Well I’ve made it through three episodes of NBC’s replacement for The Blacklist — State of Affairs. The Blacklist will resume on February 1st, 2015 – so, unless we hear differently, State of Affairs is a fill-in while James Spader & Co are on hiatus.
To her credit, star Katherine Heigl has done rather well for herself with this show. She is a definite plus in a show that finds itself in sort of no womans land between Homeland and Madam Secretary. Heigl plays Charleston ‘Charlie’ Tucker – a CIA analyst who is in charge of a team that prepares the Daily Briefing Book for POTUS, or as she’s correctly referred to – President of the United States. POTUS is of course an acronym or short hand.
When President Constance Payton enters onto the Capitol Building’s Congressional floor, she’s announced as The President of The United States. But behind the scenes, and obviously out of Payton’s hearing, the Secret Service, and staffers of all the cabinets use the shorthand POTUS – far fewer syllables if you were counting.
Anyway Charlie has field experience, and obviously knows her way around a myriad of technological assets at her disposal. In the pilot episode, Dennis Boutsikaris had the role of CIA Director Skinner. But beginning in the 2nd episode, Skinner has been replaced by Raymond Navarro as the new CIA Director. Nestor Carbonell has the role.
Right from the jump, literally within a minute or so after he’s been introduced we get this:
Charlie Tucker: Looking forward to working with you, sir.
Director Navarro: You won’t be working with me, you’ll be working for me.
Okay, if you have some tension between the lead, Charlie Tucker and her new boss, Director Navarro, that’s fine. But do we have to be hit over the head with it so quickly? Later in the episode, we find out that Charlie is receiving some text messages on her phone, that lead us to believe that some one knows something about that attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, which killed the President’s son who was also Charlie’s fiance.
Okay, I think it is safe to assume that Navarro didn’t get appointed Director of the CIA from doing well in the retail sector. He’s likely been in The Company for a while. So, although through three episodes, we have no indication that he is behind these disturbing phone texts, I’m picking him as the likely person.
Especially since Syd, played by James Remar, who is Charlie’s off-the-books ground operative has not been able to connect another new character Nick Vera, (Chris McKenna) with this phone business. It seems that Nick and Charlie have a past that stretches back at least five years, when Nick was on a CIA black site, a ship in international waters, and his job was interrogations.
In a scene that seems a direct lift from Zero Dark Thirty, Charlie is repulsed by the tactics used by Nick to elicit intel from one Omar Fatah, who in the Pilot was introduced as the world’s number one terrorist. Charlie complains but Nick shuts her off and threatens worse.
We are in international waters not America, and this is a black site, so normal Geneva Conventions don’t apply.
But that’s not the point – the real point is that Nick and Charlie go way back, and now he’s back in town.
Episode Two was really a story about a Russian submarine with a CIA asset embedded on the sub. It seems that this sub has found a transatlantic fiber optics cable far below the ocean’s surface, and they have hacked into it. Of course this cable was the ‘wire’ carrying all the CIA’s intel and traffic. All of the US/CIA assets would be compromised if the intel got into the hands of those not expected to have it. But the sub has some problems, and is in a precarious position far below the surface. This sub has yet to transmit the info back to Mother Russia.
But the CIA asset is able to take command of the communications room, and has killed two men in the process. There’s no choice – the intel cannot be allowed into Russian hands. So the CIA asset must destroy the sub, and himself in the process.
Well the asset certainly knows the score. He’s already killed two Russian seamen on the sub, and once the Russians blow torch their way into the comm room he’s a dead man anyway. So he has to sink the sub.
Now all that’s well and good. But Charlie is reduced to tears because she lied to the asset. She told him he would die a hero. In fact, he would die a spy. Charlie is shedding tears, because, in her own words, about this lie/ Those tears seemed somewhat ridiculous.
Episode 103 tried to bring State of Affairs into a state of current affairs. The kidnapping of Nigerian girls by Boko Haram was the plot device. Also in play was the fact that China had oil interests in Nigeria, and the fact the President Payton was about to have high level talks with President Chu of China at Camp David.
Here’s the dilemma, Payton wants to rescue the girls but she can’t authorize American boots on the ground, One – because Nigeria hasn’t asked for that kind of support, and a show of force might be deemed a threatening action by the Chinese.
That’s the big picture, but there are a few annoying details which I think spoil the overall. The USA would have to employ an off the books security force called Controlled Solutions. President Chu would have to be told, and convinced that this security force could also be lent to China to protect their interests as well.
All of this on the hush-hush. And who would broker all this – why it would be Nick Vera who Charlie still doesn’t trust, and we aren’t sure about him either.
President Payton’s husband Marshall Payton is still not satisfied with the death of his son. He picks a fight with his wife (POTUS) not in the residence section of the White House, but right in the Oval Office itself. What’s more, in an obvious role reversal – The First Gentlemen has assumed the role of a nagging spouse.
Charlie and Director Navarro are still not on good terms. Syd hasn’t moved any further along in his investigations beside clearing Nick. Beyond that, when Charlie met Nick for coffee, she stole his phone. A download from the SIM Card did not provide any useful info. So Charlie attempts to return the phone;
Charlie: Nick, you left your phone at the coffee shop.
Nick: You think I want that phone back now that you’ve compromised it?
So the covert mission to rescue the girls in some Nigerian forest begins and goes off so easily, that we hardly have time to care, and that’s even with getting a first person shooters view, like a video game, through their night vision goggles. Basically, an on-the-ground op in real-time, from a Nigerian forest.
And the episode closes with Charlie heading off to a bar, where a coffee barista who had already chatted her up and promised to hook her up if she showed at the bar. How did this young and muscular bar guy get Charlie’s attention. He labeled her coffee – MILF. Charlie spotted it on the cup and asked, Hey what’s this? Milk Low Foam he replied with a wink.
That’s our Charleston ‘Charlie’ Tucker for you. She maybe in the corridors of power, working at the highest levels of the US Goverment, but she still has to sneak out for some foamy fun.
Other Areas to improve: President Payton (Alfre Woodard) needs to lighten up.
She has only one expression – dour. The writers need to improve the Courtney Vance role of her husband, or jettison the character. The First Gentleman as a nag doesn’t work for me.
Finally – a new major plot line every week, like Madam Secretary, and this show, and The Black List – brings a new show each week, but it kills off suspense and caring. State of Affairs needs story arcs to keep the viewers involved. HBO’s The Newsroom is doing it this year, as is Homeland, and two seasons of House of Cards have proven that with an ongoing major story arc you will maintain an audience.
State of Affairs has a couple of those in the works – What happened in Kabul, and what’s the reality of Nick and Charlie, but so far these stories have been the ‘B’ and ‘C’ plots. Let’s hope for better. NBC’s has invested a lot in this show, and Heigl has been out on tour since the show started making interview appearances on all sorts of TV and radio outlets.
I for one, believe that some things about State of Affairs need improvements, but I really don’t want to see an early cancellation. How about you?