We open with the plot already in full swing: Annie lies sprawled on the concrete floor of a warehouse, injured and dazed. There’s a gun and the dead body of a young woman nearby. Annie picks up the gun and gets to her feet, looking confused as all hell. While she tries to make sense of the situation, a group of uniformed police officers swarm the warehouse, guns drawn, and order her to drop her weapon.
Annie is taken into the custody of the FBI. Back at Langley, Joan and Arthur (hi, Arthur! Good to see you -- you were missed last week. Stick around for the rest of the season, will you?) discuss the situation. Joan expresses concern for Annie’s safety. Arthur, being Arthur, is more concerned about still being able to use Annie to draw out Ben Mercer.
Special Agent Rossabi (Noam Jenkins), the Fed who arrested Annie in the pilot episode after she and Auggie were caught breaking into the morgue, interrogates her about the incident in the warehouse. Joan arrives, in the flimsy guise of Annie’s lawyer, and shoos him away so she can talk to Annie in private. Joan demands an explanation for Annie’s actions. Annie still seems genuinely befuddled, so Joan gently guides her through the events leading up to her arrest.
Flashback to two days ago: As part of her Smithsonian cover, Annie attends an art auction. Between pretending to work at the Smithsonian and genuinely working at the CIA, Annie probably keeps some very long and very weird hours. She finds a mysterious handwritten note scrawled on her lot schedule, advising her to keep an eye on an auction for a specific painting. The painting in question eventually sells for ten million dollars, which is far above its expected value. Her interest piqued, Annie tries to wheedle details about the buyer out of the auction coordinator, Sophie Jacklin (Sienna Guillory), but gets nowhere.
Meanwhile, Annie and Jai fulfill their mutual duty as the two most exquisite creatures in all of Langley by going on their first date -- specifically, a backyard barbecue with Danielle and her husband, where everyone eats kebabs and swills from conspicuously-placed bottles of Bud Light. Annie’s family is suitably charmed and impressed by Jai, who claims to have a desk job at the State Department. Yawn. This totally blows my theory that his semi-permanent cover is as either a male model or a high-class escort.
Danielle drags Annie aside to gush re: Jai, “He’s like the George Clooney of wherever he’s from!” (Annie dryly points out that he’s DC-born and bred) and goes on to proclaim, “That bone structure is ridiculous!” Well, finally! At long last, I’ve found some common ground with Danielle -- we’re entirely d’accord on the subject of Jai’s absurd beauty. It’s like she’s reading my mind. You see that little search field in the upper left corner of this site? Type in “Sendhil” and “bone structure,” and see how many results it spits back.
When Annie retires to her room, blissed out on beer and barbecue sauce and Jai-induced pheromones, Ben Mercer pops in through her window. I swear, Ben is the most random character on television. He babbles on about how abandoning her in Sri Lanka was the hardest thing he’s ever had to do, but he needed to protect her from danger. This fails to impress Annie. He also confesses that he’s a former CIA agent, though he’s been doing the whole glamorous lone-wolf thing lately. He left the note for her to watch the painting auction because he wants her help tracking an arms dealer, Seraf Murat, who uses the auction house as a cover for his illicit activities. The buyer of the painting in question, Ross Hilburn, actually purchased the schematics for a Russian missile guidance system. How much would it suck if you were a legitimate art collector who shelled out ten million for a painting and ended up saddled with a bunch of top-secret blueprints instead? Ben asks Annie to approach Sophie to get information about some other fishy past transactions.
Annie is more than a little miffed that Ben has wandered back into her life specifically to use her for his own shady purposes. To her credit, she seems pretty immune to his hackneyed “I just wanted to protect you” line of crap. To her discredit, she agrees to go along with his request without tipping off Joan and the DPD.
Ben tells her the CIA is just using her to get to him (true enough) and warns her not to trust Joan and Arthur. He says, “Maybe I don’t deserve this, but I’m asking you to trust me.” Maybe? Maybe? Oh, Ben, honey, of course you don’t deserve Annie’s trust. Should be obvious, really.
At the DPD, Annie searches for information on Ben in the CIA’s database, but her access is denied (an alarm buzzes every time she does an illicit search; Auggie gives her the sage advice to maybe turn down her speakers before using her work computer in a crowded office to commit a felony).
Annie grills Sophie about the other suspicious auctions. Sophie pulls a gun and threatens to kill her, but relents when Annie mentions she was sent by Ben. Sophie was one of Ben’s informants when he worked at the Agency, though she’s been double-dealing ever since the CIA (erroneously, obviously) informed her that Ben was killed.
Hilburn’s men burst into the auction house, guns drawn, and chase Annie and Sophie into the art warehouse, murdering a security guard along the way. Sophie kills one of the thugs, but the other one bashes Annie over the head and goes after Sophie. Sophie manages to shoot him, but gets shot and killed in the process.
And we’ve reached the opening scene, in which the FBI discovers a dazed and gun-toting Annie in the warehouse surrounded by four dead bodies.
Still in Federal custody, Annie lies to Joan, claiming Sophie contacted her about the suspicious auctions on her own initiative and leaving out any mention of Ben. Oh, Annie. Don’t lie to Joan. No good can possibly come of this.
Back at Langley, Jai and Auggie hover around like a pair of concerned bunny rabbits and try to piece together what Annie was involved in before her arrest. It’s nice seeing these two working together for once, united in their common concern for Annie, though Jai does lie to Auggie about not knowing anything about Ben Mercer. Jai breaks into Annie’s room (we get scads of loving, lingering beauty shots of Jai’s BMW -- a 535i, for those interested in such things -- while he lurks outside the house, waiting for Danielle to leave) and snoops around. He finds her scrapbook filled with Ben-related memorabilia. “Wrong guy, Annie,” he mutters.
Joan tells Annie the CIA won’t protect her from Federal prosecution unless she starts telling the truth, so Annie finally -- finally -- ‘fesses up about Ben. Joan pretty much bites Annie’s head off and spits it back at her headless corpse, which is not entirely unsatisfying. I like Annie, and for the most part I’m in her corner, but this business about lying to Joan and going off on her own dangerous and non-CIA-sanctioned investigation on Ben’s say-so was pretty stupid.
To smooth over inter-agency tensions caused by Annie’s arrest, Joan assigns Annie to help Agent Rossabi with his investigation into the shootout at the auction house. Annie and Rossabi discover the painting containing the weapons system schematics has been stolen from the warehouse.
With the investigation at a dead end, Joan orders Annie to go home and stay there. Annie finds a matchbook Ben left in her bedroom containing instructions to go down to the pier and find a boat named Casablanca II. Annie slips on board the boat, expecting to meet Ben… and finds herself surrounded by Ross Hilburn, the buyer of the weapon schematics, and his goons. The goons head off in hot pursuit of Annie, who leads them on a merry chase over and around and across the boats docked at the pier. One of the goons gets the drop on her… but Jai, who has been sneakily following Annie on Joan’s orders, arrives in the nick of time and arrests him.
Good episode. Still, it’s a little disheartening to think there’s only three episodes left in the season. Short seasons can work very well for television shows (Doctor Who springs immediately to mind), and it might not be a terrible format for Covert Affairs… provided the overall narrative thrust remains consistently strong and driving. Of the first eight episodes, Covert Affairs had at least two -- “South Bound Suarez” and “Houses of the Holy” -- which did very little to further the overarching story and provided no essential character development (and which, frankly, weren’t all that good). In short seasons, there’s no room for filler. It feels like there might be too much ground still left to cover before the end of the season to reach a fully satisfying resolution.