State of Affairs series premiere recap: 'Pilot'
You know the old trope: High-ranking successful person is brilliant at her day-job, but messy and terrible in her personal life. State of Affairs manages to turn that idea on its head by… Nope. Not doing that. High-Ranking Successful Messy Personal Life person just happens to be Katherine Heigl this time.
The pilot opens with Heigl’s Charleston Tucker (with a name like that, I half expect her to be swilling sweet tea and conniving with Frank Underwood) at her shrink’s home office, remembering the events of the attack that killed her fiance. In a quick-cut action-sequence flashback to one year ago in Kabul, Afghanistan, we see the attack on their convoy through Charleston’s eyes: constant fire; explosions; her fiancé, Aaron, yelling at her to get down; his mother the president being pulled out of the back of their SUV; the vehicle being hit and overturned; someone dragging Charleston from the scene; Aaron, yelling for her as he’s hit by bullet, presumably killed in that instant. She crawls from the scene, clearly missing pieces of her memory of the events.
“You’re repressing something,” the shrink surmises when Charlie—we’re just going to call her Charlie from now on—refuses to keep sorting out the details. “You’re making omissions from your memory of that day.”
“I remember!” Charleston counters. “I remember!” Right. Where would the storyline go if that were really the case?
The psychiatrist’s other point of concern? How Charlie is handling the stress. Seems like “reckless personal behavior” (downing shots at some dingy bar with a handsome stranger seems like a frequent occurrence) is one of her coping mechanisms. You know what her bar trick is? The one her dad taught her? To flick a bottle cap and hit shit. This trick works! The guy went home with her!
“Do you consider yourself sexually irresponsible?” the good shrink asks.
“Occasionally,” Charlie replies coyly, as if she were at a middle school sleepover playing truth or dare and she picked truth and her girlfriends decided to ask if she ever fantasized about kissing the gym teacher. “What’s wrong with that?”
“Always going out—drinking, partying,” the shrink admonishes her. “I don’t think any good can come from that.”
“Well, good doesn’t have to come,” Charlie counters, as she sits up on the couch and spreads her arms across the back, looking quite smug and pleased with herself. “I do.” Boom. Charlie Tucker, everyone. She’ll be here all week.
NEXT: Charlie goes to the office, proves she’s not a complete wreck!
So now that we have the basis of Charlie’s personal life established—dead fiance, rotating cast of hot randos in her bed that she kicks out at 1:30 a.m. because she has to be at work by 2 a.m. (what kind of one-night stand is that? That’s, like, the hours that booty calls are being made, not sent packing!)—it’s time to see what an ace she is at work. Today at Langley, she meets a new CIA briefer in the elevator, Lucas Newsome. She immediately tells him he looks too old for his job. Also, he mentions he went to UNC-Chapel Hill. “Ah, a Tar Heel,” Charlie says, raising an eyebrow. “Duke Blue Devil.” Oh man, college sport rivalries. Now I’m hooked. “Isn’t it great that you can hate someone for no real reason right off the bat?” Lucas replies. Hot damn! She negs him; he has a saucy reply. Calling it now: He’ll be a notch on her bedpost by mid-season.
Quick round of intros at the office: Maureen, Kurt, and Dashiell. They’re all briefers. They all love her. I’m sure they’ll be important later. Collectively, Charlie and the other briefers have six hours each morning to scout the world for reports of legitimate threats, laugh at the dumbass terrorists who accidentally blew themselves up during a training mission, and then write a concise report which is delivered to POTUS at 8 a.m.
All seems calm until mid-meeting when Al Jazeera publishes a new video from a refugee camp in Kenya, one of an American doctor being abducted by a terrorist cell. The doctor looks eerily like Charlie’s dead fiance, a point lost on no one except Lucas, the newbie. “This guy has less than 12 hours to live,” Charlie assesses. “This is now front-of-the-book.”
Charlie takes Lucas to meet his new boss, CIA Director Skinner. (Note: Each analyst briefs a specific higher-up. Charlie, as the HBIC, briefs the president. Lucas will be briefing the CIA director. Those other briefers brief other people, probably the Secretaries of State and Defense and such. Who knows, we’ll probably never see them do anything but work for Charlie.) Skinner wants the president to meet General Abu Sayeed Khan, the Syrian intelligence chief who happens to be in town. Charlie immediately voices her concerns; the guy stumps for the Assad regime, he has ties to training camps, and, worst of all, he is rumored to be close to Omar Abdul Fatah—the worst of the terrorists, and the man in charge of killing Charlie’s fiance. Skinner knows Khan’s not “a straight-A student,” but he wants him to be “our gangster.” Nothing like having a man of questionable repute acting as a CIA asset.
Back with the briefers, they’re watching a video—which Charlie translates—of the abductors making demands that the United States release 25 of their colleagues from Guantanamo Bay. They then kill a British doctor on video who was abducted at the same time as the American look-alike doctor. Everyone is horrified, and the American doctor remains their top priority.
Big news comes in from Africa though: They’ve located Omar Abdul Fatah. Charlie’s man on the ground in Djibouti, who is available by phone whenever Charlie needs a 12-second international call to prove her importance, has called to say they know where Fatah and his crew are and they could “end his ass” today, maybe, probably, 50 percent chance. Not good enough, yells Charlie. “Call me when it creeps over 80!” Only a 50-50 shot? Not going in the book.
The sun is coming up and the book—with no mention of Fatah—is printed. It’s time for Charlie, who has found time for a complete hair and outfit change, to head to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. On the drive there, she starts getting encrypted texts from an untraceable number. “This is someone who knows about that day,” the mysterious texter says. “The day your fiance died. And we both know some of that material is still classified.” Did Charlie play some part in Aaron’s death? That’s what texter seems to be implying.
Charlie enters the Oval Office to give President Payton (Alfre Woodard, who is excellent, if completely underutilized) and her Chief of Staff, the rundown. Her assessment on the American doctor? He’ll be dead by noon. But, Jack Dawkins—her man in Djibouti—is in the area. “I know him, he’s good,” the president says, while having a flashback to the man who pulled her out of the vehicle during the Kabul attack. Ah, so he’s been around for awhile.
The texts start coming in again the second Charlie leaves the Oval: “Did you tell her about our pal Abdul Fatah? By the way, love the coat. Very punk chic.” Our mystery person has an eye for leather blazers! Charlie calls one of her briefers—he can’t trace the number. Has Lucas been at the office the whole time? Yup, sure has, the briefer confirms, as Lucas glances around suspiciously from behind his desk. This guy is bad news.
As Charlie heads back to Langley, Jack calls from Africa, where he is always yelling because he only stands near helicopters. He’s at 80 percent on Fatah! Too bad, says Charlie. “You’ve been retasked. Get over it.” Click. She hangs up on him. Damn, Charlie! On to the next one.
NEXT: Trouble at Langley, and how will Charlie ever save the day?
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, General Khan, who literally no one except Director Skinner trusts (what’s going on there?), is on the seventh floor of the CIA building. That’s Charlie’s floor. Oh, hell no. Two of the briefers are having a freak-out over this—apparently Khan was busted by French intelligence recently for smuggling a cell phone into their offices (it was sewn into the lining of his coat). This is his M.O.: transmitting classified info by hidden cell phone. And the director of the CIA just let him waltz through Langley like it’s no big deal.
Skinner calls the briefers in to yell at them about POTUS not being told about Fatah. We’re going straight to the president, he says. “I can assist the agency in locating Fatah’s exact location,” assures Khan, as he strokes a tan felt hat like he’s Dr. Evil with his hairless cat. The hidden cell phone is in the ugly hat, guys. Gotta be.
Well now Charlie is in a bind. She’s got the Chief of Staff yelling at her for withholding the Fatah information (news travels fast! Skinner is on his way to the White House with Khan already), the briefers are calling her to let her know Skinner has had her suspended from the building (that guy works fast!) and that she’s to be detained if seen. Time for Plan B. Charlie has Lady Briefer grab and hand-off files on the doctor, she evades an officer by jumping on a crate truck (uhh…) and she heads to the White House. Meanwhile, she’s had some old pal (former boss? Who knows—he’s a guy who can go from walking his dog to kidnapping a foreign diplomat with a crew of fake Secret Service men in under five minutes) detain Khan and separate him from Skinner. Oh, and the old pal found that hidden cell phone. It was in that ugly-ass hat. Shocker.
Charlie’s cab pulls up to the White House, and she just jumps out and bum-rushes a meeting in the Oval Office. Skinner has all the briefers in the Oval, and he’s filling the POTUS in on how horrible Charlie is for withholding info. Charlie calmly explains that the Fatah intel wasn’t credible enough at the time, and that whole situation was diffused ridiculously fast. She gets a text confirming Khan was transmitting info; the Chief of Staff runs in with the news that Khan has been detained; Skinner looks like a bumbling fool; Lucas winks at Charlie; wait, what? That was weird.
The American doctor is then rescued in a night-vision, first-person shooter action sequence. All in a days’ work, folks. But, seeing the doctor, who looks so much like her dead fiance Aaron, triggers a flashback for Charlie. They’re lying in bed, and she’s worrying about their upcoming trip to Kabul. “It’s more dangerous than you realize,” she tells Aaron. But, they have some unknown obligation to go. The then-presidential hopeful is going, and therefore they do, too. Let’s just assume we’ll find out more about this next week.
It’s now the one-year anniversary of that attack. The president is saying some words for her humanitarian son at the memorial, and rather than TAPS, which she’s not so fond of, a saxophonist plays some Coltrane. Solid. But then, Charlie and President Payton take a walk among the tombstones to have an overwrought conversation about avenging Aaron’s death. “That’s my girl,” the president says, as Charleston vows to track down and kill every person involved in his death.
Can we just take a second to acknowledge that no one has talked about how THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES was in that convoy that was attacked?! Sure, her son died. But how have they not already tracked down all of these people? An American president (presumably before she was president as Charlie talked about her “candidacy” before the trip, but still) was nearly killed! No one seems terribly up in arms about this though. Vengeance is only for Aaron. “His death will make killers out of both of us,” President Payton tells Charlie. Ooh. Ominous.
That night, Charlie gets home to find some roughed-up scruffian drinking her Scotch and collecting her stash of hidden guns. She has a history with this guy, Nick. He knows things. They don’t trust each other. “We’re the only two people who know about Fatah,” she tells him while grilling him about why he’s been sending those texts. Not guilty, Nick claims. Not my style. “For all I know, it was you who hit that convoy!” she accuses him. Ha, not so much, he counters. So she has a guilty conscience—turns out not only was Fatah a CIA asset, he was her asset. And not only that, but Nick and this mysterious texter know that.
“You’re making omissions from your memory,” Charlie’s therapist’s omnipresent voice tells her, as she goes into another flashback to her last vision of Aaron. He’s on the ground, propped up, looking at her. She’s screaming his name, but this time, he’s pointing a gun at her. At her? At the person who was pulling her from the scene? At someone behind her? We surely won’t know this for a few episodes, but at least her therapist was right (aren’t they always?). There’s more to his death than simply an attack on an American convoy, and Charlie may be more guilty than she’d like anyone to know.
— Why is the White House so calm? Both times Charlie wandered the halls, there was no one there. I’ve seen The West Wing! That’s not how this works!
— When Charlie tracks down some negligent analysts and breaks up their leisurely breakfast, one of them calls her “PITA” to her face. “Pain in the ass.” Cute, she tells him. Was Heigl trying to make a funny about her public persona? Nice one!
— Charlie needs a stylist. Her wardrobe is all over the place—flattering, well-cut dresses some of the time; ill-fitting button-downs with cardigans the other times. But more importantly: Why is she wearing a white overcoat to Aaron’s memorial service? Everyone knows only one person in D.C. gets to wear white overcoats, and that’s Olivia Pope.