Covert Affairs: Begin the Begin

Season Two of Covert Affairs kicks off with this adequate yet unspectacular installment. Some quick notes right at the start:

1) If this episode title is any indication, it looks like they’ve moved off of Led Zeppelin songs and moved on to R.E.M. this season. Excellent choice.

2) Peter Gallagher is now a full regular cast member instead of a guest star. This is good news for the show, as Gallagher is a force of great awesomeness.

3) The animated opening credit sequence has been tweaked to include Gallagher and to show images of Sendhil Ramamurthy and Anne Dudek instead of merely name-checking them.

4) Sendhil Ramamurthy is still smoking-hot.

The episode opens in Guam, where Annie tends to a wounded Ben in the hospital. Ben, who was shot at the end of last season and appeared to be hovering on death’s door, seems pretty healthy and chipper now, at least judging by the way he enthusiastically canoodles with Annie. Their canoodling is interrupted when gunmen randomly burst into his hospital room and open fire; Annie and Ben barely escape with their lives.

In other news: Annie and Ben still make for an extremely insipid pairing. It’s a shame. Annie has so much personality and spark with almost everyone else she encounters -- Auggie, Jai and Joan in particular -- that it’s weird and depressing to see her formidable charisma sputter and fizzle whenever she’s around the great love of her life.

Ben gets transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda. Sexy Jai makes his first appearance of the season when he brings Ben a Sudoku book and growls at him for being an asshole. Oh, Jai. How I’ve missed those outstanding cheekbones and that weird sexual tension you bring to all your scenes. Welcome back, babe.

Annie returns to the home she shares with her sister Danielle, who believes Annie has been spending the past several weeks in Missouri as part of her cover as a mild-mannered Smithsonian employee. Danielle offhandedly mentions that their garage was broken into during Annie’s vacation. Combined with the still-unexplained gunmen in Guam, this makes Annie very, very nervous. Auggie arranges to have CIA technicians, posing as carpet cleaners, sweep Annie’s house for listening devices. The sweep comes up clean.

(Auggie, by the way, doesn’t do all that much this episode other than act supportive of Annie and make a few wry quips and do some chin-ups in a totally unnecessary scene set at the gym, but it’s good seeing him anyway. I like these characters an awful lot, even if my enthusiasm for the show itself has waned a great deal since last season.)

Liza Hearn releases a series of damaging investigative reports about Arthur. He’s being advised by Langley’s in-house counsel, though Joan, fearing the CIA will cheerily throw her husband to the wolves at the first opportunity, urges him to retain his own high-priced and flashy lawyer. Arthur protests at first, but eventually follows Joan’s advice. Yeah, you know what? As much as I love Arthur and Joan, I kind of hope they find a more exciting ongoing plotline than Arthur’s ongoing struggles to retain his job.

Annie’s new assignment: making contact with a tennis pro named Nadia, a CIA asset who has missed her last couple of information drops. Nadia is the mistress of an Estonian mobster named Morozov, whom the CIA has under surveillance for his shady dealings with the Russians. When Annie meets with Nadia, Nadia gets flustered and botches their ritual protocol. Although Nadia insists nothing’s wrong, Annie believes she’s in danger. Joan is skeptical, but agrees to let Annie follow her hunch and trail Nadia.

This Nadia plotline is a little on the dusty and hackneyed side, so let’s check in with lovely Jai. There’s nothing dusty about Jai. Jai and his cheekbones are having a clandestine meeting with his boss/surrogate daddy figure Arthur. Even though Jai’s original assignment -- get close to Annie to draw Ben out into the open -- has reached a natural conclusion, Arthur orders him to remain with the DPD instead of transferring back into Arthur’s own department. Thanks to Liza Hearn’s damaging articles, Arthur believes it’s best for Jai to maintain some distance from him. “Funny. Someone just gave me the same advice,” Jai snarks, referring to the way his evil (and awesome!) father Henry Wilcox advised him to steer clear of Arthur at the end of last season.

You know what this episode needed? A healthy dose of Henry Wilcox. This show always perks up enormously whenever he’s around, engaging in verbal jousting with Arthur and not-so-subtly undermining his son.

After Ben mysteriously vanishes from Walter Reed, Annie confronts Joan. Joan, who is her usual crisp and competent self, manages to reassure Annie that no harm has befallen Ben without divulging any concrete information about his status.

Through the usual muddle of exposition and coincidences and staggering leaps in logic, Annie figures out that Nadia is in no danger from Morozov. It’s the other way around, in fact: Nadia is being coerced by her tennis coach, at the behest of sinister Russian forces, to assassinate him. While Auggie whisks Morozov to safety away from Nadia’s tennis match, Annie tries to escape with Nadia. Nadia’s coach opens fire, the requisite car chase ensues, my eyes glaze over a bit with the tedium, and the evildoers are thwarted.

Denouement: The CIA agrees to give Nadia asylum in the United States, but not protection from the Russians, which means her professional tennis career must come to an early end. Auggie poses as a lawyer and interrogates two troublemaking urchins who have been arrested for the break-in at Annie’s house. And Auggie and Annie meet for drinks at their favorite local watering hole.

Hmm. This episode was no stronger or weaker than any given episode from the first season. That’s a bit of a problem: The first season, while entertaining and fun, was all about unfulfilled potential. The self-contained plots last season were the show’s biggest weakness, and just going off of this premiere, that problem hasn’t been fixed. There’s plenty of room for this series and these characters to evolve and grow, but as of yet there’s no indication that’s going to start happening any time soon.


Thais said…
I'm glad these recaps are back. I have missed them more than Covert Affairs lol.

I know it's mean, but I sort of wish Ben had died. I mean, I knew that the show wouldn't get rid of him that easily, but I had my hopes. But I have to wonder if Ben now having an actual job with the CIA will mean that we'll see more of him or less. Will Ben still randomly pop up at the last minute to save Annie? Will we still get tedious flashbacks to their time on some tropical beach?

One thing I wish they had done with Ben is not only give him a CIA job, but partner him up with Jai. They could have their own side storyline where they gone on undercover missions and bicker like an old married couple. :P
Morgan Richter said…
One thing I wish they had done with Ben is not only give him a CIA job, but partner him up with Jai.

That's a fantastic idea, really -- I would love to see them off on missions together, insulting and double-crossing each other and arguing about their trust issues. I'm with you in that I wasn't all that thrilled to see that Ben had survived the bullet. It seemed like his storyline had reached a very natural conclusion at the end of last year. I don't really mind him so much as a character, but man, he bogs Annie down whenever she has to mope about him or flash back to frolicking on beaches with him. It's not the best use of Annie, and it's not the best use of Ben.
Anonymous said…
Morgan, darling, it`s no nice to see you posting reviews once again!

I still have to watch the episode, but it seems interesting. At least Sendhil is there.

Now, the only thing even better would be to see approved my idea for a reality show on Sendhil, in which he runs on a beach Baywatch style all day long.
Morgan Richter said…
I still have to watch the episode, but it seems interesting. At least Sendhil is there.

It's a perfectly okayish episode. The Sendhil parts are my favorite, naturally enough (particularly since he gets to accurately describe Ben as an asshole), though Joan and Arthur are good as always. I just wish they'd make Annie's missions more interesting. They're almost always the weakest part of each episode.

I would totally watch a show where Sendhil just runs on a beach all day long. He's pretty.
Alicia said…
I keep hoping (maybe futilely?) for their stand-alone stories to get more interesting, and I still haven't given up on that -- I mean, it's obvious that this week's story was only there to underline Annie's paranoia issues and to give her that "I want to live!" moment at the end. Maybe next week will be better! Or failing that, maybe this season will focus more heavily on the leak plot than last season did! Surely the writers can't be completely unaware of the fact that their show is much, much better when it moves away from the stand-alone storylines?

What can I say, I'm an eternal optimist. (Or I am when Sendhil is on a show, anyway.) It's just such a shame, because as you say, the characters are all great.

(I'd watch an odd couple spy drama about Ben and Jai anytime. It's so odd how Ben and Annie are so devoid of any chemistry and makes me hate Ben, but sparks fly when Ben and Jai banter.)
Morgan Richter said…
Surely the writers can't be completely unaware of the fact that their show is much, much better when it moves away from the stand-alone storylines?

I think that's what confuses me the most about this show -- the writers have to know their stand-alone plots are pretty weak and slapdash, especially compared to the more far-reaching storylines, like this business with the mole. I was hoping during their long hiatus the writing staff would figure out some way to fix this, but from this episode, it doesn't seem like that's the case.

It's so odd how Ben and Annie are so devoid of any chemistry and makes me hate Ben, but sparks fly when Ben and Jai banter.

In scenes where Ben and Jai snipe at each other, I completely understand why the show is keeping Eion Bailey around, because they're great together (that scene in the hospital with the sudoku books was the best part of the episode). In his scenes with Annie, though, Ben just comes across as unreliable, overbearing, and overprotective; it makes me think less of Annie for being so completely hung up on him.
Alicia said…
Speaking of confusing, when the season 1 DVDs came out I listened to the commentaries with the writers, and they seemed to all be in love with both the character of Ben and with the idea of Annie/Ben. It confused me so, so much, because I was convinced the writers must know that's one of their weakest links. But they apparently didn't! So I half suspect they might not know their stand-alone plots are bad, either. I'm just hoping that they do, or that they'll figure it out soon. I'm almost tempted to join the official boards just in the hopes that someone will listen (silly, I know).

The hospital scene really was the best, and managed with just a few lines back and forth to show us the nuances of the Ben/Jai relationship.
Morgan Richter said…
I listened to the commentaries with the writers, and they seemed to all be in love with both the character of Ben and with the idea of Annie/Ben

How strange! I liked the idea of Annie/Ben early on in the first season, but the more we saw of Ben, the less interesting I found him, particularly when paired with Annie. I can't guess at what the writers see in that pairing. To me, that romance just weakens both characters.

...But yeah, like you, it makes me worry that the writers might also not realize that most of their main plots play like watered-down recycled episodes of Mission: Impossible. That's a discouraging thought.

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