By Grady Smith
Updated July 28, 2010 at 01:40 PM EDT
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Image Credit: Steve Wilkie/USA NetworkCovert Affairs’ third episode, “South Bound Suarez,” was the show’s first foray into the international field, and after last week’s stellar installment, which focused heavily on character development and set up some big-picture questions, I had high expectations. However, this episode — from its very first seconds — was all about the mystery-of-the-week, which was sort of a letdown. I mean, for a story set in Venezuela, I would have hoped for a little more spice (and a lot less procedural drama), but it was still an entertaining hour of TV. Watching Annie Walker learn the ropes of being a CIA agent on the job is an absolute pleasure. But enough rambling — let’s get to the recap! Keep scrolling “south,” where you’re “bound” to find a write-up that “Suarez” fun to read! (Just embrace it.)

In medias res. “The middle of things.” That’s what my high school English teacher always used to say. “Start your story right in the middle of things, Grady.” Now, if I’m remembering correctly, I don’t believe Doug Liman or any of the other producers from Covert Affairs were in my English class, but judging from this episode, they got the same memo — and it applies to Spanish, too! Indeed, our episode opened in medias res, with Annie playing a pickup soccer game at Georgetown University. I was initially a little confused about whether we were watching a flashback or if Annie was actually still a college student, but it turned out that neither of those things were the case—Annie (who we learned is 28) was already on assignment, wooing a Venezuelan boy named Diego. The opening scene was interspliced with shots in Caracas, where an unknown man named Lopez was murdered, which made things rather confusing.

But who cares? All that matters is that the still-awesome opening credits are here!

I don’t know—maybe I’ve been trained by other procedural shows to need context before delving into a mystery, but I think I would’ve preferred being introduced to the case before seeing it start to get solved. Give us some of the CIA planning! Part of being a spy is taking the time to assume a new identity, immerse yourself in a new world, and earn people’s trust. That’s the kind of deception and strategy that I want to see Annie learning, and though this episode covereda heckuva lot of ground, it had me wishing there was more room (or more episodes) to fully cover the extremely ambitious story. Here’s the very abridged version of what happened:

Annie traveled to Venezuela with Diego to meet his sister, Julia. Julia was inadvertently helping a powerful business man named Victor steal a whole lot of money, and Annie needed to tag his account to prevent that from happening in the future. Unfortunately, Julia didn’t believe that Victor was a bad man. When Annie arrived in Venezuela, she learned that the agent that was supposed to be on assignment with her (the aforementioned Lopez) had been killed, so she was on her own. After acquainting herself with Julia and Victor, they all went out to lunch, where they talked about her Smithsonian alibi. Victor then took Annie for a drive in his Ferrari, which he bizarrely forced her to drive at alarmingly high speeds. It turns out that Victor had set up a roadblock to trap Annie, who then got shot in the arm, but she ended up throwing Victor out of the car. She headed back to the bank with Julia, something about a “fob” and a password happened, the women accessed the account, Julia lamented about leaving Victor, and a bearded cabbie drove Diego and the women to the airport. All was well, right? WRONG! Once back in the states, it turned out that a depressed Julia was still stealing money for both her Venezuelan orphanage and her suitor Victor. She met with Victor at the airport to travel back to Venezuela, but upon getting in his car, she was strangled by a man in the back seat. A CIA agent shot shot both the strangler and Victor, and a devastated Julia survived.

Phew! That was a lot of case work to get through! Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I would’ve liked to learn more about our core cast of characters (and don’t worry, I’ll get there), but I do have to give Covert Affairs credit for its great action sequences. The ending to the whole Ferrari sequence (which had some really beautiful on-the-road shots) was just awesome—when Annie started cutting doughnuts and threw Victor out of the car, it was exhilarating. I also loved when the CIA agent shot the two baddies through the back windshield of Victor’s car. Nice aim, unnamed agent!

Still, impressive though it may be, action will never impress me as much as solid character development, and while we got a fair amount of that this episode, almost all of it revolved around Julia and Diego, two characters we’ll never see again. Much more intriguing to me was Annie’s reaction to Julia. Even as Annie claimed that she had built walls to protect her heart from getting too attached to men like Victor, you could feel that Ben was on her mind. That wound’s not healed at all, and I’m dying to learn more about their story. Also fascinating to me was Auggie’s pent-up desire to get back out into the field, which led him to monitor Diego (against orders) at Georgetown. Anyone else hoping for a flashback of Auggie’s agent life before he became blind? Maybe a young Joan flashback too?

All in all, I really did enjoy the hour, but I think the episode felt overstuffed. The gigantically complex Julia/Diego/Victor storyline took time away from the main characters on the show, and because there was so much to fit into one hour, sometimes the pace and transitions were uneven. (Look, we’re in Venezuela! Now, we’re at Georgetown! Wait, what?) Characters that I’m truly interested in, like Joan, Jai, and Arthur, got little to no screen time, and because everything was moving so quickly, and Annie felt more like a detective than a spy. Don’t worry, though—I’m still fully on board with Covert Affairs. For a series in its third episode, it remains hugely fun, and according to Twitter, a lot of you thought this was the best episode yet! Eh, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

Lingering questions/Notes of interest

++ Jai was watching Annie when she was talking to Diego in the park. Was that on Joan’s order or Arthur’s?

++ Who is Ben? Where is Ben? And does he still reminisce with his pookah shell bracelet?

++ We got a glimpse of Danielle’s husband! No words, though…

++ Where was Music Guy Girl?! (According to producer Gavin Barclay, her name is Stacy) USA launched an episode music guide on their site, but “South Bound Suarez” was lacking in groovy tunes!

++ Arthur, please come back!

++ I loved that Annie whipped out a Thierry Henry reference after the soccer game. I don’t blame Diego for being smitten!

++ Not really related to the episode, but Covert Affairs‘ ratings increased to a big 5.2 million viewers last week. Looks like we’ll get to enjoy this for a while!

What did you think of Covert Affairs? Are you still loving this spy series?

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