November 22, 2013

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Covert Affairs”


The problem with having your main character “go dark” is that she actually has to get somewhere.  In the Season 4 finale of COVERT AFFAIRS, Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) finally seemed to cross a line by coldbloodedly shooting her season-plus nemesis Henry Wilcox (Gregory Itzin) to death in a Hong Kong alley, but like her earlier transformation via hair rinse and a less brightly lit smile after Annie’s staged “death,” in the end she still seemed to be very much the same Annie Walker.

Last season, Covert Affairs allowed Annie to stop being a squeaky-clean apprentice CIA agent, gave her a more commanding role in her own story, and embraced a serialized format, all of which improved the show.  This year, though, series creators Matt Corman and Chris Ord (they were credited with the story for the season finale, with script by junior writer Lynn Renee Maxcy) didn’t seem to know where to where to go next.  Annie was in and then out of a relationship with BFF Auggie Anderson (Christopher Gorham), and the writing had her sentimental and then ruthless and then soft-hearted again.  The season’s whole storyline seem to be a reach, from the initial revelation that Director of Clandestine Services Arthur Campbell (Peter Gallagher) had a secret Colombian son who was a quasi-terrorist but not really, to the untrustworthiness but then heroic status of station chief Calder Michaels (new regular Hill Harper), to the increasing supervillainy of Henry Wilcox.  The pregnancy of Arthur’s wife Joan (Kari Matchett), herself head of the Domestic Protection Division, was mandated by Matchett’s real-life pregnancy (better than Hart of Dixie‘s flailing attempts to hide Jaime King’s condition this season), but awkwardly handled as well.

It didn’t help that Perabo’s on-screen chemistry with Gorham remained firmly friend-ish even when the scripts said otherwise, or frankly that Perabo trying to play “dark” was like the nice girl in high school playing Rizzo in Grease.  Television has more than its share these days of law enforcement personnel who do very bad things, and Perabo’s undercover persona isn’t what it looks like.  No one expects Covert Affairs, airing on USA Network, cable TV’s equivalent of LITE-FM, to be Homeland–not that that show is a shining example this season–but if it’s going to tell stories like this, it needs to find a willingness to dig a bit deeper.  (There’s something wrong when a supporting character, Anggie’s ex-wife played by Michelle Ryan, who had like Annie played dead and gone dark, was more interesting in her recurring appearances–cut short by Henry shooting her–than the show’s heroine.)

The finale itself was well directed by Stephen Kay, with strong use of what appeared to be real Hong Kong locations in the various chase scenes.  Nothing very interesting happened between those chases, though; Henry had discovered at the end of the last episode that Annie was still alive and well, and instead of blowing her away, he took her to his offices for some monologuing.  Shoot-outs ensued, allowing Annie to get away, while Auggie worked with an anonymous staffer to give her support.  In the end, Henry had no surprises to pull out of his hat when Annie confronted him in that alley, turning out to be less of a danger than the Hong Kong PD, which was on Annie’s trail before Auggie chartered her (apparently in about a split-second) a comfortable boat to escape on.  Meanwhile, Joan gave birth to a healthy boy, Arthur recovered from a gunshot wound, and all was right with the world.

It all felt more like a series finale than one for the season, but Covert Affairs has already been renewed for next year.  The ratings, until a finale bump last night, had been sliding, with total viewership the week before down 25% from the season premiere, although 18-49s were more stable.  Covert Affairs can probably hold around there for a while, but unless Corman and Ord can come up with something to liven the series up, it might make sense to start figuring out an endgame.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."