The big hook of State of Affairs isn’t just that Charlie is a hard-partying analyst and the President’s daily briefer, but that there is a larger, overarching conspiracy that provides the series’ mystery. Charlie’s fiancé Aaron (Mark Tallman) was killed in a terrorist attack; Charlie’s fiancé also happens to be the President’s son. Charlie has to deal with day-by-day (and the series’ week-to-week) conflicts (in the pilot, she has to rescue a kidnapped American doctor who, improbably enough, happens to look exactly like Aaron because the writers of this show have no idea what the word “subtle” means), but she also has to deal with the lingering post-traumatic effects of literally watching the man she was going to marry get murdered in front of her. A therapist tells Charlie that she is repressing some serious memories of the attack; Charlie responds by going to the bar.
One of the most frustrating aspects of State of Affairs — and all of these similar, often political shows about troubled, tortured women haunted by inner demons — is that they tend to go the same route with these characters. A woman is sad, or is mourning, or whatever, so she must self-medicate with booze and sex. There is no such thing as a woman who simply likes to drink or simply likes to have sex; it is always a manifestation or some deeper and more fucked-up issue within the character, which is itself a reflection of some lazy and contrived storytelling within the writers room.
On top of that, there are problems within the show’s actual narrative. It should be engaging, but it just isn’t. The twist doesn’t exactly land, the mystery is exhausting from the beginning, and Charlie’s overwhelming desire to avenge the death of Aaron doesn’t feel as urgent as it should be (partly due to Heigl’s wooden delivery of the trailer’s/pilot’s most dramatic lines: “I am going to find every last person who had anything to do with the death of your son and I’m going to end every single one of their lives” — a line spoken to the President as they stand in a graveyard, no less). State of Affairs is your basic middling thriller, one that doesn’t make the case for Katherine Heigl’s return to the small screen, or even for its own existence.