It’s Fashion Week in Milan, M-Sec has been invited by the Italian prime minister, and Blake is desperate for an excuse to go. But none presents itself until a factory fire in Italy kills a number of undocumented Chinese workers, and throws a spotlight on dubious labour practices in the fashion industry, in particular the overpriced part of it. President Dalton and Elizabeth rattle China’s cage about this, resulting in China raising tariffs on American goods and threatening a trade war, so Elizabeth files out to Milan, knowing that her old frenemy Ming Chen, the Chinese foreign minister, will be there, and hoping that she can shame China into endorsing an international agreement on the treatment of workers.
What she doesn’t know, though, is that Chen is in the running to be appointed as the new President of China, and that the last thing he needs right at that moment is any suggestion that he’s going soft on America. It leads to the sort of episode that Madam Secretary does well: a delicate dance of diplomacy, with Elizabeth leaning heavily on her personal connection to a foreign diplomat to achieve something that looks like progress. Chen, in the end, isn’t successful in becoming President, and there are signs that he’s becoming restless with his government’s direction of travel.
Will Elizabeth be more successful in her own run for office? She finally confirms to advisor Mike (as ever, a lovely turn from Kevin Rahm) that she’s going to be a candidate to be POTUS, but Mike thinks she needs a big issue on which to hang her hat. She finds it when she’s at a courthouse to find out if she’s being selected for jury duty, and she bumps into a young woman facing imprisonment because of bad luck and poor representation. She arranges for Mike – an “avenging angel of justice”, in his own words – to represent the woman, then decides that criminal justice reform will be her thing. Good luck with that, Mad Sec: it’s a worthy cause, but not much of a vote-winner. Henry, meantime, has decided to accept appointment as Dalton’s ethics advisor – conflicts of interest clearly being something on which his own ethics are malleable – and Daisy is fretting about her daughter’s future, but cheered by the visit of a party of schoolkids to the White House, enabling her to remind herself how far she’s come, and to deliver a be-proud-and-work-hard message to the kids.