointing out how viewers should feel about a particular character. Not only does it require less diligence and loyalty from viewers, it's also much easier/lazier for writers.

So audiences have grown accustomed to this sort of thing. When they see Auggie (and Joan to a lesser extent) have a strong negative reaction to Jai, Jai is therefore established as a bad guy. Viewers accept this as a fact instead of as Auggie's opinion. When Annie appears to genuinely like Jai, they view this as a contradiction of an established fact, instead of considering that two people can have wildly differing opinions of the same person.

And just from what we have seen so far, there isn't really much to support Auggie's negative view of Jai.

No. I'm assuming Auggie does have some basis for his view (if it's as simple as "I don't like his dad," I'll lose some respect for Auggie), but we don't yet know what it is or how valid it is. Thus far, from what we've seen of Jai, he seems pretty awesome. Sure, he's getting close to Annie under false pretenses, but that's his assignment and they're all spies -- is what he's doing in any way more morally dubious than Annie getting close to senatorial aide Ashley in this week's episode, or to Diego in "South Bound Suarez"?
obscureviews said…
You've found exactly the right words to explain this. :) It is lazy writing, but god knows it terrifies or depresses me that viewers have come to think of it as good writing.


but that's his assignment and they're all spies --

And this is definitely the running theme of the series. This week, too: Annie is lecturing Michael on telling Danielle the truth - while keeping huge secrets from her herself. Nobody is really innocent. :)

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