July 17, 2013

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Covert Affairs”



Last season was an important one for COVERT AFFAIRS, as it transitioned from being a light spy caper about appealing newbie CIA agent Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) to presenting Annie as a serious, more experienced operative.  While no one would confuse it with a LeCarre thriller, the show had a darker edge (Annie’s sister, repository of many silly B-storylines, moved out of both Washington DC and the show), and in form it moved away from case-of-the-week episodes to a more sustained, serialized story.  In the season finale, it also pulled the romantic trigger on Annie’s long-brewing relationship with blind fellow agent Auggie (Christopher Gorham).

Tonight’s season 4 premiere, written by series creators Matt Corman and Chris Ord, and directed by Stephen Kay, picks up–after a brief flash-forward suggesting that Annie is in for violent times ahead–exactly where last season had left off.  In particular, it tells us the details of her meeting at the end of last season with up-to-no-goodnik former Agency official Henry Wilcox (Gregory Itzin), who had recruited her to work with him on the basis of a secret file.  We now know that the file accused Agency Director of Clandestine Servies Arthur Campbell (Peter Gallagher) of funneling funds to a Colombian terrorist group, and even worse, that the account used for the funds was opened by Auggie.  So–road trip!  Annie and Auggie are quickly off to Medellin, where they run afoul of local station chief Calder Michaels (Hill Harper), of whom we’ll certainly be seeing more, since Harper is now a series regular.  They meet purported terrorist Theo (Manolo Cardona), recipient of Arthur’s money, who warns them back to DC and who seems to be in danger himself.

Complicated serialized thrillers often need some time to set things up, and tonight’s premiere episode was mostly concerned with putting things in place for later use.  In furtherance of that, the show detonated several revelations–namely, that Theo is actually Arthur’s secret son, that Arthur’s wife Joan (Kati Matchett), another senior CIA agent, is pregnant, and–just as Henry Wilcox predicted–that Arthur has to resign from the agency, supposedly due to his enigmatic involvement with a mystery woman (Michelle Ryan, last seen in these parts as the misbegottenly rebooted Bionic Woman).  There was also some strong hinting about secrets Auggie is hiding, which will surely be revealed in the course of the season.

It’s too soon to tell whether all this will play out in a satisfying way, and in particular, how serious romance will change the dynamic between Annie and Auggie, whose light banter always livened up past seasons.   It’s good to see, though, that Covert Affairs isn’t reneging on its promise from last season to tell a more mature and cohesive story.  Plotting hasn’t always been the series strong suit, so we’ll see over the course of the season if episodes rely too much on Annie being impulsive and lucky, crutches that may wear less well in an extended storyline.  In any case, Perabo continues to be an engaging lead, the supporting cast is strong, and the show does a notably fine job of simulating locations all over the world on a limited cable budget.

Covert Affairs has been a stable performer for USA, last season mostly scoring in the 0.7-0.9 range among 18-49s, and so far it seems to be on track to hold onto its fans of skullduggery.


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."