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.