In Madam Secretary‘s alternate universe, the US and Russia are about to be at war again. The show copped some flack last week on Have You Been Paying Attention, which makes me wonder whether anyone else in Australia is even watching. I mean, I get it, the ads are on all the time, and people are getting sick of them, but Madam Secretary is where The Good Wife was five years ago, I’m just waiting to see if it can get to that next level. So far all signs point to yes, and I’m fascinated by the season-long arc the show is telling, and how well it’s been plotted so far.
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.
Both of these shows made their season premieres a couple of weeks ago in the United States, and they’re on Wednesday nights here in Australia on Ten. Because everything is on Wednesday nights, including Fargo, which starts this week. I caught up on both season premieres this afternoon, and I’ve decided to do mini reviews of each, because I have loved The Good Wife in the past, and Madam Secretary is a show I like a lot.
Henry: I think we have officially gone through the looking glass.
The Madam Secretary writers have done their research. Ironically, their episodes seem much more ripped from the headlines as they air in Australia than they would have however many weeks ago when they were broadcast on CBS. A few weeks ago it was Greece, and this week sees President Dalton signing a nuclear peace treaty with Iran. The main complaint I have about this storyline is that there are no members of Congress protesting the bill (As John Oliver said, it’s going to be a long 60 days), and the only real opposition on the side of the United States is Juliette’s attempt to assassinate President Shiraz. There’s the protest as well, but that fits into the broader themes of an episode and what it means to work in government and make a decision that benefits the most people.
“The Necessary Act” is an episode of television I’ve seen before. The West Wing did it several times. There was a crisis, everyone spent the day in the situation room, and it was solved. Madam Secretary is a show that is placed right in the middle of my wheelhouse, but “The Necessary Act” feels unneccessary. At this stage of the first season, with only two episodes left, there are still some ongoing storylines that haven’t been resolved, and haven’t been mentioned for a few weeks. The White House is still dealing with a scandal in which its own intelligence agency and former Secretary of State were planning a coup in Iran; last week President Keith Carradine went to Brussels for a victory lap on the Greek debt deal, because it would be good for post-scandal optics. This week, he obviously has a little more on his mind with a Russian submarine in US waters, but what’s happening with everything else? There are two episodes left, so I’m sure it will be addressed, but all I’m saying is that this episode would have felt much more appropriate earlier in the season instead of that terrible faux-Edward Snowden episode where they namechecked Snowden. That was weird.
As a non-American, I get sick of the rousing speeches set to patriotic music. I loved The West Wing, but I saw just how empty Aaron Sorkin’s writing can be when I watched The Newsroom. He writes so well, and you don’t think too much about the words when you agree with them, but once you look deeper, he’s selling a political ideology and thinks people who disagree are more or less stupid. I’m saying all this because as much as I love President Keith Carradine, “Spartan Figures” felt a lot like an episode of The West Wing when Elizabeth’s staff came up with a solution, and the President crashed a meeting and told everyone in Europe just how it was going to be.
Madam Secretary isn’t a particularly subtle show, but that doesn’t stop it from exploring difficult topics, such as the post-traumatic stress Elizabeth is experiencing after her undercover trip to Iran. The coup may have failed, but the Iranian foreign minister was murdered right in front of her, as well as his son. That’s not something you get over easily. As I said earlier, this isn’t something that the show handles with subtlety, but it handles it with care, and it speaks to the strength of Madam Secretary’s serialised storyline in regards to Secretary Marsh, Juliet and CIA Head Andrew’s attempt to support a regime change in Iran.