The globe-trotting CIA drama Covert Affairs returns for the final six episodes of its second season tonight — and Annie Walker’s secret is out.
Executive producers and co-creators Matt Corman and Chris Ord made their own rules when Annie Walker (Piper Perabo) dropped an unexpected bombshell to her long supportive sister Danielle (Anne Dudek) in the midseason finale. “In season 2.0 we wanted Annie to reveal her job and her secret to her sister,” Ord tells The Hollywood Reporter a week before the USA Network drama is set to finish out its sophomore round. “In season 2.5 we wanted to explore the fallout of that.”
More changes are in store for Annie and company, and the most notable may be an expanded role for series regular Sendhil Ramamurthy, whose character Jai, finds himself in a moral and professional predicament. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown, as you’re going to see,” Ord teases.
Ord, along with Corman, spoke to THR about what’s at stake for the final six episodes of the season, continuing the series’ aggressive push in international production and beginning to craft the third season.
The Hollywood Reporter: What was the reasoning behind having Annie and her sister Danielle at odds at the beginning of season 2.5?
Chis Ord: It was decided before the season began. In season 2.0 we wanted Annie to reveal her job and her secret to her sister. In season 2.5 we wanted to explore the fallout of that. Just because she told her sister she works in the CIA that doesn’t mean the story is over. There’s a lot more to explore in terms of her relationship with Danielle and what it means for Annie. For us its a richer ground to explore.
Matt Corman: Speaking more generally we do want to expand the palette and have our characters grow and explore new territories. Seeing that the CIA and the spy world is a lonely place is just an expansion of the show. It’s our goal to always provide something familiar for our audience but also have it morph and enter new areas of storytelling. Change in interesting.
THR: How is Annie going to adapt to her new situation?
Ord: It’s a big moment in Annie’s life. Her relationship with her sister and the fact that she lived in her sister’s guest house and could rely on her sister so easily will be gone. That’s a challenge in its own right. It shouldn’t be easy for her. Her relationship with her sister was a great one and now that’s not there, what we want to see is Annie have to deal with that and try to overcome it.
THR: Will this half of the season continue with the aggressive international production that’s been a signature of the show?
Corman: I just got back from Berlin and Stockholm and Venice, and we’re doing a tremendous amount of international shooting. We’re really expanding the show in that direction. We’re also going to be shooting in Russia and D.C. So almost all the episodes that are going to be coming on have some film quality to them.
Ord: In Berlin we’re doing about 15 pages of script, which is a good chunk. You can fake it, but for us, nothing is like the real thing. To see Annie in Berlin is an entirely different experience than to see her in fake Berlin.
THR: Can you speak to a change in season that you weren’t expecting or had to adapt to?
Corman: I think we stuck to the plan. We weren’t sure how much international shooting we were going to do and it turned out we were able to do as much or more than we thought. Beyond that there were no sea changes. We got hit with a little bit of cold weather at the beginning but that’s Canada in March.
Ord: I think the reason there weren’t many sea changes was after season one was we knew what the show was, we knew we had great actors who could pull off the emotional beats we wanted them to pull off. We were able to craft the show better to our strengths.
Corman: We become aware of the actors’ cadences and tendencies and strengths and start to write towards them. They start to take on characteristics of the characters without realizing it and start to become them. Together the writers and actors morph into this central place. Traveling around with Piper, she had to change in restaurant bathrooms and run around and do hair and makeup in the street. Same thing with Chris Gorham (Auggie) in Istanbul; that can be an intimidating place to be.
THR: What can you tell us about what will be in store for Sendhil Ramamurthy’s character, Jai?
Corman: It’s going to expand. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, as you’re going to see. Jai wanted more responsibility and he’s gotten it. He’s going to realize along with that comes extra pressures that he may not have anticipated. But there’s a complexity to the character and to Sendhil that is interesting. We’re going to explore some of the darker tendencies and really see what lies beneath for him. People who like that character and like the dynamic between him and his father Henry (Gregory Itzin) will be happy because we’re mining it much more deeply.
THR: Early on, Jai didn’t have a lot to do.
Ord: That was intentional. The intention in the first season was to create that frustration in Jai so that would motivate him to do what he ends up doing in the beginning of 2.5. We wanted to make that slow burn because it would be more satisfying once the audience sees what he ends up doing. In season 2.0 we had a few conversations with Sendhil because he, like his character, was wondering, “What’s my role here?” Then the DPD (Domestic Protection Division) put Ben (Eion Bailey) back in the field. The nice thing we had was the trust with Sendhil where we could say, “Trust us, a lot of really interesting things are going to be happening with Jai and we want you to be feeling this particular feeling right now because that will help Jai go forward.”
THR: Will there be any more episodes revolving around specific characters?
Ord: We’ll learn more about Perter Gallagher‘s character, Arthur Campbell. The episode that takes place in Berlin explores his past when he was a young CIA operative stationed in Berlin in the late ’80s before the Berlin Wall fell.
Corman: He’s going back to a place in his life and meeting up with an old flame, a German woman who was a staff agent in that fertile time in spy history. Berlin is really steek in spy lore. You see messages on the wall and its rich history of spy craft that’s in every nook and cranny.
Ord: One location we found was an old NSA listening station. It’s abandoned and we were the second production to ever shoot there. Ever.
THR: Are there any secrets that may affect the way characters are perceived?
Corman: There are a lot of secrets and there are some bombshells. We’re not big fans of cliffhangers per se, we’re fans of seismic changes. That was the case in 2×09, she didn’t tease telling her sister, she told her. Then you see the fallout of that. The same thing way in 2×16, something will happen that will change the life of the series forever. When you see it you’ll know that’s not a platitude, it’s actually true. It changes the way people will view Annie.
THR: Is this something that she’s aware of?
Ord: At this point in the season, she’s certainly not aware of it, but we’ll start to plant the seeds. Our writer’s room is reconvening in a few weeks and very excited to get in there and start crafting season three based on everything that transpires in the finale.
THR: Do you have an idea/goal for season three?
Corman: At this point it’s very atmospheric and general ’cause we’re in the midst of season two. But we’re starting that process now. We have big idea tentpoles that we have in mind but we’re beginning the process of mapping it out. Since we do like the seasons to have a certain architecture it takes awhile. Architecture meaning that you know it’s incremental but at the end, you can look at it and go, “Oh, A connects to C.” It’s holistically thought through. Hopefully when people look back, if you watch all the episodes on DVD, you could see that there was a master plan even though each episode is each own distinct adventure.
Ord: With the final episode of 2.5, we have a starting place. Certain things happen in that episode that we know we have to honor in season three.
Covert Affairs airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on USA.