Piper Perabo Piper Perabo

CODE NAME Season 3.

INTEL Hot on the Louboutin heels of her first kill at the end of last season, jet-setting CIA agent Annie Walker's world is blown apart by a federal-level shocker that makes other so-called "game changers" look like local government PR stunts. Yes, someone dies. In a horrible way.

"We owe it to the audience to remind them from time to time that there is real jeopardy here," says executive producer Matt Corman of the July 10 jaw-dropping season opener. "Working as a CIA operative has real stakes." It also has perks: So far, production has taken the cast to Morocco, Puerto Rico and Barcelona, and "we have Moscow and the Dominican Republic planned," says Corman's fellow exec producer Chris Ord. "We're hoping to do Dubai. It's a spy show; people expect to go abroad, and that we are able to is really exciting."

THE MISSION Top secret! As a matter of national security, we're forbidden to spoil who bites it in the aforementioned twist, but sources close to Covert Affairs confirm that the fallout from the tragedy will trigger the reassignment of Annie (Piper Perabo) and her blind bestie/crush Auggie (Christopher Gorham), and a conspiratorial veil of secrecy among the now divided team. "Nobody knows who's doing what. Annie and Auggie are having trouble communicating...you really get knocked off center at the beginning of Season 3," says Perabo.

"It's getting back to what I thought was so much fun about Covert Affairs and doing a show about the CIA: that obstacle of secrecy," says Gorham. "[They've] developed this really close relationship between Annie and Auggie over the last two years, but now they have reintroduced the idea of secrecy and the things they can't talk to each other about — in a way, it mirrors their personal relationship."

Adding to Annie's unstable situation are Auggie's ongoing romance with Peace Corps volunteer Parker and the arrival of 24's Sarah Clarke as Lena Smith, a badass CIA legend brought in as Annie's new boss. "Her methods are unorthodox, but she's not to be trusted," continues Perabo. "She's pretty wild." Wild enough, in fact, to ruffle Annie's impenetrable former handler Joan (Kari Matchett). "The people she cares about are being pulled in a lot of different directions, and that takes a toll on Joan," hints Ord, adding that the family dynamic developed in the first two seasons will be turned upside down "as Annie is pulled away from her tough mom Joan and given this kind of cool stepmom in Lena, who lets her go on these missions and make her own choices and seems to be really empowering her."

PROTOCOL Anything goes. Inspired by Lena's girl-power ethos and traumatized by the events of the opener, an even sexier side of Annie will emerge after she goes really undercover to investigate suspected KGB spy Simon Fisher (Richard Coyle). "I can tell you that Annie goes way over the line," says Perabo. "We talked about this with the writers. Annie has had two years [on the job], and it's that kind of mistake teenagers make when you think you know what you're doing. That is the most dangerous kind of person...her confidence is going to get her in way over her head." (Fun, naughty fact: An operative who uses sex as a tool is called a "swallow.")

ASSETS Armed with übercrafty plotting and savvy writing, the producers see Season 3 as a move from self-enclosed cases of the week to a more serialized format that includes a mythology linked to a tattoo sported by Coyle's recurring character. "Simon will play a significant role this season," says Corman, and not just as Annie's potential love interest. "Viewers will see more long-arc storytelling than we have done in the past, and that tattoo — and the symbolism it represents — is part of that."

In addition, the Annie-Auggie flirtation will pick up steam during this week's episode, in which the pair embark on their first mission together...as a married couple. Just don't expect to see them stripping down to maintain their cover. "The first time I'm shirtless is the third episode," laughs Gorham of Auggie's fan-fave moments of undress. "There is no shirtlessness with Annie, but there is a bunch of emotional vulnerability with her that's going to drive people wild."

POINT OF EXTRACTION While their new gigs seem like the beginning of the end for our team, Perabo predicts the changes will actually aid in the hunt for whoever orchestrated the premiere's explosive ambush. "Annie and Auggie have a greater reach in their new departments, so they're seeing more information," she explains. "They just need to get together." In more ways than one, girl! But even if they don't hook up, Gorham promises a major payoff. "The reveal at the end of these first 10 episodes is [huge]. Things get crazy in a really good way."

Covert Affairs airs Tuesday at 10/9c on USA.

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