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Recent television history is filled with examples of memorable episodes which shift focus from the protagonist to a supporting character: Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “The Zeppo,” Heroes’ “Company Man,” Supernatural’s “Weekend at Bobby’s” (heck, even Greek had a winner with “All About Beav.”) Covert Affairs embraces this trope with both arms and gives it a big old bear hug in the Auggie-focused “Half a World Away,” resulting in the best episode of the season so far and one of the better of the series as a whole.

Listen, I’ve made my gripes with the show perfectly clear over the past few weeks, so I doubt my affection for this change of pace is a surprise. Still, they did a few things tonight that, if built upon and incorporated more in the future, could add up to a significantly improved show. An episode explaining Auggie’s backstory has been preordained practically since the series began, so it was nice to get one that didn’t disappoint and even showed a way where it would be possible to integrate him more into the action and get him out from behind a boring computer.

The initial setup to launch the backstory was kind of hokey: Auggie, apparently an audiophile with an affinity towards recording performances, sets off for his yearly visit to the Istanbul Jazz Festival. Amidst his enjoyment of the music and private time with the lovely flight attendant (Rebecca Mader) he meets on the trip over, he hears the voice of Afran Felat Khani, the terrorist who blinded him, on his recording of the festival. Auggie immediately becomes obsessed with finding Khani, enlisting Annie’s help back in the office to do so. In the process, we also get flashbacks to his time in Baghdad, which he seems to have spent 90% shirtless. (I totally understand – it’s REALLY HOT in the desert.) When he wasn’t shirtless, he and his crew were dispatched to take care of terrorist “Jack of Diamonds”, during which Auggie attempted to save a few of his fellow soldiers from a bomb and got blinded in the process.

The most compelling part of the story takes place mostly in Auggie’s head, as he wrestles with what to do about Khani. Annie urges him to turn Khani over to the FBI, who have been building a case against him for years and can shut down several terrorist cells with his capture. Auggie, however, can’t seem to shake the need for retribution and the urge to make Khani pay for his fellow soldiers lost in the bombing, along with the loss he suffered when being blinded compromised both his career and his life as he knew it. Gorham does a good job selling Auggie’s dilemma, as he’s always been an actor capable of so much more than what he is given. Although it’s fairly obvious the show isn’t going to make their most likeable character a murderer, there is enough doubt there to cause legitimate tension until Auggie sheaths his knife and settles for turning Khani over to the FBI over retribution.

Especially effective this week was the spy work, made fun because it was largely facilitated by a civilian. Auggie’s instant chemistry with Mader’s flight attendant character made their interactions seem effortless, even if it was a bit unbelievable a woman like her would so easily be amenable to going on what were obviously spy missions without asking any questions. Auggie setting her up with a bug while listening in the car was a smart way to get around the obvious obstacle of having a blind man on a mission, and him directing her how to tail a car was equally amusing.

Most impressive, though, was the fight scene in the cargo plane. It’s hard to conceptualize how a blind man could ever win in a fight with a sighted man, but the directing and fight choreography made the entire sequence suspenseful and exciting, something the show has struggled with in the past. Auggie wins, but it’s a struggle and they don’t shy away from how his disability hinders his skills. (The touch of the directional microphone with the noise canceling headphones was especially keen.)

Although due to personal bias I might think it is a little bit true, I’m not going to simply dismiss the show as hopeless and advocate for Auggie as the lead character over Annie based on this one episode. Yes, he is inherently a more interesting character but if you had a blind former Special Forces agent on any spy show, I doubt another character would have a chance at topping that combination on the “interesting” meter. What I do think this episode shows, however, is how much the show could gain by letting all of their characters step out of their boxes a little bit and roam free. Auggie is a great character and Christopher Gorham is a good and charismatic actor, and to have him shackled to a computer screen talking to Annie over a headset for 30 minutes each week just seems like a waste. Send them off on missions together, perhaps! They could even bring in Jai and send all three of them on a mission, while Reva stays behind and does the computer business in the office! Call me, writers!

As “Half a World Away” proves yet again, Covert Affairs has all of the pieces of the puzzle. It’s just getting them to put them together into a cohesive whole every week that’s holding them back.

Stray observations:

  • The location work this week was stellar. Unlike the Paris episode, which at times felt like Canada-for-Paris (even though they shot on location), the location scout and director really did a bang-up job here.
  • Auggie is such a ladies’ man, which works because Christopher Gorham is one charming dude. I enjoyed that his history of casual encounters worked to his advantage in the mission and simply felt like something Auggie does when in Istanbul. Record Turkish jazz singer, check. Bed incredibly gorgeous woman, check.
  • The football scene: purposeful or accidental homage to Top Gun? Or just sheer objectification without subtext?
  • “Want more scenes of shirtless Auggie? #covertaffairs.” USA certainly knows where its bread is buttered. (Note: I totally went to this hashtag and there were no more scenes of shirtless Auggie. LIARS.)