‘Covert Affairs’ 2.01 Recap: “In Our Line of Work, There’s a Very Thin Line Between Intuition and Paranoia”

We’re officially in the summer doldrums, and the TV landscape looks pretty bleak. My DVR’s “Scheduled Recordings” menu is practically empty. However, one show that I’d almost forgotten about entirely returned for its second season last week. Watching the premiere, I’m honestly a little bit embarrassed that I ever deemed ‘Covert Affairs’ worthy of Series Recording status. Oh well, it’s not like there’s much else to watch right now.

To be fair, ‘Covert Affairs’ isn’t a terrible show or anything. It’s just a very uneven and pretty mediocre one. A handful of Season 1 episodes were reasonably entertaining fluff, while others were just silly and boring. Unfortunately, ‘Begin the Begin’ (what does that even mean?) is one of the latter.

At least the producers know their audience. The episode opens with Piper Perabo in a bikini. At first, it’s unclear whether this is another flashback to the carefree days before her character Annie Walker joined the CIA, but soon we learn that she’s in Guam while her boyfriend Ben (who was shot in last season’s finale) recovers in a military hospital. The dialogue in these early scenes is almost hilariously on-the-nose with helpful recaps of the previous season for viewers just tuning in for the first time (or those, like myself, who’ve forgotten most of it). A hit squad rushes the hospital, presumably gunning for Ben, and Annie barely gets him out to safety. They then fly back to D.C. so that he can transfer to a new hospital and Annie can go back to work.

For her first day back, Annie is assigned the case of an Estonian black market smuggler in town to peddle some radioactive promethium. The smuggler’s mistress is a tennis ingénue who’s been secretly working as a CIA asset, feeding the Agency info on what her boyfriend is up to. When Annie tries to make contact, the girl (named Nadia) screws up her code phrase. She insists that everything is fine, but Annie senses something wrong, perhaps that the boyfriend is beating her. Annie turns protective and wants to get Nadia out, but after nearly blowing her cover (Annie really is a terrible spy, isn’t she?), the Agency orders her to cut the girl loose and drop the asset.

Of course, Annie can’t let go so easily. It turns out that the boyfriend isn’t beating her at all. In fact, Nadia had been flipped by the Russian FSB and is being forced to assassinate the boyfriend. Annie interferes just in the nick of time and stops Nadia, at which point the FSB goes gunning for the both of them. This leads to a really dull car chase. Eventually, Annie gets Nadia to safety, and convinces her Agency bosses to put the girl in Witness Protection. She won’t be able to play tennis anymore, but she’ll be safe.

In a side story, Annie returns home and is told by her sister that someone had broken into the house. Annie freaks out about this. Even though her secret stash of fake passports and documents appears to be untouched, she’s convinced that her cover is compromised. Blind Auggie tells her to relax and that she’s being paranoid, because it was probably just some kids. Indeed, that’s exactly what it turns out to be. Annie’s instincts were wrong again.

In no time at all, Ben goes missing from the hospital, which of course has no record of his ever being there. Annie knows that the CIA is behind this. Damn them, they just can’t let her be happy for a minute!

Annie’s boss Arthur (Peter Gallagher) is still dealing with the fallout from some scandal, the details of which I don’t remember at all and which aren’t explained here. Suffice it to say that his job is on the line. Nonetheless, he makes time to secretly meet with Ben, who he enlists for some hush-hush assignment that naturally means he’s not supposed to make contact with Annie again. Something tells me that won’t last long.

All in all… Meh. This is a pretty dull episode, with some at times shockingly bad visual effects inserts. In the most ridiculous of these, Annie walks up to her boss’s house, and the reverse shot has Perabo standing in front of a super-cheesy greenscreen backdrop. Are you really telling me that the producers couldn’t find a couple of trees for her to stand near for a two-minute scene? It’s bad, really bad.

The episode’s “action” scenes aren’t very exciting, and the spy storyline just isn’t interesting at all. If this is supposed to be a rousing premiere that will get people back into the show (and hopefully hook new viewers), it’s a significant failure in that regard. I’ll still watch for another couple of episodes, mostly because there’s not much else on TV these days. But if it looks like this is the way the season’s going to be, I may have to give up on the show.

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