The pilot episode of State of Affairs was chock-full of stereotypes that viewers have come to expect from spy shows. The second episode, called “Secrets and Lies,” is also full of cliches of the genre, but there a few signs that there is hope for something better. This episode focuses on a Russian submarine in United States waters executing a mission to gather intelligence from fiber optic cables beneath the surface. The data in those cables, of course, is of the utmost importance and letting the Russians have it endangers lives. Charlie is faced with heartbreaking decisions made no easier by her personal connection to the asset involved. The basic plot of the episode is about as unexpected as a sneeze, but the good parts are the little things woven into it which hint at better things to come.
The question of revenge posited in the last episode is still important in this one, though not central to the plot. The killing of Charlie’s fiance and the president’s son is an obvious ongoing theme, but what it does to the characters is more subtle. The president in particular is a good character study, played subtly by Alfre Woodard. She is really the shining performance of the series so far. The president says she wants justice, but she really means revenge. In contrast her husband wants the truth about what happened.
The truth is a problem for the president and she seems to have tenuous grasp of its concreteness. Or maybe she has exactly the grasp a politician should have. “The truth is what we determine it to be,” she tells Charlie, an apt statement for a politician to make. She goes on saying, “It lies not in the facts, but in the telling.” For Charlie who is already struggling with the truth of her fiance’s death, this is an important remark. For the president, it is almost sinister. After all, should not politicians and presidents in particular be truthful? That is what people expect, right?
The idea that politicians are manipulative is nothing new to television. What makes this captivating is the way that Woodard plays it. She is so likeable as a character, but there is this really dark, unlikeable streak to her as well. Charlie may be the hero of the series, but President Constance Payton is starting to look like its anti-hero.
There are other small things that make this episode interesting, including a crack about sexism in the workplace when Charlie’s female co-worker remarks “You had a 50-50 chance” in referring to the fact that there are only two women on the briefing team. Sadly, this is only a small nod to a big issue and it does not constitute a direction for the whole series. A more appropriate self-referential comment was a joke about Jake Ryan, a Tom Clancy character. This is the real theme of the show as cliche after spy cliche get thrown at the audience.
Right now State of Affairs looks like a watered down version of the hit show Alias and it does not have the benefit of Jennifer Garner’s grit, nor the brilliance of the show’s writing. In some ways it really does not know what it wants to be. It could be a procedural or a character study or a mystery or just a straight up spy thriller. Hopefully the show finds its sea legs before it gets axed. If it does not, then it will deserve what is coming to it. Nevertheless, it shows promise and viewers who keep watching could well be rewarded for their persistence.
Review By Lydia Bradbury