Editor's Note: This marks The Plopper's final review on this blog... ever! I'm just kidding, she's been awesome. But seriously, if she ever sends me two completely different versions of the same 20 page article, I'm going to hunt her down and smother her in cake.
Well, here I am, letting out a long, frustrated, conflicted sigh. Episode 4.10 of Covert Affairs, “Levitate Me,” was – in THEORY – a badass episode. In theory.
It had all the individual ingredients for a badass episode, after all: Annie stealing cell phones from small children, Annie faking her own death, acknowledgement that Danielle actually still exists rather than having been sucked into a black hole once she got to San Francisco early last season, some A&A sweet talk, a Radiohead song, a surprise Eyal scene, etc. Even the title of the ep sounds super cool. Oh, and fiiinnally the focus of the ep was back on our main character, with some good Auggie & Joan scenes as well. Every single one of these ingredients, taken on its own, is awesome. If I had seen the Danielle postcard scene or the Eyal scene on their own, out of context, I would be completely engaged by them. But when all these ingredients were added together to make episode 4.10, the final product still somehow managed to come out of the oven just ... a bit half-baked for me.
Why?? What’s wrong with me?? I mean seriously, is it me?? Am I just expecting too much out of this show? I should go back and watch these first 10 eps of season 4 in order again during the month hiatus. Because as I see it now ... everything was humming along quite nicely through 4.06. I had my quibbles with those eps, as I always do, but overall, the storylines made sense. The character motivations made sense. I was WITH these guys. I was with their plight. I felt their struggles and their happiness and pain and everything along with them. I was on the same wavelength with both heart and mind. And then, ep 4.07 happened. And 4.08. And 4.09. And we started to go down a weird path. Strange things started happening, and they didn’t stop.
A random guest character who we’d spent almost zero time with previously (Helen), convinced Annie to make major life decisions after only a couple fairly robotic conversations. Annie and Auggie broke up for no good reason. A&A decided their breakup was a mistake, but with no explanation. Teo took over an entire episode (two eps, sorta) and we kind of forgot who the star(s) of the show was (were). Teo died right after we got to know him, but OFF camera and with almost zero time devoted to it. Henry continued to be the puppetmaster behind ALL of this, but without ever giving a great explanation as to WHY he blames our characters for his son’s death. Annie & Auggie acted like star-crossed lovers with insurmountable barriers between them, but I wasn’t quite sure why those barriers were so insurmountable. Annie risked her entire *life and career* to avenge the death of a guy she was friendly acquaintances with, at best (Teo), and to help out her (ex)boss Arthur. (A boss who, let’s not forget, was ready to sell her down the river in two seconds when she was in that coma accused of treason last season). And finally in the end, Annie literally went through with giving up her *entire* life and identity because of the mess she had now gotten herself into with all this crap.
I don’t know what’s happening here. I don’t feel like I’ve been with these characters in much of what they’ve been doing since ep 4.07. I feel like I’ve been watching them do a bunch of shit, but none of it makes much sense. It’s like I’m observing from outside but I don’t entirely speak their language. It makes it all seem haphazard, and it results in me not being totally invested in it. It lessens the impact of all of it for me by a huge amount.
Can we step back and take a moment to compare eps 4.07-10 with LAST season’s equivalent eps, 3.07-10? Why did those eps in S3 have SUCH an impact on me mentally and emotionally, while these ones from S4 did not? They actually had some major similarities. Last season, Simon was in the Teo role. I’ve been complaining that this season, the “Teo Braga Saga” ep(s) leading into Teo’s death felt like an obvious manipulation to me. But if you think about it, ep 3.07 last year was EXACTLY the same thing, but for Simon instead. Cuba, a.k.a. “the ep where we really get to know Simon Fischer right before they kill him,” was an extremely similar story structure. So then why did THAT story work so well for me while these S4 episodes did not??
Here is my diagnosis: Annie’s struggle in those S3 episodes was PERSONAL. The eps where we got to know Simon were not actually about Simon so much as they were about ANNIE, and her journey into this new weird space where she was trying to work a long con on a target for the first time ever, but she was also kinda falling in love with him. It was about HER journey in both her career and personal life, with Simon as an integral part. When Simon was killed, ANNIE was affected by that in every way possible, both mentally because she had fallen in love with him and also physically when she was nearly killed too, not to mention being betrayed/framed by her own boss to boot. So then by ep 3.10, when Annie was out to get Lena in Russia, we were SO WITH her. We were with her in every step she took because we got the full impact of all of this on her character, and by proxy we felt it *with* her. And we felt Auggie and Joan’s struggles as well, as people who care about her. And then that final showdown scene between Annie and Lena in that cabin in the woods in Russia was AMAZING. It was completely badass because everything had built to that moment in a very clear and meaningful way.
Now let’s look at S4. Who has this season actually been *about*?? For the first 6 eps, it seemed like it was about Annie and Auggie and their struggles with everything going on around them, including Henry. It felt like it was told from their perspective. They were doing well in their personal lives, but their work life was clearly becoming a huge issue. Ep 4.07 should have been focused on them as well, but it ended up being more focused on Helen, and the way the story was told there just didn’t accomplish its goal of convincing us that A&A would break up over the events in that ep. And then suddenly eps 4.08 and 9 just seemed to to focus away from Annie & Auggie entirely. Suddenly Teo and Arthur were the stars of the show, and A&A and Joan were just supporting characters. Annie was like an impartial third party, a therapist and go-between for Teo and Arthur in their struggle with Henry. She was just on the sidelines looking vaguely concerned and trying to help. The last scene of 4.09 is what really cemented this for me: It ended with Arthur watching Henry kind of speak to him through the television. It was like the “Henry vs. Arthur” element of the season kind of came out and took center stage and said, “Yes that’s right, I am the star of season 4!!”
How did Annie relate to any of this other than having gotten herself pulled into it by letting Henry manipulate her with that damn folder in scene 1 of the season?? It’s been established that this woman is WAYY too dedicated to her job, so I GET that, don’t get me wrong. But these last couple eps leading into 4.10 have just been so focused AWAY from her and her motivations that all of this stuff started to feel impersonal to me and I felt myself disconnecting from it. I know Annie’s relationship with Teo was supposed to have been established as something that would have sent her over the point of no return when Henry framed Teo and then when Teo died, but as usual the writers were trying to shove so many plot points into these episodes that we just didn’t get enough time devoted to that relationship and story, or Annie’s personal investment in it, for it to be convincing. It was like somehow Arthur and Teo’s family therapist (i.e. Annie) began fighting all their battles FOR them, but I wasn’t ever fully convinced as to why she cared so much about her “patients” that she’d risk her entire LIFE AND CAREER to become their own personal warrior against Henry.
At some point in ep 4.10, Annie makes a statement to Auggie that Henry is also responsible for breaking them up, so that was another way the writers were trying to establish her personal stake in all of this. But was their break-up *really* Henry’s fault? Assuming we’re to buy the reason A&A broke up to begin with, wouldn’t Helen have been someone who could have shown up at any point and broken them up in this exact same way on her own?? Henry may have been the catalyst to speed this up, but he was NOT the actual cause of the root problem to begin with. Their jobs are going to be stressful and challenging to their relationship no matter what after all; if it’s not Henry it’ll just be someone or something else. I just didn’t buy that as being a valid personal motivator for Annie to *quite* this extreme extent.
So then, all of this somehow culminates in Annie pushing herself into such a corner in eps 4.09 and 4.10 that her career is about to be obliterated unless she can find some sort of permanent way out of the whole mess. Calder somehow goes from “I’m bringing you in for possible treason” to “O.k. I’ll help you fake your death so you can keep working to bring down Henry” in a SPLIT SECOND with exactly ZERO screentime devoted to how he gets there. Yes, we had Auggie making progress on convincing Calder of Henry’s evilness leading into it, but at that moment in time in his convo with Annie, he clearly still needed more convincing. And yet, what Annie says to him in this scene somehow does the trick, magically, but we don’t know exactly how, because apparently the writers (or editors) didn’t have enough time in this ep to devote to that part of the story.
And then, we wind up with a final sequence starting with Annie’s letter to Danielle and ending with that great Eyal scene that SHOULD have been fucking amazing. It should have been just as amazing and ass-kicking as that final showdown with Lena in 3.10. That Annie/Eyal scene *was* amazing out of context. Out of context, I LOVED it. But IN context, it just didn’t feel properly earned. I didn’t fully see how we got there. I didn’t feel like I was with Annie’s struggle, or feeling her feels in every damn thing that led INTO it. I was left outside of Annie’s head this time, unlike last season.
My cousin put it quite well in a text to me about that scene: “It made me sad and nostalgic for the character connections of yesteryear.” EXACTLY. This scene actually depressed me. I just watched the ep for the 2nd time and it actually seriously got me choked up. It bums me out like hell because it gives me a flash of how brilliant, and emotionally and mentally impactful this all COULD have been, if anything building UP to it had made sense and resonated with me. Because like I said, in *theory*, Annie being forced into a position where she has to fake her own death and go dark/rogue IS FUCKING AWESOME. This sets us up for something that COULD be amazing and ass-kicking in the back 6 episodes. But my confusion on how the hell we got to this point makes me feel like both my heart and brain have been pushed out of the whole thing. It’s like I’m looking at a list of ingredients that could blow my mind if they were combined together in a way that made sense and gelled, by some master chef who could turn them into a masterpiece. But they just ... weren’t this time. Not this season. Not in these first 10 eps, at least. I was teased for the first 6 eps into thinking we were on our way there, but then somehow the train went off the tracks and it never quite got back on. And I’m fucking BUMMED about it.
Just a few random thoughts before my grade:
- Annie spelling out “LMFAO” in the IMing scene had me LMFAO.
- Another issue I’ve had with CA S4 is that I’ve been able to see nearly every “twist” coming from miles away lately. It seems like the last major turn we were shocked by was when Annie killed Seth, and that was way back in ep 4.02. And in that vein, I dunno how effective it was to put in that second flash-forward to the elevator scene in 4.05. It had us guessing that Annie would fake her death, but I would MUCH rather the writers have spent the eps leading into 4.10 focusing on properly building up to HOW Annie would come to that massively monumental decision about her life to begin with. Bring us into her head, guys!! She is the MAIN character, right?? Why does this seem so impossible lately??
- BOTH Katie and Shelby point this out to me and it’s a great point: What the hell was the deal with the scene where Annie steals the clothes in the store to change her outfit?? The new outfit looked almost exactly the same as the old one!! And she had already miraculously gotten the blood stains out of the original one!! Did she just want slightly cuter clothes for the rest of her mission??
- Auggie putting Henry in a headlock. BWAHAHA.
- The CIA putting THAT much trust in Henry at this point, after previously being imprisoned for treason?? Come ON man.
GRADE: O.k. hold up. Now that I’ve seen all 10 eps of the summer season, these are the grades I’d give each ep:
I know I changed some of them, but now that I see where it was all headed, I’m realizing that maybe I was too optimistic on a few of these before seeing the rest of the season. 4.10 as a standalone episode would get a higher grade because it was a very entertaining ep, but taken in context of the whole season leading into it, it’s a lot less effective.
I have a feeling a lot you might disagree with me on this. A lot of you probably thought 4.10 was super kick-ass and you’re gonna wonder why I have to be such a freakin’ downer. Well, I dunno why. But season 3 (the first 11 or 12 eps) set my expectations of this show REALLY high. Maybe I should have kept them lower?? Sigh. Tell me in the comments.