The series premiere of NBC’s newest political drama, State of Affairs, begins with a flashback to gunfire, bloodshed, and screaming in Kabul. The violence quickly takes a back seat, but the chaos persists as PTSD, power struggles, treason, and sheer coincidence drive the episode forward. Plot twists accumulate as we only begin to learn the characters’ names.

It’s all too much.

As the CIA analyst responsible for compiling the President’s Daily Briefing, Charleston Tucker (Katherine Heigl) reports directly to President Constance Payton (Alfre Woodard), whose son Aaron was engaged to Charleston before he was killed in the terrorist attack that all three of them encountered during their diplomatic mission in Afghanistan’s capital. Charleston and then-Senator Payton managed to survive the ordeal. That’s a lot to chew on. For the time being, if State of Affairs only set its sights on exploring the complex relationship between these women as their personal and professional lives intersect, it would have a lot on its plate. The show would track the teamwork of the seemingly united duo in avenging Aaron’s death, and that would be enough. (“His death will make killers out of both of us,” the President tells Charleston.)

But State of Affairs is eager to take on more. Charleston’s therapist insists that her client is repressing some part of the attack in Kabul. Later, as she is assembling the President’s briefing, Charleston learns that the US government has an opportunity to kill Omar Fatah, the terrorist responsible for Aaron’s death. The mission looks poised to succeed if the President chooses to sign off on it, but Charleston leaves it out of the briefing, claiming a lack of faith in the mission’s odds of success and a concern for the government’s future prospects in taking down the terrorist network in Afghanistan. Plus, Charleston is determined to save a doctor captured by terrorists in the same region who—as she and the President point out—bears a striking resemblance to Aaron. Nonetheless, Charleston is suspended for omitting Fatah. Amazingly, this is all happening exactly one year after the attack in Kabul. And this is all happening in the show’s first episode.

The breakneck pace of the pilot is at least entertaining, and it’s fun to watch what the show’s writers throw into the mix to keep things moving. A Syrian intelligence official expresses a desire to cooperate with the CIA in tracking Fatah and makes it to the seventh floor of the agency’s headquarters with the assistance of its director — until we learn that he was concealing a cell phone the entire time for bugging purposes. We’re also treated to a chase scene as CIA security attempts to detain Charleston following her suspension. Best (or worst) of all, Charleston spends the entire episode haunted by threatening texts from an untraceable phone, including one complimenting her coat while she is in the White House.

As the President discusses Fatah with Charleston following a memorial service for Aaron, she nearly whispers, “I want to hear from the woman who loved my son.” It should be a tender moment, but instead the exchange serves to remind the audience of how little State of Affairs has done to make its characters worth caring about.

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