We’re just over halfway through the first season of Madam Secretary, so it’s a good time to check in with it. So far, the model for just about every episode has been the same: an apparently impossible-to-solve foreign policy or diplomatic crisis is averted by the astonishingly competent Secretary of State Bess McCord (Téa Leoni), who in her spare time juggles her family and married life.
This episode, ‘Standoff’, ticks all the boxes: Bess and her husband head to New York for a romantic anniversary break (marriage). While they’re away, their son Jason injures himself (family), and a drug lord suspected of the murder on American soil is seized from a Mexican prison by an armed militia, who then hand him over to the grandstanding governor of Texas. The Governor refuses to surrender him to the Mexican authorities, who in turn threaten to withdraw their border security (intractable diplomatic problem). Eventually, Bess’s team need to bring her back from New York in order for her to avert war with Mexico, or something.
The show’s two longer-term arcs both get aired this week as well: Bess’s husband Henry (Tim Daly) is indeed, as I suggested in my review of the first episode, too good to be true, but not because he’s tomcatting around; or not yet, anyway. No: he’s an incredibly top secret spy, whose missions are so secret he can’t even tell the effing Secretary of State about them. And Bess, with the assistance of an old CIA friend, is investigating the death of her predecessor, which of course totally wasn’t an accident.
It’s formulaic, but that’s not necessarily a problem: it’s an upmarket procedural in the guise of a political drama, and I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed every single episode. The frustrating thing, though, is that every now and again the dialogue zings, and the outline of the show that Madam Secretary could be snaps into focus. Because the premise is good, and the cast is top-notch: Leoni and Daly are attractive leads, with Daly in particular turning in a relaxed, authoritative performance. The undercard has Željko Ivanek, Bebe Neuwirth, and Geoffrey Arend, all on form, together with Patina Miller as Daisy, the press secretary, who is in an office romance with Arend’s character. And Erich Bergen, an actor new to me, is a treasure as Bess’s assistant Blake. With a cast like that, you could be making a terrific show. As it is, Madam Secretary has to settle for being a reliably good show, which isn’t the worst thing to be by any means.