… in which Elizabeth’s superior and mentor is murdered and she seeks revenge.
After a run of pretty strong episodes, we were bound to get one that wasn’t quite up to snuff. While ‘Covert War’ certainly continued spooling out cautionary tales regarding the dangers of letting personal feelings interfere in your spy business, I found the episode incredibly scattered. It felt oddly adrift after the intensity of the last few.
Other than the central thread with Elizabeth trying to exact revenge for Zhukov’s murder, the story mostly flitted between small check-in moments. We got the opening with the FBI continuing to escalate the “covert violence exchanges,” and then various beats checking in on the Beemans, Philip and the kids, Martha and Clark, Nina’s job, and finally a status check on Stan and Nina’s liaison. Kind of an overall roundup to mark time before kicking off the final few hours of the season.
Initially, I felt like the flashbacks with Elizabeth and Zhukov contributed to the scattered tone and pacing, and didn’t really do much to enhance the overall story. But when watching the episode a second time, it was these scenes that I found the most engaging, and ultimately the most enlightening. Knowing the full arc of Elizabeth’s story in this hour put these interludes into a clearer context for me, and actually helped me to empathize more with Elizabeth’s situation and to understand the terrible cost of a life spent immersed in a world of lies.
Elizabeth clearly thought that Zhukov was trying to express his love and affection for her, and perhaps he was, after a fashion. By trying to help her truly embrace life and to find happiness beyond her work. In describing his relationship with his dog, Zhukov wanted her to see that if she allowed herself to care for and put trust in her partner, “you will discover that you love this creature, and your life would be empty without him.” But she didn’t understand he meant Philip, and seemingly interpreted his comments as expressing his love for her. Later, he tried to get her to enjoy her children, and to be happy knowing they can experience “the pleasure of playing” that she never could. He wanted her to know that even though “we all die alone,” she could make choices to not be alone before then. And, finally, showing her his favorite garden before it was about to bloom, he desperately wanted to steer her away from the lonely path he had chosen. He wanted her to stop viewing everyone as an enemy and to enjoy life while she could. “I lost my way a long time ago. I have lived for my work, for the Party. Now I miss what I never had.”
Tragically, Elizabeth spent all those years unable to understand what her mentor was trying to tell her, only to finally see the light after losing him. It was his death, and her quest to avenge him, that helped her to see what her life had become. Patterson calling her out --- “Your life is a lie. You kill. That’s who you are, that’s what you know, that’s what you do. […] You have no heart, no soul, no conscience. Your hands are covered in blood. Do you care about anything? Do you love anyone?” --- shocked her into recognizing that she had lost her own way. Two men she loved deeply had just died in service of her work, and she had pushed away the other people she loved (her kids) and could potentially love (Philip) in the interest of being a better operative. So she opted to make a different choice. To let Patterson go, and to re-open herself to life with Philip. To bring him home and put her family back together. But, sadly, it may be too late.
Gaad: “They kill us, we kill them. It’s the world we live in.”
Letting Patterson live seems like an exceptionally big risk for Elizabeth and Philip. Killing him would likely have resulted in the shadow war continuing to escalate, which would have been bad in the grander scheme. But letting him go after he got a reasonably good look at her seems risky. They put a lot of trust in those glasses and wigs.
Henry: “What does this have to do with insurance?”
Phillip: “The insurance company pays for the show.”
Henry: “Do we buy their insurance?”
Phillip: “No, we just watch their show.”
Amusing commentary on the current television funding model.
So, Sandra seems to be done with Stan. I feel really bad for her. She held on for so long while he was undercover, and now that he’s back it’s all gone to hell. Heartbreaking. But I don’t feel bad for Stan. He very much came across as the “bad guy” in this episode, and I had very little sympathy for him. He’s not doing right by Sandra, or his son, or Nina.
Speaking of doomed romances, I just feel worse and worse for Martha every week. If she doesn’t get killed by someone else first, she’s probably going to become suicidal when she discovers the truth about Clark.
Larry from Three’s Company is Martha’s dad. Whoa.
Claudia: “I do not agree or disagree. I follow orders. […] Defying orders is never the right thing to do. You’re lucky that your act of street theater didn’t bring down the entire operation. Sometimes the smartest officers do the stupidest things.”
Nina did not tell Stan about the bug in Caspar Weinberger’s library, likely because she knows he’s lying about Vlad. Maybe I should feel a little bad that Nina is using her sexuality to manipulate Stan, but I just can’t. He’s using her in so many ways, he murdered her friend, and he’s put her in a terrible position overall. I kind of have to applaud her efforts to exert some measure of control over her situation.
Nina: “I don’t have anything anymore, Stan. No country to go back to. My family there I will never see again. I only have fear … and you.”
Superficial nitpik: the stray hair from Elizabeth’s wig was driving me nuts in the bar scene. It was stuck to her lip or something. You’d think she would have brushed it out of the way! (Update: Apparently that "stray hair" was a fake facial scar. Oy.)
Claudia: “You’re still new at this, my dear. So much to learn.”
Elizabeth: “This isn’t gonna go well for you, old lady.”
I don’t quite understand Claudia’s angle. Was Elizabeth right that Claudia wanted to bust her for defying orders again? She certainly seemed unhappy that Elizabeth wasn’t as predictable as she thought. (And what a glorious little moment that was for Margo Martindale. Just a very slight shift in her expression when Elizabeth revealed she let Patterson go. A hardening of the eyes that made her go from looking mildly pleasant to very displeased. Awesome!)
Final Analysis: A scattered episode that wasn’t up to the standards set by the last few weeks, but which played somewhat better on a second watch.
Image credit: Spoiler TV
Jess Lynde is a highly engaged television viewer. Probably a bit too engaged.