Where have you been all my life? I realize, dear readers, that as a bureaucracy nerd and as someone who keeps a careful cultural eye on Washington, that I am a tad in the tank for Covert Affairs, even recognizing that it’s not more than smart, fizzy fun. But one element of the show I think deserves for credit above and beyond the call of a USA Network summer series is Kari Matchett, the wonderful actress who plays the main character’s boss, and the wife of a competing CIA directorate.
Part of it is it’s just a very good role. Joan struggles between competing with her husband because she wants to beat him and because she’s interested in the fate of her directorate. She is a failure at being “a good CIA wife,” who accepts that she simply must trust her husband precisely because she’s a good CIA employee, conditioned to distrust. Her desire for a good marriage and a good life conflict, leading her to waste resources, and occasionally to put her sympathy for other betrayed women above organizational imperatives. Despite her failures, she’s competent and tough, and she’s a good role model for Annie, her newest employee. The setup is a novel twist on the professional woman’s balance between marriage and career, tackling the dilemma by making both elements inextricably linked. I like that Joan’s errors don’t make her a bad person, but the show doesn’t hesitate to outline the gravity of them. Tying up NSA spying capability to keep tabs on your husband’s communications is both a bad idea because it’s a waste, and because it speaks to an embarrassing, but sympathetic, neediness.
Her husband (played by the inestimable Peter Gallagher) is, in many ways, a less decent person than Joan is, but like Joan, his decency is tied up in his role at work. He is probably cheating on his wife, but we don’t quite know, because the line between personal and professional use of tradecraft is so thin. He leaks to the press, mostly because he feels it’s his responsibility to try to control the agency’s media coverage. And he fights with Joan over control of Annie’s time and mission because he sees a valuable asset in her.
On both sides, it’s a deft portrait of a marriage. And I’m particularly pleased for Matchett because it’s one of only a few regular roles she’s had. She’s done stints on ER, Studio 60 and 24, but I’m turning into Covert Affairs increasingly for her. More folks should make use of her.