'Covert Affairs' Postmortem: Creators on Annie's 'Dramatic Change,' What's Next (Q&A)

Co-creators Matt Corman and Chris Ord talk to THR about new guy Ryan McQuaid, dangerous secrets and growing tensions.
"Covert Affairs"

[WARNING: Spoilers ahead from Tuesday's season-five premiere of Covert Affairs, "Shady Lane"]

Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) isn't the same spy from five years ago.

USA Network's international espionage drama kicked off season five with the CIA operative returning to business after a lengthy four-month break, only to discover that the world she's reintegrating herself in has changed substantially. Trust issues aside, Annie was introduced to the charming Ryan McQuaid (Nicholas Bishop), someone who will significantly play into her future.

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"[Season five is] the evolution of a spy. We're seeing Annie take the next step as the operative and she's now seasoned enough that she knows a little bit of the contours of what the life of a spy is. But she's challenged, to a certain extent, by some of the personal issues and situations that were introduced," co-creator Matt Corman tells The Hollywood Reporter.

"And hopefully by the end, we can answer positively, 'Can we have it all?' " adds co-creator Chris Ord.

In a chat with THR, executive producers Corman and Ord discusses the new faces, magnified trust issues and Annie's problematic health.

What should viewers expect for the rest of season five?

Matt Corman: We're exploring new realms of Annie's character. There have been many secrets over the seasons, but this is the first time that Annie has had secrets she's keeping from the other characters and the agency. It's a pretty dramatic change and we get to see another side of her spy craft. In the pilot, Annie was asked, "Can you keep your work life and your personal life separate?" And she says, "yes," unequivocally. At the beginning of this episode with Auggie, she's "I categorically need to keep them separate. We need to create a dividing line." That idea is the thesis of the season.

How different is Annie when she comes back four months later?

Chris Ord: She's been through a lot in the four months she's been away, but in the four years we've seen her as an operative — especially last year when she went dark and took Henry Wilcox down in Hong Kong. All of that experience plays into her psyche and informs her decision that Matt talked about before about wanting to separate those two elements — her work life and the personal life — because each has compromised the other throughout her career and this is a way she feels she can do the best job she can without having it compromised by her personal issues. Now, I think that's a great idea in theory, but as we explore in the season, that's a lot harder in practice.

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With Annie keeping secrets from her inner circle, how much of a trust issue is there now with all the people who have been by her side?

Corman: Trust is a big theme of the season and that trust is frayed a little bit in ways we haven't seen before and tested. Spies are all about trust. Trusting one another when they have to, gaining other people's trust when they have to, gaining other people's trust to steal secrets from them — it's the stock in trade. When Annie's trust in called into question, it gives the series a boost and a jolt that we haven't seen before.

How rocky do things get between Annie and Auggie? Is there hope for them?

Ord: There's always hope for them. We love them as a duo. Their relationship goes deeper and beyond friendship, being operative-handler. They're a duo that's always going to be there for one another but Annie's choices at the outset of the premiere and as things develop going forward, their relationship will definitely be challenged.

You're adding Ryan McQuaid, played by Nicholas Bishop, who ties to Annie and now with Arthur. What does he add to the series?

Ord: For a season where we're really exploring "Can we have it all?" McQuaid is somebody who can have it all, he even says it to Arthur in the premiere. He's a guy who loves what he does and he also loves his life. I think that's refreshing for us and for Annie to see someone who can so thoroughly embrace life even in this dark world of espionage. McQuaid is somebody who brings a lightness to it and a hopefulness to it all. That'll be helpful to Annie going forward.

Corman: He also represents a different paradigm of spy craft. For the characters in our show, a lot of the times when they have troubles or quibbles with the CIA, it's because it's a monolithic bureaucracy. And McQuaid doesn't have that, he's a private spy. He's free of a lot of lot the constraints that people in bureaucracies have to deal with. He can cut through red tape, he can make decisions, he can act emotionally when he needs to and not have repercussions. It's a different way at looking at the life of a spy — a different prism.

How does he fall into Annie's arc?

Corman: In a major way.

In the premiere, McQuaid was flirting with her, asking her out to dinner. Is this going to be a courtship for the entire season?

Ord: On this show, you can't have courtship without spy craft. Those two worlds are always colliding. You'll see going forward that Annie and McQuaid's worlds will collide in a significant way. It all depends on what they do with that collision, how they get along, how their relationship develops moving forward.

Calder also has a love interest this season, Sydney. How does she play into his world that was missing that you felt had to be pushed to the forefront?

Ord: One thing we didn't get to explore with him last season was Calder's personal life and how he chooses to go about his relationships. With Sydney, we get to see how Calder is in the relationship. We get to see that more emotional side. There's a lot more there than meets the eye in the premiere. We don't want to spoil it, but in the same respect, it was exciting to be able to put Calder in a relationship and allow the audience to glimpse that side of him.

There's tension mounting after Calder gets the DCS job over Joan. Will that be explored further?

Corman: The shifting sands of who's in power and who's not will be important throughout the season. We haven't seen the end of it. There's been a little bit of shakeup within the hierarchy of the CIA. Arthur's not there anymore. Throughout the season, we're going to play with this notion of power and who has it and who wants it.

At the end, Annie is going through these episodes. What can you divulge?

Corman: Yes. Part of the secret that she's harboring is something having to do with herself and her health.

Lastly, any significant international locales you'll be filming in?

Corman: We started off in Cartegena, Colombia.

Ord: You'll see that in episodes two and three. We went to France most recently and there are plans for two more big trips.

Covert Affairs airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on USA.

Email: Philiana.Ng@THR.com
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