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TV Review: Covert Affairs – “Begin the Begin”

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For those hoping for a happy ending between Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) and Ben Mercer (Eion Bailey) on USA’s Covert Affairs, the season premiere delivers, for the first ten or so minutes. Then they are running from gun fire, and soon after returning to the states, Ben disappears, being sent on an off-the-books assignment for Arthur (Peter Gallagher). Arthur is working with Joan (Kari Matchett) on his defense. Danielle (Anne Dudek) reveals her garage is broken into while Annie is out of town, sparking suspicions in Annie that whoever did it is after her. Annie helps a Russian tennis player who is being forced to kill her lover. So it’s a busy episode.

Having a lot going on is not unusual for a season premiere, except this hour is divided very unevenly. Maybe a third of the episode is for Ben’s arc, continuing the events of the cliffhanger. Then there is only a sliver for Arthur’s ongoing story of getting in trouble with the agency and possibly losing his job. About half the episode is a case of the week, which is much smaller than such a bit would normally be, and is wholly unnecessary for an episode that features larger, ongoing developments.

It is confusing that USA feels the need to sandwich in such unconnected events, as even the best procedurals on network TV take a break every once in awhile from their formula. USA does not. Since Covert Affairs is vasttly different from most USA shows, maybe it’s time to let a series on the network take a few more chances.

Rather than forcing the tennis scenes, how about a refresher about what is going on with Arthur? It’s been quite awhile since season one aired, and it’s hard to remember exactly why he is in trouble, or how he can get out of it. Bringing in the lawyer gives the show a good excuse to rehash some of the back story on the issue, but they do not, disappointingly.

Also nice would be to get Jai (Sendhil Ramamurthy) more involved. Arthur turns him away as soon as Jai asks questions. Jai only provides support and backup for Annie when she needs it. While this is a common type of character for series in this vein, Ramamurthy is a capable actor who can handle his own plots. It is a waste to regulate him to such a minor role. Get him involved in Arthur’s trial, give him his own missions, or put him and Annie together romantically. At this point, anything to beef up Jai’s part will be welcome.

Other than those minor complaints, it is a fairly intense episode. There are good action scenes, and the larger stories do get to move along somewhat. It will not be remembered as a top episode, but a fairly satisfactory one to fans of the series.

The case of the week about the Russian girl is actually pretty interesting, and Annie gets to break a few rules to help her, which is usually fun. There are some unexpected twists, and the whole thing is relatively realistic and full of danger. While not addressed in the episode, it also serves as a distraction for Annie, who wants to know what is going on with Ben, but can’t get anything out of her boss about it.

Anyone thinking Ben and Annie would be together this early in the show obviously does not watch these types of shows on television, or USA series at all. Procedurals are notoriously slow at locking main characters into relationships, and if they do take that leap, it will be many years down the road, once story ideas begin to dry up. It’s a risky move, as it suddenly puts two characters in a box and limits what they can do. Anytime one is in danger, the other has to have feelings about it. It is brilliant and enjoyable if done properly, and can single-handedly kill a series if done incorrectly.

Auggie (Christopher Gorham) remains the most interesting character on Covert Affairs. In “Begin the Begin,” Auggie whines about not getting to finish his beer, but also helps Annie on her secret mission. He has just the right blend of compassion and humor that Gorham delivers with finesse. Whether with Annie at a bar, or behind his computer, being the most productive, heroic blind man on the planet, Auggie always steals his scenes. More Auggie-centric episodes would be much appreciated.

Still unknown is why Danielle even qualifies as a main character. Completely in the dark about why everything goes down, she merely stands around in Annie’s rare at-home scenes. This week, Annie tricks Danielle into getting her children out of the house so the CIA can see if the break-in has been done for dark motives. It’s a cute bit, but not one memorable nor necessary, especially as the “bad guys” turn out to be a couple of harmless kids. At least if the house is being threatened, Danielle may have something to do. Even better, Danielle should soon figure out what Annie’s real career is.

The opening credits have finally been changed to include all of the main characters, which number six in the second season. This is nice, as only three were included in season one. It’s still an odd sequence, with live action mixing with cartoons in a strange way. It’s actually quite a great piece, artistically, but it arguably does not fit well with the series. Which is too bad, because the series that does fit that song would be pretty darn good.

Covert Affairs airs at 10 p.m. ET on Tuesdays on USA.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com
  • Ann

    I didn’t understand the ending. What did he mean when he said you haven’t seen Annie in two years? Was the beginning just a dream?

  • http://jeromewetzeltv.blogspot.com/ Jerome Wetzel

    Ann – No, it was not a dream. But other than that one mission in the season finale, Ben’s been gone for two years. If he can be apart from her that long, the reasoning is that Ben can stay apart even longer.

  • CindynAdam

    I can’t believe this show is on television. The characters are just vapid. The actors are in love with themselves. Pictures of them would be more pleasant to look at than having to listen to these prima donnas stiffly recite memorized lines while mugging for the camera.