I’m still catching up on all the things I missed over the past week, and today I dealt with my least favourite webplayer, Tenplay. That being said, Madam Secretary is worth it. Like The Good Wife in its second season, Madam Secretary is expanding its world and creating more serialised arcs. Yes, the first season had the Iranian coup, but that mainly took place in the back nine, and it’s good to see that there’s a narrative arc for the season as a whole. Actually, it’s three. This elevates Madam Secretary above most procedural shows – it reminds me most of Person of Interest, a procedural that became about the security state and privacy of the individual. This is just the international relations version. It’s a very good show that could become a great one if they deepen the characters a bit more and stick the landing with the season long arc.
In the season premiere, Elizabeth McCord took the Oath of Office. The American public didn’t know about it until afterwards, but it caused her approval ratings to go through the roof. The Secretary of State is more popular than the President, and even though she has no ambition to hold political office herself, that has the President and Russel Jackson scared. There’s a little too much exposition in these two episodes to explain why the President and his Chief of Staff have brought in someone Elizabeth doesn’t trust. As Ted Chaough from Mad Men explains, it’s because she’s getting all the good press on foreign policy – the President is concerned about re-election, and he can’t get re-elected on his foreign policy stance if he leaves it all up to his Secretary of State. I don’t necessarily think the National Security Advisor was behind the incident in Russia, I think the President’s wife handled that fairly well herself, but this is bad press for Elizabeth that she probably hasn’t had in a while. One of the things that was frustrating about The West Wing (in hindsight, and I’ll write a longer post about it in a few weeks) is that they always won. That’s not how government or foreign policy works. Elizabeth fails, and unfriendly nations are going to make sure of that.
After last year’s failed Iranian revolution, this season we’re focusing on the situation in Russia, which has become more aggressive since the death of its President. The assumption is that his death was suspicious, and despite Elizabeth and Henry suspecting it was the foreign minister, it seems that his wife is more likely to be behind it. Maybe she and the generals thought he was giving too much to the Americans, I don’t know. Either way, I like to see a First Lady with bite. She knows exactly what she’s doing. Meanwhile, Henry is working closely with either the CIA or NSA in his new job at the military academy, which is for military personnel from all around the world. I didn’t know that, I just assumed it was like ADFA. He’s asked to recruit one of his Russian students to spy on his country, and they make a deal to get his sister into a drug trial for cancer treatment if he agrees. Henry’s his handler, and not entirely sure this kid is up to the task he’s been given, so after he drinks with the Russian ambassador, who gives him nothing he can use, the CIA/NSA kidnap him and torture him to make sure he doesn’t talk. When Henry walks in the room, his student asks how he sleeps at night. Henry says just fine, but we know he doesn’t. He went to confession for the first time in eleven years. Foreign policy and espionage takes its toll – we know that from prestige dramas like Homeland and The Americans, but it’s good to see that Madam Secretary is aware of the emotional toll of its characters’ jobs.
These are the most interesting storylines of the first three episodes, there are some other things going on. Most importantly, whoever sabotaged Air Force One would have been able to crash the plane, as the hot, young cybersecurity expert explained to Elizabeth’s team. Daisy doesn’t trust him because he’s only 30, but she can’t be much older than that herself, and obviously there’s something between those two, which is going to get to Matt. I don’t really care about their personal lives.
Meanwhile, the McCord children have varying degrees of personal lives, with Stevie’s being the most interesting (Side note: her wardrobe is fantastic and I need it). One of the things that television doesn’t really do well is the storyline of the person who has no idea what they want to do with their life after high school. Stevie dropped out of college, but then she got an internship so she enrolled at Georgetown. She started dating her boss, but this is Washington, so Daisy put a stop to it. It wasn’t even her parents. Now she’s dating a recovering drug addict, and she helped hide his stash. Stevie’s a passionate, smart young woman, but she doesn’t know what she wants to do with that, and that’s perfectly normal. Of course in the world of Madam Secretary that means she takes the LSATs in her second year of college, but whatever. The family storylines are often a distraction from the rest of the show, but in the first season, Stevie’s personal beliefs clashed with her mother’s job enough that it made the show interesting, let’s see if the show can keep it that way. Even if the family storylines lag, the show has enough going on in the Oval Office to keep everything else interesting.