Episode Title: "Begin the Begin"
Writers: Matt Corman & Chris Ord
Director: Kate Woods
Previously on "Covert Affairs":
Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) was drafted into active CIA missions several months before her training was complete. Annie's promotion was in part to draw out her former lover, Ben Mercer (Eion Bailey), a rogue spy who sometimes intervened on her behalf during dangerous missions. During Annie's most recent mission in Sri Lanka, Ben proved his loyalty to her and he was shot in back as they tried to escape. As the first season ended, Ben's survival was greatly in question…
In flashback we see Annie and U.S. personnel rushing Ben to a military hospital in Guam. We also see Annie parade around in a bikini on a beach while Ben watches from his wheelchair. Later at the military hospital, Annie becomes alarmed when Ben's nurse slips out of the room undetected. Practically dragging Ben out of bed, Annie narrowly avoids two assassins who spray Ben's now unoccupied bed with bullets. Running past other patients and doctors who either can't hear the gunfire (or they're ignoring it), Annie gets Ben outside just in time for apparently the lone U.S. soldier on duty to mow down the assassins with an AK-47.
Leaving Guam in a hurry, Annie and Ben return to the U.S., where they're met by… Mohinder Suresh! Oh wait… no. It's actually Jai Wilcox (Sendhil Ramamurthy), Ben's ex-handler. Ben taunts Jai, leading Jai to respond that Ben is an "a**hole." Love that basic cable language. As Ben gets settled into his new hospital, Annie is called back into active duty. Before meeting her harpy of a boss, Joan Campbell (Kari Matchett); Annie runs into her blind friend and quasi-mentor, Auggie (Christopher Gorham). Annie also learns that her guest house has been broken into while she was gone, and she alerts Auggie to the possible security breach.
For her first mission back, Annie is assigned to make contact with Nadia Levandi (Marija Karan), a CIA Asset who happens to be a professional tennis player. Under the full view of Nadia's lover (and "Estonian mobster") Alo Morozov (James McGowan), Nadia fumbles the scripted exchange with Annie, leading Annie to believe that Nadia's life is in danger. Auggie and Joan don't believe that Nadia's slip up means anything. But Annie continues to investigate and even sneaks into Nadia's steam room, where Nadia essentially tells her to bugger off. Nadia even tries to cut off her ties to the CIA despite an offer of amnesty.
Meanwhile, Auggie expresses his doubts about Annie's mental state, as he reveals that her house wasn't bugged and that everything isn't a giant conspiracy. And yet Ben disappears under mysterious circumstances, which Annie correctly interprets as the CIA's doing. Despite seemingly being level headed, Annie goes slightly off her rocker when she assumes that the only reason that Nadia turned down her offer of protection is that she is an assassin looking to kill Morozov for Russian interests. When Annie tries to have Morozov placed in protective custody, she learns that Nadia's coach is the actual assassin.
Annie leads Nadia to safety and subdues the coach, but because Nadia doesn't have anything of value for the CIA, she gets only sanctuary but no financial compensation for leaving professional tennis behind. Incredibly, she seems to be okay with the idea of now being able to eat as much chocolate as she wants. Later, Arthur Campbell (Peter Gallagher) meets up with a still recovering Ben and offers him an official job with the CIA, but he cuts off Ben's contact with Annie in the process.
"Covert Affairs" was a show I gave up on pretty early last season. I watched a few episodes and then I never came back. But I heard some good things about it and I wanted to give it another chance this year.
And I have to say that starting off the season with Piper Perabo parading around in a bikini was a nice way to go. But just because the lead actress is very attractive doesn't mean that I'll stick around if I'm not entertained.
On that front, I have some bad news. Half of the episode is good and the other half is not. It's never as horrible as "Undercovers" got last fall and there are at least a few moments when Annie and Ben seem like they're legitimately in danger. But while the Annie and Ben plot held my attention, the secondary storyline with Nadia was pretty bad. And I mean really, really bad.
To start, nothing about the Nadia storyline made sense. It was never quite clear what kind of hold the coach held over Nadia and it just seemed hard to buy her as someone who would be a CIA asset. There was one good moment of tension where Annie rushed in to save Nadia from what turned out to be a party. And I enjoyed Annie's method of tailing Nadia's car by driving in front of her. However, nothing about Nadia clicked in any way that made her character believable. At the end, she's literally relieved that she can now eat chocolate without worrying about staying in shape for competition. "The Estonian heart is black," she says. "We know when fate has turned on us.” WTF?!
The initial storyline with Annie and Ben was a lot more fun, if slightly improbable at the hospital. It's interesting that someone wants Ben dead so badly that they sent gunmen into a U.S. military hospital. But how the hell did no one else in the hospital react to all of that gunfire? They can't all be in on it!
There was also a subplot about the break-in at Annie's home that actually got some good comedic moments, like the CIA's method of briefly scarring Annie's sister into leaving the home so they could scan for bugs and Auggie's best Matt Murdock impression on the kids who were actually behind the theft. I'd actually argue that the show needs more of those legitimately funny elements. There's nothing wrong with mixing comedy and drama together on a show. But the drama really needs to be punched up here.
If the Nadia storyline is an example of what "Covert Affairs" is going to do with its A-plots, then I'll be checking out again very quickly. But for now, I'm willing to stick around and see where the show goes in the second season.
Crave Online Rating: 6.5 out of 10.