Part of the plot of CBS’ spy drama State of Affairs revolves around how intelligence agencies interrogate their suspects. Last week, viewers saw Charleston Tucker go up against Nick Vera about the best way to interrogate Fatah, a Middle Eastern terrorist suspect. Nick was using physical beatdown tactics to extract information and Charleston objected, noting that it was illegal and ineffective. This was before the CIA torture report came out, but now that the report is part of the public consciousness State of Affairs looks a lot different, especially after all the discussion about whether torture worked or not.
To be fair, not a lot of this most recent episode was about torture or interrogation. Titled “Bang, Bang,” it had more to do with escalating the main storyline of State of Affairs and setting up a test for Charleston’s relationship with the president, Alfre Woodard’s Constance Payton. Flashbacks to the interrogation of Fatah, however, were powerful when considered in light of the CIA torture report. In some ways, that report heightens people’s sensibility about these scenes. Did Nick waterboard Fatah? Or use rectal hydration? A CBS show obviously leaves much to the imagination, but it benefits from the fact that many people’s imaginations are now filled with graphic images of how America actually tortured people in real life.
Nick is cast as a kind of antagonist during the interrogation, contrasting well with Charleston’s almost naive insistence on how wrong his methods are. She sits back in a different room taking notes on the interrogation, noting that it is ineffective. At one point she gets to go in and speak with Fatah where she puts into play less physically invasive, yet still targeted techniques. As almost any spy or crime drama viewer can tell, creating a connection with someone is a powerful way to make them do what one wants them to. In this case, Charleston reveals that she speaks Arabic and that they share a common feeling, namely the desire to “hunt.” She makes Fatah think that maybe they are not so different after all.
No doubt this will pay off in later flashbacks as the series goes on, but already State of Affairs is making its stance known. The hero is against torture and does not use it because there are better ways to go about extracting information from someone. The sidekick (or love interest, perhaps) is misguided and needs to be shown the error of his ways. The viewer is allowed to see some of that when Nick, despairing of his tactics, changes his method. He is gentle with Fatah and hits him with the fact that if he only tells Nick what he knows, the beating will stop. Charleston, watching on a screen elsewhere, looks a little surprised. Maybe there is hope for him yet.
The show runners probably had no intention of making a statement about the United States’ use of torture. How could they? The show was recorded long before the CIA torture report came out. What has changed for State of Affairs from here on out, however, is how people will watch the show after learning what is in the CIA torture report. State of Affairs has become part of the popular debate about torture and it seems as though the show’s point is that it does not work. Just how much the show will effect people’s opinions cannot be gauged, but at least it is thought provoking.
Review By Lydia Bradbury