Stars: Piper Perabo, Christopher Gorham, Kari Matchett, Anne Dudek, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Peter Gallagher
Writers:
Matt Corman & Chris Ord
Director:
Kate Woods
Network:
USA, Tuesdays @ 10 PM
Airdate:
June 7, 2011

When we last saw COVERT AFFAIRS heroine CIA undercover operative Annie Walker (Piper Perabo), she had just successfully completed a mission, but her also-spy boyfriend Ben Mercer (Eion Bailey) got shot during the process. Good news: Ben is recovering with Annie loyally at his side. Bad news: the military hospital where Ben is healing gets invaded by assassins, and Annie and Ben have to escape.

In “Begin the Begin,” While Ben continues to convalesce, Annie is put on the case of an Estonian criminal, whose mistress Nadia is both a tennis champ and a CIA asset (informant). Annie first thinks that the Estonian is endangering Nadia, then that Nadia is an assassin sent to kill the Estonian. Turns out it’s Nadia’s tennis coach who is the hit woman, and Annie rescues Nadia while Auggie (Christopher Gorham) escorts the Estonian to safety. Meanwhile, the job of boss Arthur Campbell (Peter Gallagher) continues to be imperiled by an assault in the press, eventually causing Arthur and his wife, fellow CIA high-up Joan (Kari Matchett) to hire a high-priced lawyer.

After Ben disappears from his hospital bed, Annie makes an unauthorized visit to Joan, asking where Ben is. Joan confirms (by not saying much) that Ben is safe. Ben is in fact conversing with Arthur, who offers Ben an autonomous CIA gig, like the one he used to have. Ben wants to see Annie, but Arthur says that would be too dangerous for both of them – though if Ben comes back, Arthur will see what he can do down the line. When the conversation ends, Arthur is satisfied that Ben will indeed return to the Agency.

Tone is even more crucial than usual in something like COVERT AFFAIRS, where multiple story plates are spinning at all times. We need to be concerned about the espionage situations without stopping to question the likelihood of their resolutions, we need to enjoy the flirtation between Annie and her multiple admirers without feeling that anybody is being obnoxious, we need to get a sense of Annie’s home life with her sister (Anne Dudek) without being overwhelmed by it and, above all, we need to be able to follow what’s going on and enjoy it.

Writers Matt Corman & Chris Ord, who created the series, do all of these deftly here, and director Kate Woods keeps the pace bouncing along. It’s a sign of a good show where, when we move from one set of characters to another, we don’t feel interrupted, but rather happy to see more familiar faces. Such is the case here. Annie, Auggie, Arthur, Joan and fellow operative Jai (Sendhil Ramamurthy) are all engaging company, given consistently good dialogue and buoyed by strong performances. The episode marks a welcome return of a good series that makes its mix of drama and comedy look effortless and feel right.

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