Following Up: Auggie on Covert Affairs, Part Two

Content note: This post contains spoilers for season one, episode seven of Covert Affairs, ‘Communication Breakdown.’

I am nothing if not scrupulously fair to shows I enjoy shredding, so when numerous people informed me that I had to watch this week’s episode of Covert Affairs and write about it, I complied, although I confess I armed myself with a bowl of English peas first so I would have something to throw at the screen. (Loki stationed himself eagerly by my chair in the hopes of hoovering up any dropped peas. He is so helpful.)

As it turned out, this week’s Auggie-centric episode was less enraging, and more encouraging. This episode has been in the can for a while, I suspect, so I can’t credit the change to responding to criticism, which means the show’s developers decided all on their own selves to do more with Auggie’s character, and to take him to some interesting places along the way. I still think that I would prefer to see Auggie and Annie working together, not least because Perabo and Gorham share star billing on the show, so I’m hoping we get to that point instead of ‘five Annie-centric episodes in a row, and then an Auggie-centric one.’

This week took Auggie out into the field. Along the way, we met his Russian ex-girlfriend, and got a little bit more of Auggie’s backstory. One thing I have always liked (and clearly stated, sorry, drive-by trolls, you shall have to look elsewhere for fodder!) about Auggie’s characterisation is that he’s depicted as sexual, and not as a figure of pity or curiosity because he’s sexual. He just, you know, is, like most sexual people in the world. I like that the show isn’t dropping the ball on that, and that in fact, we got to see him being explicitly sexual on multiple occasions in this episode. Yes, folks, a disabled character got to have (implied) sex on screen! Not only that but a tattooed sexual character, which is something I always enjoy seeing, as a tattooed person. So, go Covert Affairs, go.

Auggie also got a fight scene, which I was not expecting. I’m used to seeing the show depict him as a helpless character who does hapless things like not being able to find his obviously carefully positioned cellphone, but, instead, he got a fight scene. A good fight scene. Where he kicked ass. Can I say how awesome it is to see any disabled character get a fight scene, but especially a blind character, in a scene that didn’t amount to ‘his blindness gives him special ass-kicking powers!’ but was, in fact, chaotic and turbulent and messy? Because it was awesome.

This episode did a much better job, I thought, of integrating references to his blindness without making it central to the episode, or central to his characterisation. There’s a scene at a briefing where we see him reading the briefing in braille, for example, but it’s not a ‘and NOW the camera shall ZOOM IN so we can all NOTICE, do we all SEE THE BRAILLE? Ok, good.’ sort of scene. There’s another scene where he goes to drop a can in the recycling, but someone has moved it, and the can ends up on the floor. The sighted lead scenes are starting to look more natural and less contrived, as indeed is his character in general. Little nods to the way disability can be integrated into your life are scattered in the episode, but aren’t played pointedly or for laughs.

I’d say that, if this episode is a sign of things to come, Auggie’s characterisation is improving. He’s filling out more, he’s far less stereotyped, and I didn’t squirm viscerally watching this episode (well, ok, I did, but I’m pretty sure that was something I ate). I’m not sure if that’s a reflection of Gorham, the producers, and the writers getting more comfortable with the character, or all of Gorham’s research paying off, or what, but things are starting to seem like they might have a chance on Covert Affairs.

This fall, we’ll be seeing a number of disabled characters returning to television, including Artie on Glee, Dr. Fife on Private Practice, and Dr. Hunt1 on Grey’s Anatomy. I’m curious to see where all these characters go, and I’d note that two of them have depictions I feel pretty darn good about, which I feel like is a good sign for television; we’re still underrepresented, but at least every disabled character on television doesn’t make me want to scream.

  1. He’s not explicitly identified as a person with disabilities, but he does have PTSD, so I’m naturally interested in his characterisation.

4 Comments

  1. I watch and enjoy this show, and I think Auggie has a lot of potential. He has a lot more depth than a lot of characters in shows, and it’s growing. I think the first season arc really is mostly Annie, which is ok, but there are some decent subtexts about the people around her.

    Also, for all that we tend to only see him in his office telling people things over the phone, they have made that fact a plot point as much as a stereotype. The character clearly feels he can do more and is struggling against the ableism of the system he works in. You also see some good moments of him finding his own confidence to do things and for people to trust him, like where he was guiding his former unit on a compromised covert op.

    I watch a lot of crap TV. I am home pretty much all the time, between my own physical problems and my children’s mental conditions. And I consider this show to be one of the better of the season. I think that there is a lot of potential to show blind people as competent and functional and every bit their sighted coworkers equal.

    And as you touched on in your first post, I /love/ his casual sexuality. He is a man who clearly has always been one to attract women, and his ‘disability’ doesn’t seem to have effected that at all. He also comes across as relatively sane and sensative in his promiscuity, which is a nice change from womanising men who just smirk and leer and generally be creepy!

    So at the least, potential, at the most, quality. I’m in for the long haul on this one. 🙂

  2. Did anyone see the gigantic Braille art on his wall at the end? At least, that’s what I thought it was, but they didn’t give us a full view, I don’t think.

  3. notemily, I’m a braille transcriber. The braille art on his wall says “love” several times. Clever? You decide.

    As a TV blind character, I think Auggie is one of the better ones. The cringe moments are getting fewer, for sure. I think a character like Auggie can do a lot to educate the public to the fact that he’s a person with wit, a job, preferences, a love life, and it so happens, blindness. Maybe some day a character like his will even be played by a blind actor. That would be a milestone.

  4. I did, notemily, and I thought it was great. I wish I’d seen a full shot of it. 🙂