Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Covert Affairs Just Gets Better and Better

First of all, my deepest apologies for a fortnight of not-posting. I have no desire to make excuses, but for the sake of information the blog was overshadowed by family, sickness, and Wimbledon (Congratulations Mr. Novak Djokovic on a spectacular tournament!) Needless to say, I am back now and I hope you all had a lovely July 4th weekend.

Naturally upon returning to my humble Brooklyn apartment after two weeks of absence, my DVR was nearly panting with exhaustion from the (over)load it was carrying. The only thing I had watched since early June was Wimbledon, which, if you're not familiar, is the most magical time of the year and I have become quite adept at finding a way to view nearly every match, be it at home, bars, or surreptitiously on the work computer. Therefore, coming home after a hectic sabbatical and depositing my rotundity squarely on the couch, my completely-worth-it flatscreen had much to share with me. But where would I start? The finale of Game of Thrones? The so-bad-its-well-still-really-just-bad-but-kinda-shiny True Blood? The return of the tight, well-written, well acted Big C? A guilty pleasure like Rookie Blue or first attempt at Falling Skies?

No, none of those. In truth, when it was all in front of me on a list, it wasn't even a question. The two missed episodes of Covert Affairs joyfully called out to me.

I loved this show immediately when it premiered last summer, but it just keeps getting better. It's the kind of show you would love to write for, unless you would screw things up because it seems as if the writers have hit their stride and know exactly what to do with their show.

So what's improved? For one, the action. The action scenes in the show have always been consistently grounded. That is, they're believable. They don't show skinny Piper Perabo using magic kung-fu to incapacitate three 6'5 Russian thugs, they show her struggling to hold her own for a couple minutes before backup can come and shoot the guy in the chest before he chokes her to death. That's commendable but it did mean that in the first season, the adrenalin levels were a bit low, and the climax to each episode had a tendency to be rather short and slightly boring.

That is the case no longer. Still holding true to the belief that Annie Walker's (Piper Perabo's) greatest weapon is her mind, they merely are placing her in increasingly precipitous situations where she must think fast and act faster. To be clear the missions she gets sent on are entirely believable, another strength of the show. Instead of putting her on a Russian sub, wearing a red wig and trying to get the codes of a nuke before it destroys New York City, Annie Walker gets a routine spy-prisoner exchange that goes disastrously wrong. Seeing her on the run in Argentina is entirely plausible, giving us a creative fight scene while handcuffed to her prisoner as well as a perfect avenue to explore her ingenuity and skill with languages.

The other mission/episode that aired during my hiatus perfectly illustrates both the increase in action quality and the focus on Annie's personal abilities and growing confidence. She gets sent back to the Farm, where CIA trainees are...well, trained, to get evidence that a possibly-traitorous teacher is responsible for exposing the identities of several secret operatives to the public. We get to see Annie back in a training situation where she excels, a novelty we only got a taste of in the pilot, as well as attempting to ferret out the truth among tense, emotional, intelligent people all in a state of extreme competition.

The reveal of the true bad guy, whose identity was not a big surprise, was nonetheless done brilliantly. Annie connected the final dot just before skydiving with the enemy and confronted him. Cue fight scene. He comes at her with a knife, which she evades only to get her chute slashed. When both of them tumble out into the open air, the setting equalizes them, and Annie grapples until she can use a stiff-arm strike to the head to knock him out, and sail his chute down to land. With a perfectly timed commercial break, the scene was bracing, clever and TV gold.

While Covert Affairs still keeps its main focus on Annie Walker, the subplots involving her coworkers are increasingly interesting. The tension of Joan and Arthur's marriage in the wake of massive threats to Arthur's authority, as well as the simmering unease of Jai Wilcox provide a fraught working environment full of potential drama. Most promising, however, is Auggie's promotion, and what it means to the wonderfully close relationship between him and Annie.

The writers of Covert Affairs know what works for them and they stick to it, and while they may avoid large risks and massive cast shake-ups, they are skillfully developing story arcs and exploring the depths of their rich characters. I honestly believe it to be the best show on television this summer, and I heartily encourage you to find and enjoy it.

1 comment:

  1. I do like this show. It's no Burn Notice when it comes to the "what do I watch first" lottery, but it is a lot of fun. As an added bonus, since I grew up in Toronto, I get to play "spot the landmark" in any scene that has the characters in it. And I am quite looking forward to tonight's Torchwood premier.