Content note: Post includes discussion of Covert Affairs through season one, episode four, ‘No Quarter.’
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the pilot for Covert Affairs, and discussed the handling of Auggie Anderson, the blind CIA agent playing opposite Annie Walker, the show’s lead. Despite not being very excited by this show, I’ve slogged through a few more episodes to see where the show went with Auggie so that I could follow up. The things I do for you, gentle readers.
As I said in July:
I am inherently grumpy with the disabled character as sidekick trope; it looks like Gorham and Perabo are getting equal billing, though, so I’m hoping that he is going to break out of the sidekick position and have an opportunity to be his own character, rather than just support/backup/comic relief for Perabo.
Well, as it turns out, that was wishful thinking. The thing I noticed most about where the show took the character from the pilot was that it didn’t take him anywhere. Annie’s been sent to South America and Europe in recent episodes, while Auggie covers the desks, providing phone support. He has hardly any screen time and in most scenes, we see him from the neck up, on a phone, talking to Annie while she’s out in the field. Auggie’s sole reason for existence is to be a voice on the other end of the phone for Annie, and to occasionally do things with computers that look neat because he uses a Braille display.
Now, office support is definitely an important aspect of intelligence work. Paper pushers are a critical component of field missions and it’s kind of nice to see that depicted on television, instead of only showing us field action. But usually, in a show where two actors enjoy top billing, they are partnered together. Partnered. As in, they are a team that does things together, with, yes, complementary skills, but it’s not a one sided relationship where one is the sole support for the other. Booth and Bones, for example; we see them working together in the field and in the lab. It’s weird to see them apart, although it does sometimes happen. Both characters bring things to the partnership. They are an interdependent team. We would be pissy if it was always Booth out in the field and Bones in the office, right?
So, basically, the way that Covert Affairs handles the integration of a disabled character is by not integrating him and making a point of reminding us that he’s disabled. The most recent episode featured Auggie in a polygraph test, being asked a series of probing questions about whether he resents being tasked to desk duty. Whether he’s angry because of his disability.
I want to like a show that has a female lead like Annie Walker. I do. I like that Walker is an independent thinker, she doesn’t rely heavily on other characters to handle things for her, she is creative, she thinks on her feet. Of course, in the pilot episode, the show had to use the ‘dress up as a call girl to solve the crime’ plot, which means I can’t really point to Covert Affairs as a terrific model for handling female characters.
The way this show views disability has been pretty transparent, from the episodes alone. Add that to the show’s recent partnership with the American Association of People With Disabilities to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A PSA centered around Auggie was filmed to tell viewers ‘…we also know that barriers for people with disabilities remain and we are proud to partner with the AAPD in our Characters Unite campaign to raise awareness and encourage viewers to join the fight against persisting discrimination.’
Yes. Barriers like being unable to find acting work when you are a disabled actor, and barriers like television shows casting nondisabled actors to play disabled roles.
‘…we at AAPD are delighted to partner with the USA Network’s Characters Unite campaign and the ‘Covert Affairs’ team to promote authentic depictions of disabled characters on television,’ says Andrew J. Imparato, president and CEO of AAPD. He goes on to add: ‘This exciting new program will help change attitudes, and the PSA being launched this week will accelerate and amplify the show’s inclusive message.’
Are we watching the same show, Mr. Imparato? Because I don’t think we are.