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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Covert Affairs: "Sad Professor"

Illustration for article titled Covert Affairs: "Sad Professor"
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Okay, raise your hand if you guessed the entire plot of this episode before anything ever actually happened? Everyone out there have your hands up? That’s what I thought. After two weeks of good to almost great episodes, Covert Affairs takes a big step back with the limp and predictable “Sad Professor.” The funny part is, it wasn’t offensively bad – overall, it was a perfectly competent hour of television, if you stopped watching television around 1985 – but after demonstrating last week that they can still have a lot of fun with stale plots, this was nothing but a boring bust of an episode.

Annie’s mission this week hits especially close to home when her former Georgetown advisor Mark Ramsey is found murdered, and she learns he had been an undercover CIA operative for the last 20 years. Considering in the pilot he was the one trying to talk Annie out of joining the agency, this comes as quite the shock to her. So much so that, when Joan reveals he was the one who originally recommended Annie to the agency, she is floored. Annie’s character has always been an amorphous mix of completely savvy and totally naïve, but for her to not have even entertained this notion before it is presented to her point blank is ridiculous and points to one of the fatal flaws in the show as a whole. Who do they want Annie to be? What sort of character growth do they think they’ve presented since the series began? Her characterization is so inconsistent week to week that it’s honestly hard to tell.

Due to Annie’s personal connection, she is tasked to go to his widow Sofia and inform her of Mark’s double life as an agent so they can retrieve the last intelligence transmission he was supposed to make before he was killed by the Pakistani militants he was collecting information against. The CIA can’t find the intelligence they’re looking for (and neither can the militants, who toss the widow’s house looking for it) until they discover a hidden safe deposit box containing mementos from Mark and Sofia’s life together.  Sofia is also Pakistani, by the way, but I doubt that strange coincidence will come up later, right? Oh, wait, it totally does. She steals Mark’s wedding vows from the box, which to Joan signals she was a secret plant from the Pakistani group all along.

At this point, Annie’s super keen “not a real bad guy” sense tingles, though, and she does an investigation of her own until she proves Sofia is just a grieving wife. They find the information they were looking for hidden in the wedding vows Sofia finally turns over. Before they can get them back to the CIA, however, they run into the innocuous student Annie conversed with back at Mark’s wake, who of course we knew was evil all along because Annie doesn’t talk to random people. That’s not how this show works. Luckily, she catches on to his ulterior motives right away and, in the most fun sequence of the episode, dispatches with the bad guys handily. (Seriously, the karate kick on the spiral stairs was all kinds of awesome.)

Everything about this made sense. There were fewer plot holes than in a normal episode, at least as far as I could tell as a generally plot-challenged individual. But still, absolutely nothing about it was exciting, surprising or original – or frankly, very fun. The one thing it did do was advance Annie’s plot on the home front, as she confronts conflicted feelings about telling her increasingly suspicious sister what she really does for a living. This was spurned on by the realization that Mark Ramsey tried to talk her out of joining the agency because he wanted to save her a life of having to lie to the people she loved. It’s a classic “case parallels the agent’s real life” story, and although it threw one too many large objects at the audience’s head in the process, it was probably necessary for the show to do this in order to give Anne Dudek something to do. Annie hasn’t done the spilling yet, but she made the decision to, so here’s looking out to see what happens in next week’s season finale.

Stray observations:

  • Poor Clarke Peters. Here's hoping his residual check was more than $0.12.
  • Do you think the writers are looking at R.E.M. song titles and writing episodes backwards from there? “Hey, ‘Sad Professor!’ Annie talked with a professor in the pilot. LET’S DO THIS.”
  • I’m visiting my mother this week, and this was her first time watching the show. She was decidedly unimpressed, derisively uttering “well, that was easy” at the ending. My mom is smart.
  • If you’re trying to escape evil hit men do you leave the location they just vacated as well so they can easily find you on the street? Or do you stay put in your hidden spot, like a sane person? I know what I would pick.
  • Don’t even get me started on the “cell phone out of range as a plot point” situation. They didn’t even need it as a plot point! Why mention it at all? Argh.
  • Jai got some action this week, literally. My mother: “That doesn’t seem very professional.”
  • “It probably doesn’t help that he was a fan of the ellipses.” “Double dash now and then would be nice.”
  • “She cannot be a spy. This is a woman who made me Tollhouse cookies.”
  • “Dude, are you eating a sandwich?”