It’s been a few weeks since I last wrote about ‘Covert Affairs’. At the time, I even went so far as to say that the show had aired one of its best episodes ever. Yet I still let myself fall behind in my coverage of it. As I feared, the next couple of episodes were pretty middle-of-the-road affairs and hardly worth talking about. Now that the series has aired its “summer finale,” did it go out on a good note?
For the most part, yes. ‘World Leader Pretend’ is pretty good on the whole. (That’s a weird title, though. I suppose it’s meant to be a reference to the R.E.M. song of the same name, but the song lyrics don’t seem to have any relation to the plot of the episode at all.)
In a major career boost, Annie is assigned to take charge of “Operation Spearhead,” a mission in which she helps a Chinese scientist defect to the U.S. In theory, it’s supposed to be a fairly easy and straightforward op. While pretending to be his translator at a scientific conference, she just has to slip the scientist out of the hotel and into a waiting van. Easy peasy. Indeed, things seem to go really well, as she ferries him out to safety.
Unfortunately, Sheng the scientist gets violently sick the next day. It would appear that he was poisoned. And not just any poison – radiation poisoning. The prognosis is bleak. An experimental treatment has only a 20% chance of survival. Sadly, he falls into the other 80% and dies shortly after. But not before giving Annie some secret documents about a Chinese company illegally mining enriched uranium.
Vowing to avenge his death, Annie discovers that Sheng was betrayed by one of the few friends he trusted enough to tell about his defection plans. Despite being ordered to stand down by the State Department, Annie and Joan arrange for a tactical squad to capture the killer. This leads to a chase through Chinatown and Annie bagging the bad guy.
In a side story, Annie has finally decided to “read in” her sister, and tell her that she’s a spy. She chickens out a few times, until she basically has no other choice when the CIA needs to sweep their house for possible radiation exposure. Her sister is really upset about being lied to. She says that she doesn’t trust Annie and wants her to move out. She calms down later, but still insists that she won’t feel safe unless Annie moves.
While a little low-key, this fall finale has a good plot, some worthwhile character moments, and a decent amount of suspense. In what appears to be a strange non sequitur homage to ‘Goodfellas’, the episode even has a long and elaborately-staged tracking shot through a hotel kitchen and service corridors while the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” plays on the soundtrack. I’m not sure what inspired it, but the scene is pretty impressively choreographed for something on TV.
‘Covert Affairs’ must be doing pretty well in the ratings for USA. The promo after the episode claimed that the network will bring the show back in the fall, after just a short break. I don’t know whether this is really a good idea. I enjoy the series as summer fluff, but I’m not sure that it can hold up to the much greater competition of the regular fall TV season.