Now this is what I am talking about! This episode is what I have been waiting for since the beginning of the season. I guess some shows just need a bit longer to hit their stride, but man I hope Madam Secretary keeps this up.
Everything fell into place here. There was a great balance between Elizabeth’s work and family lives, and Tim Daly was finally given some meaty work. Not only that, but the office staff started to come into focus. Their personalities continue to develop and some back stories were revealed. Matt and Daisy, eh? I like it! He’s kinda goofy, but is clearly bright (and obviously in love with her), while she’s struggling with her feelings for him… and for her boyfriend. Ooops!
The Iranian nuclear program is the emergency du jour, combined with an issue with a Canadian oil pipeline and both problems, to no one’s surprise, can be traced to the late Secretary Marsh. It turns out that not only did he hire an oil lobbyist to write the supposedly unbiased environmental impact report on the pipeline, but his hand-picked peace negotiator seems to want neither peace, nor does he want to negotiate. Granted, this bit was a little obvious from the beginning, considering he suggested bombing the facility during the cold open.
Not only that, but the honeymoon is over for Elizabeth. President Dalton (Keith Carradine) is pissed. While it’s true that Elizabeth inherited these problems from Marsh, the problems are real, and the training wheels are off.
The Canadian ambassador’s attempt to strong-arm Elizabeth into releasing the pipeline report by boarding and seizing some fishing boats is possibly the first humorous in-office plot in the show—and that’s a welcome addition. The ambassador (winningly played by Robert Klein) is impatient about the pipeline, but is out of his depth, threatening the US. It’s cute!
On the home front, precocious son Jason (Evan Roe) and his essay offer a great bonding opportunity for him and Henry (Tim Daly). After Henry ranked third on a magazine list of tasty DC arm candy, Jason’s decision to profile him rather than Elizabeth is a nice touch, and shows that the kid is pretty astute. I am sure that regardless of how accomplished Henry is as a professor, eventually he’d start to feel somewhat eclipsed by Elizabeth, so by choosing him, Jason gives him a bit of a boost.
Then there’s the scene at the bar with the drunken soldier; it’s a new side of Henry that I am glad to see. The former Marine pilot who put himself through college on the GI Bill and now teaches religion at Georgetown is a pretty interesting character, and I hope that now that they’ve given him something to do, they let him run with this.
At the end of the day, it’s Jason and Henry at the kitchen table, talking about Henry’s military service, whether or not he killed people and how many. It’s a really special moment, the kind of which I hope they have more.
However, it’s not all roses, with this episode. Much of the politics are still pretty unrealistic. The whole plot with the chief peace negotiator not relaying Elizabeth’s offer to the Iranians was farfetched. Yes, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, but it just rang untrue. I did dig the clandestine meeting with Javani at the party, though. Back-channel political meetings always make for good TV, and when Javani revealed the duplicity of the US negotiator, it gave Elizabeth a chance to avert military action and do what President Dalton wanted: her job. A very strong episode for Elizabeth as the shrewd diplomat.
While there was no more about George’s murder/accident, there was quite a bit about how deep Vincent Marsh’s tendrils run in the State Department. His people are everywhere and even though he’s dead, they seem hell-bent on subverting Elizabeth and Dalton at every turn. There are clearly foxes in the hen house, and Elizabeth’s last word of the episode gives us an idea of who she thinks might be next… Nadine (Bebe Neuwirth)!
A few thoughts:
• Russell’s “Sometimes you have to walk and chew gum” remark is a great throwback to LBJ referring to Gerald Ford. But the original quote was apparently “Jerry Ford is so dumb he can’t fart and chew gum at the same time.” It was sanitized by the press, and voilà, a saying was born!
• President Dalton ripping Elizabeth a new one is a great character development. Yes, they were old friends and he’s been almost fatherly up to this point, but in reality, he’s the president and she serves at his pleasure.
• On the other hand, Russell defending Elizabeth, even slightly, was a nice turn. My theory? He’s going to turn out to be a strong ally.
• I’m going to say it right now: I’m all in favor of Matt + Daisy = Maisy!
Mark Rabinowitz is a Nashville-based freelance writer, film producer, and regular contributor to Paste. He is the co-founder of Indiewire.com and a former film critic for CNN.com. He worships at the shrine of swine. Praise the lard. You can follow him on Twitter.