Thursday, August 26, 2010

Psych: Ferry Tale

Watching Psych is the equivalent of eating a bowl of marshmallow fluff for breakfast: tasty but insubstantial, and it’s only a matter of time before you start jonesing for solid food.

A cluster of furloughed convicts on board a ferry bound for the Channel Islands to participate in a work-release program overpower their guard and try to escape on the lifeboat. Fellow ferry passengers Shawn and Gus (Gus dragooned Shawn into helping him with an environmental cleanup effort) team up with the prison guard, Craig (Chi McBride), and try to recapture the felons, above Henry’s explicit orders to let the Coast Guard take care of it. When Shawn releases the lifeboat, thus cutting off the prisoners’ line of escape, the felons take everyone on the ferry hostage and demand a boat and safe passage in exchange for the release of the passengers.

Under orders from Captain Vick, a SWAT team storms the ferry. Two of the convicts are recaptured, but the remaining two, Dane Northcutt (Kevin Alejandro) and Sanders, manage to evade custody by disguising themselves as injured hostages. The Santa Barbara Police Department begins an extensive manhunt.

The warden fires Craig for letting the prisoners escape while in his custody. Shawn and Gus take pity on him and offer to cut him in on their fee for investigating the case in exchange for his help. From the matching tattoos he spotted on Northcutt’s and Sanders’s necks, Shawn deduces they belonged to a gang called Tres Diablos, which also included Northcutt’s former cellmate, Percy Dunn. Percy died two years ago, but his mother, Lorraine, frequently visited Northcutt in prison.

When Shawn and Gus, with Craig in tow, stop by Lorraine’s house to question her, Shawn notices Northcutt’s bandanna in the laundry hamper. Lorraine confesses that Northcutt visited her immediately following his escape, claiming he wanted to see Percy’s bedroom to pay his respects to his dead friend.

Shawn searches Percy’s room and finds a dusty imprint of a key in an air vent. At the time of his death, Percy had been serving a long prison sentence for stealing a million dollars in an armed bank robbery. The money was never recovered; Shawn suspects Northcutt and Sanders are searching for the cash.

Next, Shawn and Gus and Craig visit Northcutt’s girlfriend, Patty, who tells them Northcutt had dropped by to visit his young son after his escape. Patty says Northcutt had mentioned something about going to church. When they drop by the now-abandoned church Northcutt used to attend in his childhood, the guys spot the felons prying up a floor vent and retrieving Percy’s hidden million. Shawn and Gus attempt to stop them… but Craig pulls a gun, ties up Shawn and Gus and Northcutt and Sanders, and swipes the money for himself.

Their legs still duct-taped together, Shawn and Gus hobble around in pursuit of Craig. They try to persuade him to give himself up. Craig initially refuses, but when Northcutt and Sanders get themselves free and try to shoot Shawn and Gus, Craig defends them, arrests the convicts, and turns himself in.

In a wholly misguided show of gratitude, Shawn and Gus give Craig all the credit for recapturing the felons and keep silent about his attempt to swipe the money for himself. Craig gets his job at the prison back and collects a hefty reward, which enables him to fulfill his lifelong dream: opening a Bangkok wine bar.

Wow. These Psych recaps keep getting shorter and shorter. There’s probably any number of factors contributing to that, but mostly it’s because the plots keep getting wispier and simpler with each passing episode. Still, nobody watches (or should watch) Psych for substance, and it's hard to deny that the writing staff knows how to consistently churn out an entertaining hour of television.

Lassiter-based awesomeness:
After Lassiter harangues Craig for his incompetence in letting the felons escape, Shawn criticizes him for kicking a man when he’s down. Lassiter replies, “That’s exactly when a man should be kicked, because that’s when he learns. The nuns taught me that.”

Awesome Eighties reference:
Gus: Let’s not forget the “armed” part of “armed and dangerous.”
Shawn: Or the John Candy part.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Covert Affairs: Communication Breakdown

In what appears to be a deliberate prank, internet access is mysteriously disabled for several minutes all across DC. The CIA believes this is somehow linked to the Datatech conference, a huge annual convention noted for attracting mischievous hackers. The suspected culprit is Natasha Petrovna (Liane Balaban), an avowed anarchist and Russian national with an extensive criminal record for hacking. Natasha also has a colorful romantic history with Auggie. Hey, who doesn’t?

The CIA is desperate to own the source code Natasha used to cause the tech blackout, so Joan sends Auggie into the field to offer her two million dollars for it. Auggie objects at first -- Natasha doesn’t know he’s a Company man, and he’d like to keep it that way -- but Joan insists.

Auggie, with Annie in tow, approaches Natasha at the Datatech conference, where both the FBI and a gaggle of shady Europeans in expensive suits have been trying to sweet-talk and/or bully the source code out of her. Natasha wants nothing to do with any of them, Auggie included. When Auggie presents her with the CIA’s offer, she shoots it down, claiming she’s hacking for political reasons, not for money. In fact, in the true anarchistic spirit, she’s planning on releasing the code to the general public. The CIA, concerned that Natasha’s hack could make government servers vulnerable, is desperate to prevent this.

We get some backstory on Natasha and Auggie’s romance: He met her four years ago in a Laundromat, where they bonded over their mutual love of Snow Crash. They dated for a year, before the CIA kinda forced Auggie to break things off with her. Natasha was arrested for hacking, and Auggie was blinded in Iraq shortly thereafter.

Joan orders Auggie to make another attempt to win Natasha over to their side. When Annie stops by Auggie’s place to pick him up for their assignment, she discovers he’s been shacking up with Liza Hearn (Emmanuelle Vaugier), the journalist who’s been reporting on the information leaked by someone within the CIA. Auggie reassures Annie that he’s not the source of the leak -- in fact, he deliberately started seeing Liza as part of his own informal, non-CIA-sanctioned plot to smoke out the traitor in their midst. This doesn’t sound like his best plan ever. In fact, it seems like this might be an excellent way for him to get his ass fired by Joan, but let’s assume Auggie knows what he’s doing.

Annie gets snippy with Auggie about how he’s exploiting Liza’s affections under false pretenses. Not that her concerns aren’t valid, but it often seems like Annie joined the CIA without really considering what she was getting herself into -- I’m pretty sure “exploiting affections under false pretenses” was explicitly listed in her job description, right underneath “running around in great suits and stiletto heels” and “flirting broadly with smoking-hot Indian-American coworkers.” Annie spends much of the episode growing increasingly disillusioned by Auggie, who is revealing himself to be less cuddly and more devious than she’d originally thought. Well, good for Auggie. Nice to see the show giving him some layers.

In tedious Walker family domestic news, Danielle, who is trying to find another source of income now that her husband has lost his job, decides to start a catering company. Annie strikes a series of zany poses with food in photos for Danielle’s new website. This is maybe not her brightest moment, seeing how she’s an undercover operative who should be keeping a low public profile. Sure enough, when the CIA’s personnel department discovers the photos, they send Jai (hi, Jai!) to tell Annie to take them down. When Annie asks Danielle not to use the photographs, Danielle throws another of her patented hissyfits and accuses Annie of only caring about herself, then flounces out of the room.

Oh, Danielle. You’re so lovable.

Auggie meets with Natasha at an outdoor café to take one more shot at convincing her to sell him the source code, while Annie and Jai lurk across the street, providing half-assed backup support while looking all sexy and concerned. Annie and Jai are very, very good at looking sexy and concerned. An SUV careens wildly down the road and smashes into Auggie’s table. Auggie is unharmed, but in the resulting confusion, Natasha disappears.

Traffic camera photos of the SUV fleeing the scene reveal that the drivers are noted Russian mobsters. Back at DPD headquarters, Joan announces that the CIA is abandoning all attempts to find Natasha. Due to jurisdictional concerns, the whole matter is being passed over to the FBI. Enraged at this, Auggie flounces out of the briefing. This is a swell episode, but between Auggie and Danielle, it could stand to have less flouncing.

Auggie returns to his apartment and finds Natasha waiting for him. She still doesn’t trust the CIA, but she wants Auggie to protect her from the Russian mob -- she’s had hazy ties to them ever since she did some harmless tech work for them back in her student days, and now they want her to hand over the code for the hack. Auggie vows to protect her.

Auggie fails to show up for work the following morning. Whereas most workplaces would choose to deal with an unexplained absence by leaving passive-aggressive voicemails and a maybe stern reprimand in the errant employee’s file, the CIA takes a different approach: Annie and Jai break into Auggie’s apartment and snoop around his personal belongings. They find a receipt for the purchase of a prepaid credit card, which was recently used to buy a pair of Amtrak tickets to Montreal.

Jai and Annie zip up to Canada on a company jet to intercept the train. For a sad change of pace, they keep their customary flirtatious banter to a bare minimum and instead focus on some serious conversation about Auggie’s intentions. Annie believes Auggie is still trying to carry out his mission to get the code from Natasha, while Jai thinks he may have gone rogue.

On board the train, Natasha and Auggie swipe NEXUS cards (used by frequent travelers between the US and Canada to facilitate border crossings) from an unsuspecting Canadian couple. Auggie’s plan is to smuggle Natasha across the border to keep her safe from both the Russian mobsters and the FBI.

To pass the time, Auggie and Natasha whip off their clothes and get busy in their train cabin, which sure beats sitting quietly and reading magazines. Between this and the way he rolled around in the sheets with Liza earlier in the episode, Auggie’s heretofore unseen back tattoo is getting a great deal of exposure.

Their enthusiastic hanky-panky is interrupted by the Russian mobsters, who burst into their cabin and attack them. Auggie (shirtless) and Natasha (pantsless) successfully fight them off. Natasha gives Auggie the source code, then leaps from the train and disappears before FBI agents can board the train and apprehend her.

Jai and Annie, who have spent the entire episode being a handful of script pages behind everyone else, board the train too late to be any use to anyone at all. On the positive side, at least they both look fantastic.

Back at the DPD, Joan sternly tells Auggie never to pull a bunch of crap like that again, which seems like a very reasonable request, actually. And crisis is averted at the Walker household when Annie gets the brilliant idea of having Danielle’s daughters pose for photos for Danielle’s damn website.

Good episode. Could’ve used more Jai, and could’ve used more (any) Arthur, but we were overdue for some more development of Auggie’s character. This fit the bill nicely.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Psych: Viagra Falls

The Santa Barbara Police Department’s former police chief, Herb Wilkins, is found shot to death down by the waterfront. Two legendary SBPD veterans, Peters (William Devane) and Boone (Carl Weathers), who are essentially a more curmudgeonly version of Shawn and Gus, come roaring up to the crime scene in their lime-green Cadillac, anxious to investigate their old boss’s murder. Gus and Shawn sulk and moan and complain about having to share the investigation with the pair of old duffers.

From questioning the owner of a waterfront churro stand, Shawn and Gus discover Herb had been spending a lot of time with a young redhead who works at a nearby gift store. Shawn and Gus, plus Boone and Peters, search Herb’s locker down at the aquatic center and discover a duffle bag filled with cocaine. Juliet notes that Herb withdrew fifty grand in cash a couple days before his murder. Evidence points to a drug-related hit, though Boone and Peters refuse to believe their former boss could have been mixed up in anything dirty.

(In some episodes, Psych is less successful at making Vancouver look like Santa Barbara than in others. Just look at that proud Canadian flag flapping in the breeze behind Boone and Peters.)

Back at the station, Shawn observes Peters and Boone swiping a matchbook for a hip nightclub named Dollhouse from the pile of evidence related to Herb’s murder. Peters and Boone chat up one of the club dancers and discover Herb used to go there regularly with a red-haired dancer named Sarah Lynne -- the same girl who works at the gift shop on the waterfront, who has been missing for the past few days. Per Juliet, fingerprints on the drugs found in Herb’s locker belong to Dollhouse's owner, a shady character named Otto.

The guys break into Otto’s office. Otto catches them in the act. When Boone pulls his gun, Otto makes a break for it. As Shawn and Gus chase after him, shots are fired… and Otto turns up dead, apparently shot by whoever killed Herb.

Chief Vick bawls out Shawn, Gus, Peters and Boone for mucking up her investigation and kicks them all off the case. Undeterred, the guys find Sarah Lynne’s home address from her job application, which Boone swiped from Otto’s office. They head over to her house and talk with her roommate, who confesses that both she and Sarah Lynne worked as drug mules for Otto and an unknown dealer, using the gift shop on the waterfront as a drop point. She claims Sarah Lynne has gone on the run; Shawn discovers she’s been hiding in Herb’s house.

When Shawn, Gus, Peters and Boone arrive at Herb’s, Sarah Lynne refuses to let them inside, claiming she doesn’t want to get anyone else killed. Herb tried to help her leave her life of crime -- he’d withdrawn the fifty grand to get her out of debt -- and ended up getting murdered by Otto and the drug dealer.

The dealer, a local locksmith whom Peters and Boone had seen at the docks immediately after Herb’s body was discovered, is currently hiding inside Herb’s house, holding Sarah Lynne at gunpoint. Gus and Shawn create a distraction by hiding in the bushes outside and barking like dogs, while Boone and Peters sneak into the house and jump the dealer from behind. Juliet and Lassiter arrive in time to make the necessary arrests, and all ends well.

Another perfectly enjoyable midrange episode: light and frothy and fun, with a plot that makes no damn sense under even the faintest scrutiny. Just ignore the plot, and sit back and enjoy the banter. Psych works much better that way.

Gus’s fake names:
Control Alt Delete, plus Imhotep (Shawn: “Or ‘he cometh in peace.’”

Awesome Eighties references:
Shawn: I think we should relax, take a load off, have some of my dad’s yam frittes, and talk about why Meshach Taylor came back for Mannequin 2 when everybody else said no.

Chief Vick: I’ve put a hold on all vacations.
Shawn: And Vacation sequels. I think the Griswolds have been through quite enough.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

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.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Life Beyond Thuderdome: Gotcha!

I've got a fresh new column up over at Forces of Geek: This month, I'm examining 1985's Gotcha! in waaaay too much detail. Gotcha! is not the sort of film that holds up well under scrutiny. In fact, it's thoroughly obnoxious from start to finish. Still, Paris and West Berlin in the mid-Eighties both look fantastic, and Linda Fiorentino is awfully pretty, so there's that.

My review is here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Psych: Shawn and Gus in Drag (Racing)

Fasten your seatbelt. This won’t take long.

A masked gunman steals a Lamborghini belonging to loan shark Logan Paget (Angus Macfadyen). The car is found shortly thereafter, with the thief shot to death in the driver’s seat. The dead man is identified as Max Contreras, a known street racer. Shawn snoops around the crime scene and determines the shooter must’ve fired from another speeding sports car.

Juliet and Lassiter interrogate Paget, who spoke on the phone to Max shortly after Max stole his Lamborghini. Paget maintains his innocence and claims Max was afraid someone was trying to kill him.

Calling on their vast knowledge of The Fast and the Furious, with a hefty dose of Point Break thrown in for good measure, Shawn and Gus infiltrate Max’s former street-racing gang, which includes charismatic leader Tommy (CSI: Miami’s Adam Rodriguez) and Max’s ex-girlfriend, sexy mechanic Gina (Vanessa Minnillo). Tommy challenges Shawn to a race to test his mettle. Shawn, driving Henry’s pickup truck rigged up with nitrous, loses to Tommy by a hair. He’s then unable to stop the truck:

Gus: You must’ve accidentally cut the brake line when you installed the nitrous!
Shawn: Please. The only thing I cut was that long cable going from the pedals to the rear wheels.

Impressed by Shawn’s moxie and/or idiocy, Tommy invites them to a wild party. Suspecting that Shawn is an undercover cop, Gina pops the hood of her car and asks him to point out the modifications. Shawn fails the test terribly. Gina pulls a gun on him; Gus bravely intervenes, but Gina kicks both of their asses. Juliet and Lassiter burst in and arrest her on suspicion of murdering Max.

Shawn, however, realizes that Gina is unable to grip anything with her right hand, due to an old injury she sustained in a car crash. Therefore, she couldn’t have steered a car while shooting Max at the same time. Shawn continues to investigate the case.

Tommy and his crew raid the Psych offices and hold Shawn and Gus at gunpoint. Tommy confesses to Max’s murder. He orders Shawn to steal the Lamborghini back from police impound for him, or he’ll kill Gus.

Shawn complies. Tommy zips off in the stolen car, with the police in hot pursuit. The Lamborghini sputters to a stop in front of a police roadblock, thanks to the zucchini Shawn stuffed in the tailpipe.

And… that’s it. Really, that’s all I have, and I covered pretty much the entire plot. Shortest damn Psych recap ever, because very little happened in this episode. Oh, sure, nobody looks to Psych for substance and weighty plots, and everything that happened was fairly breezy and amusing, but still, this is strictly a midrange episode, neither notably good or bad.

(The childhood flashbacks at the beginning are back, for whatever that’s worth. Apparently last week’s flashback-free episode was just an aberration.)

Awesome Eighties reference:
Shawn (watching video footage of Lassiter chasing after the stolen Lamborghini): As soon as Lassie hits 88, he goes back in time. And this time, he does not go to the prom with his sister.
Gus: It was his mother. And it was the Enchantment Under the Sea dance.

Gus’s fake name:
MC Clap Your Handz

Lassiter-based awesomeness:
Shawn (after Lassiter and Juliet raid the party and place Gina under arrest): (whispers) You’re going to blow my cover! Punch me in the face!
Lassiter: I’m not going to punch you in the face.
Shawn: Ronald Reagan was a terrible president!
Lassiter: You son of a bitch! (decks Shawn)

Lassiter (to Gus): The fact of the matter is, I’m quite fond of you, Guster. Although, professionally, I do wonder what you bring to the table.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

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.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Psych: Chivalry Is Not Dead -- But Someone Is

Well, that’s deucedly odd: This episode of Psych did not start out with a childhood flashback. Is this a first? Are they phasing out the flashbacks? Are the pineapples next to go? (Are they still hiding pineapples in episodes? I wouldn’t know; I can never manage to find the damn things anyway.) The universe suddenly seems very cold and uncertain.

A handsome tuxedo-clad young man named Lance chokes on his poisoned drink at an elegant soiree at an opera house and tumbles over the balcony to his death. The police, plus Shawn and Gus, head over to investigate. Suspicion immediately falls on Lance’s escort, sexy older woman Jillian Tucker (Jean Smart), whose last husband committed suicide under fishy circumstances. Shawn and Gus want in on the case, but Lassiter and Juliet are reluctant to work with them (Lassiter more so than Juliet, naturally). Henry, who is taking over Chief Vick’s role a little more with each passing episode, instructs both teams to investigate the crime separately:

Henry: You’re not afraid of a little competition, are you?
Shawn: Of course not. As long as it doesn’t involve people trying to best each other.

Team Lassiter heads over to Lance’s apartment to search for clues, only to find Team Shawn already in place. While goofing around on Lance’s inversion system, Shawn manages to squeeze in a little investigating. He discovers Lance was taking a course on how to seduce rich older women from noted author/lothario Clive Prescott (John Michael Higgins). Shawn recognizes Clive from his jacket photo as someone who was loitering around the crime scene, so he and Gus crash his lecture and grill him about his connection to Lance.

Clive, who is ruffled by Shawn’s dreadfully uncouth nature, is not terribly helpful. Still, he’s faultlessly well-mannered: At the conclusion of the interrogation, he presents Shawn with an eloquent handwritten thank-you note, complete with an embossed seal.

Henry does some digging into Clive’s past. He discovers that the last woman with whom he was romantically involved drowned under suspicious circumstances. He cautions Shawn that Clive might be dangerous. Weirded out by Henry’s uncharacteristic display of paternal concern, Shawn mutters to Gus, “I think my dad’s starting to like me.”

Shawn and Gus shrug off Henry’s warning and cheerfully trail Clive as he squires his close friend Jillian around town. Shawn approaches and flirts outrageously with Jillian, who flirts outrageously right back. When Clive scoffs at Shawn’s ability to handle a real woman like Jillian (“This man-boy here lacks all culture and elegance, and he smells of buffalo wings”), Shawn snarls, “You just pushed my competitive button, and now it’s ON!” Shawn asks Jillian out to dinner; she agrees, provided Gus escorts her socially-awkward friend Eugenia (Lee Garlington, last seen playing a sinister aquarium owner on FlashForward).

Shawn and Gus meet their dates at an elegant restaurant (Shawn: “Hello, ladies! Your tramps have arrived!” I swear, the average episode of Psych is peppered with more endlessly quotable bon mots than the average sitcom churns out in a season). Also at the restaurant are Clive, who sends over a fancy bottle of wine and joins them at their table, and Gabe, one of Clive’s students, who had escorted Eugenia to the gala event where Lance met his demise.

Miffed about Clive intruding on their date, Shawn and Gus take the ladies back to the Psych offices for pizza and conversation. Shawn and Jillian get along famously, while an unenthusiastic Eugenia visibly recoils from Gus.

Post-date, Shawn begins to feel ill. After initially blaming the pineapple on the pizza, he realizes he’s been poisoned -- probably by Clive’s wine at the restaurant. Speaking as someone who developed a bizarre and nasty adult-onset pineapple allergy, I’d just like to advise Shawn not to be so quick to rule out his first guess. He collapses.

Shawn gets his stomach pumped at the hospital. An unsympathetic Henry yanks the IV out of his son’s arm and bustles him down to the police station to question Clive. There’s not enough evidence to arrest Clive (who is busy charming the socks off of Juliet), so he’s released from custody.

After Henry finds evidence linking Clive to yet another suspicious death, Shawn bursts into Clive’s lecture to accuse him of murder. Clive argues, convincingly, that he’s innocent, so Shawn dashes off a handwritten letter apologizing for his rash accusation. Clive confesses that, despite his reputation as a womanizer, he’s secretly madly in love with Jillian. He’s going to meet with Eugenia to ask for her advice on the best way to propose to Jillian.

After discovering that young Gabe had been secretly having an affair with Jillian, Shawn develops a new theory: Gabe killed Lance to get rid of his romantic rival. Lassiter and Juliet rush over to the local fitness center to arrest Gabe and find him dead in the sauna, clutching a bottle of poisoned Vitamin Water.

The poison used to kill Lance and Gabe was naphthalin, the key ingredient in mothballs. Recalling that Eugenia smelled like mothballs, Shawn realizes she’s the true murderer. Shawn, Gus, Lassiter and Juliet rush to save Clive from an imminent poisoning.

Shawn reveals the ploy: Eugenia was secretly in love with Jillian and thus killed (or, in Shawn’s case, tried to kill) all her romantic rivals -- including Jillian’s last husband. Eugenia is hauled off to jail, and all ends well. Clive arranges to have Shawn teach his class while he’s off on his honeymoon with Jillian, while Gus, still unable to believe Eugenia was wholly resistant to his charms, visits her in prison, determined to win her over. It goes poorly.

Another good episode. Four episodes into the season, and we haven’t had a weak one yet. Keep it up, Psych.

Gus’s fake name:
Chaz Bono

Lassiter-based awesomeness:
Bartender (describing the drink Lance ordered prior to being poisoned): It caught my attention. It was different. Classy. Cool.
Lassiter (nodding and scribbling in his notebook): Sea Breeze.

Awesome Eighties references:
Shawn, after Clive tells him the Webster definition of “relationship”: “I hardly think Emmanuel Lewis is an authority on relationships.”

Shawn to Gus, when Clive crashes their double date: “Take him out. Sweep the leg.”

Shawn, mistaking the cufflinks Jillian gives him for earrings, explains that he no longer wears them: “I mean I used to, back in the day. Three of them. Tears for Fears.”

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Covert Affairs: No Quarter

We open in media res, with Annie toting an industrial metal briefcase through the Zurich airport while kvetching over the phone to Auggie about how flying coach on international flights really sucks. In the process, she manages to somehow compare Auggie to a St. Bernard (he’s cute and dependable -- true enough). She’s in Zurich to do a simple brush pass -- she’s supposed to exchange briefcases, contents unknown, with her mysterious contact, whom she’ll identify by his orange wristband.

There’s a hitch: Two men with wristbands and briefcases approach her. While Annie tries to plan the best course of action, a flash grenade goes off, one of the briefcases explodes, and mass panic ensues. In the confusion, Annie hightails it out of the airport, still lugging around her briefcase,

Meanwhile, Arthur and Joan loll in bed watching the news, where sexy journalist Liza Hearn (Emmanuelle Vaugier) cheerfully divulges Agency secrets while naming Arthur as her source. Enraged, Arthur swears to hunt down the true source of the leak. Good to see Peter Gallagher back in this episode. One of the things Covert Affairs needs to do, posthaste, is lock him down as a regular cast member.

Suspecting the police are trailing her, Annie stashes the briefcase under a floor panel in an unused hotel ballroom, then meets up with Fatma, a.k.a. “the Turk,” who is the CIA’s bridge agent in Zurich. Fatma equips her with a bag of groceries and sets her up in a safe house until she can be smuggled out of the country.

Also in the safe house: Annie’s contact, a charming yet vaguely sinister Mossad agent named Eyal Lavin. Why, look, it’s Oded Fehr! Good to see you, Mr. Fehr. This was apparently the first episode filmed after the pilot, before Sendhil Ramamurthy was added to the cast, so sadly, there is no lovely Jai anywhere to be found this week. However, the presence of Fehr helps cushion the blow.

After a rocky start (he tries to strangle her, she fights him off), Annie and Eyal prepare to shack up together until things die down. Eyal still has his briefcase with him, though he won’t let Annie get her hands on it until she produces her own case to make the official exchange.

(Annie, it should be noted, speaks both German and Hebrew in this episode. Factoring in Russian, Spanish, English, and Sinhalese, she’s up to her six languages already.)

The safe house comes equipped with everything Annie and Eyal could possibly need to kill a few days together: plush bathrobes, wine, and a closet filled with hard-core bondage gear. Eyal casually explains the purpose of the gear to a bemused/astonished Annie. Apparently, sexual blackmail is a widely-used Agency tactic to gain leverage over high-placed individuals, and hey, I just thought of a fantastic future plot idea for Jai.

Eyal, who has scads more experience in this whole “secret agent” business than newbie Annie, whips together a police scanner out of spare parts, stitches up a wound Annie sustained in the chaos at the airport, and fixes a scrumptious dinner, complete with wine, steaks, and romantic sparks. Dinner is interrupted by a swarm of heavily-armed men who descend on the safe house; Annie and Eyal escape by, ah, using the bondage gear to rappel down the elevator shaft. Annie is still wearing her teetering red-soled Louboutin heels during all this; they look snazzy, but I couldn’t help thinking how much easier this sort of thing would be if she’d just switch to sensible flats while on missions.

Meanwhile, back at Langley, Arthur starts a full-scale internal investigation to find the source of the leak and pretty much stages a hostile takeover of the DPD in the process. This irks Joan to no end. As part of the investigation, Auggie undergoes a polygraph test, which gives him a chance to drop a few expository kernels of his backstory: His full name is August, he’s from Illinois, he was blinded in an explosion in Tikrit, he thinks most of his superiors are a bunch of idiots, and he’s not the source of the leak. No surprises in any of that.

Separated from Eyal in the chaos, Annie heads to Fatma’s shop and finds her murdered corpse. When Eyal finally arrives, Annie becomes suspicious of him and handcuffs him to the counter. She calls Auggie to ask for help, but, as he’s currently off being interrogated, his line is answered by one of Arthur’s henchmen. Flustered, Annie hangs up. Eyal manages to sweet-talk her into trusting him and continuing their mission.

Annie and Eyal head to the hotel ballroom to retrieve the briefcase. A gala wedding reception is taking place, and the bride is seated smack-dab over the hidden case. Annie flirts shamelessly with the groom, which provokes the bride into leaving her seat, which gives Eyal a chance to swipe the briefcase.

Both cases now in their possession, Annie and Eyal make a break for it. Armed gunmen surround them; Eyal kills them all. Annie and Eyal are apprehended by the Swiss police… who, thankfully, have been already briefed on the situation by Interpol. Annie and Eyal finally make the exchange of briefcases at the airport, where they part ways.

Good episode. Much better than the last two, possibly better than the pilot. It helped greatly that Eyal was a fun, interesting, complex character and a worthy foil for Annie. It also helped that we saw much more of the workings of the CIA, both back at Langley and in the field in Zurich. The more this show helps recreate an interesting and plausible universe, the more effective it’s going to be in the long run.