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Is ‘State of Affairs’ Katherine Heigl’s Big Comeback?

Is 'State of Affairs' Katherine Heigl's Big Comeback?

I have a litmus test for shows and movies about women with high-octane, demanding jobs that often involve moving fast. Is she wearing heels? Because if so… nope. My suspension of disbelief can’t handle that. Moreover, it usually tells me that a guy is calling the shots (in this case, it’s creator Joe Carnahan, of The Grey and the A-Team reboot). So early on in State of Affairs, when Katherine Heigl shows up to her CIA job, preparing the president’s daily global terrorism briefing in stiletto boots, I cringed.

But I was willing to let it slide, because I’m curious to see if the former Grey’s Anatomy actress can pull this one off.

State of Affairs is a big deal for Heigl, a possible triumphant comeback after having been pilloried for being too much of a pain in the ass to bother hiring anymore. While I’m a huge anti-rudeness crusader, I do think there’s a ridiculous double standard that’s been applied in this case. Christian Bale can behave like this on set and suffer no professional fallout whatsoever, but Heigl calling out a show for inferior writing or a movie for mild sexism is grounds for her expulsion from the entire entertainment industry? 

Amidst all the talk about how “difficult” this made her, I didn’t see too many spirited defenses claiming she was actually wrong in what she said, either. Even if she was, as Shonda Rhimes has alleged, nasty, I find it exceedingly hard to believe she’s the only person in show business who fits that description.

I also like that she made a conscious effort to address the rumors about her in a recent Facebook Q&A event, in which she chose to answer someone who’d asked her about them, rather than stick to the softball questions, which she totally could have done:

“Yeah I’ve heard those too…. honestly I don’t think I am… nothing makes me more uncomfortable than confrontation or hurting someone’s feelings and I would never, ever, actively do so on purpose. Of course just like any human being I’ve made mistakes and unwittingly or carelessly spoken or acted but I always try to make any wrong right.”

All that aside, it’s not like she made great choices with her roles when she was getting them. She never met a terrible rom-com she didn’t say yes to (27 Dresses, anyone?), so her reputation in that respect is, I think, well deserved.

But people loved her on Grey’s Anatomy, and I think this new role has the potential to bring her back. That said, her character, Charleston “Charlie” Tucker, does bear a lot of surface similarities to Homeland‘s Carrie Mathison: she’s damaged but brilliant, got a vendetta against a Middle Eastern terrorist, engages in risky sexual behavior to deal with her instability and PTSD, but always gets her man when push comes to shove.

The twist here is that Charlie was engaged to the son of the president (Alfre Woodard), and all three were ambushed in a convoy. The attack in Kabul claimed his life.

First, the good: Heigl is pretty fun to watch in the role.

As befitting her (deserved or not) reputation for diva-dom, she has a lot of presence. And she’s got a facility with take-no-shit lines like this response to her shrink’s suggestion that no good will come of her one-night stands: “Good doesn’t have to come. I do. And I’m not going to apologize for that.” She heads a team of briefers who show up at 2 AM every day to put together The Book for the president, all the while making wry, necessary-for-sanity cracks about all of the terrible things happening all over the world.

Also: I’m loving Woodard as POTUS. Even if she does do some pretty implausible stuff, like draw Charlie aside at a memorial service to exact a promise for bloody vengeance on the people who killed her son.

The show’s also quite topical; the pilot concerns the kidnapping of an American doctor by an ISIS-like group who are seen on video (by Charlie and her staff, not us, thankfully) beheading his colleague. The show’s exploration of the hard choices behind these international incidents is compelling.

Then, the not-so-good:

Charlie gets up to some pretty eye-rolling hijinks for a high-level CIA presidential briefer. She eludes security officers, who’ve been tasked with detaining her for withholding information from the president, by hiding behind a pillar, then hopping on a pickup truck making its way out of… a loading dock? At CIA headquarters? She then bursts into an Oval Office meeting with the president, even after having been flagged by security. I know these procedures actually have been a little faulty at 1600 Pennsylvania lately, but come on.

Relatedly, a questionable foreign dignitary, who’s been known to have brought spy equipment into French government buildings previously, is allowed into CIA headquarters with no vetting whatsoever, in spite of Charlie’s warnings about him. Later, it’s discovered that he’s hiding a recording device… in his hat.

Also, the storyline, like some of Charlie’s behavior, really does feel awfully familiar; you can’t begrudge NBC for wanting to get on the Homeland bandwagon, but given the current grumbling about this season of the Showtime show, it may have debuted this one too late.

It’s possible there’s an infinite appetite for shows about our government and its spy agencies dealing with terrorist threats — there certainly is for crime-scene investigator dramas — but I’d have liked to see something a little more different than Charlie and her team frantically trying to decide whether to take out mastermind Abu Nazir — oops, sorry, Abdul Fattah — or save the kidnapped doctor’s life.

We learn a secret at the end of the first episode that, while still firmly in the Homeland wheelhouse, gives more complexity to her character. With this, perhaps Heigl will be able to create another part that, like Izzie on Grey’s, will see her welcomed back into America’s good graces.

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