Madam Secretary s5 ep 11

“I feel”, says Elizabeth, “like the soul of our country is at stake”. As with the first episode in this two-parter, there’s no doubt that the real subject is the real-life Trump administration, rather than the fictional big-hatted redneck Governor of Arizona. And in the world of Madam Secretary, Elizabeth is determined to raise the stakes: having been arrested, she refuses to be released, pending trial, while there are still children being detained; then, having been offered a deal in which she pleads guilty to a misdemeanour, she refuses to do that as well, leaving her facing trial for a felony. Which is just the sort of thing that might get in the way of a run for the Oval. Russell Jackson is apoplectic with fury, and for one delicious moment I thought that Henry was going to start punching him for bad-mouthing his wife.

But then one of the guards leaks a video of conditions inside the detention centre, and makes a public statement deploring what’s going on. And, suddenly, Elizabeth looks vindicated. Presidential, even. Jay brokers a legislative deal with Senator Morejon which will allow him to continue to look tough on immigration while reducing the number of asylum-seekers; the charges against Elizabeth are dropped; and she and Henry are able to have their marriage renewal party, with the actual Peter Frampton providing the music. Also, I think I saw her former enemy Morejon there, and all of a sudden I’m wondering whether he might just end up as Elizabeth’s running mate. Not the best episode, but its heart was in the right place.

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Madam Secretary s5 ep 10

After several weeks of round-the-world firefighting, Elizabeth returns to the home front this week for Madam Secretary’s 100th episode. To Arizona, then, where Governor Barker has instituted a policy of separating undocumented children and mothers at the Mexican border. Yes, it’s ripped from the headlines, and Mad Sec puts an additional thumb on the scales by rendering the Governor as a big-hatted redneck, and the local police as hicks. I’m not sure that was entirely necessary (whatever one’s views of the policy itself), and it turned a potentially great episode into a merely good one.

Because what’s left is harrowing enough: a distraught mother, warehoused children sitting in their own urine, that sort of thing. Arizona is clear that it won’t stand for interference from D.C.; POTUS, Elizabeth, and Russell are determined that the policy will end, although their attempt to do so through the courts founders when the judge hearing their case turns out to be possessed by the spirit of Antonin Scalia, and shoots them down. Even Senator Morejon, Elizabeth’s old enemy, is more sympathetic, but won’t step in.

So Elizabeth heads to Arizona herself, and following a tangle with Governor Bighat is arrested for trespass. This, one feels, might be a defining moment for her Presidential campaign.

Madam Secretary s5 ep 9

This week on Madam Secretary’s tour of the world’s trouble spots: the Balkans. Elizabeth has brokered a deal which would bring both Serbia and Kosovo into NATO. Great, huh? Well, first of all Spain indicates that it can no longer support the plan; it doesn’t want to encourage breakaway republics given its own local difficulty in Catalonia. Then news emerges of a mass grave which has just been found in Kosovo, dating back to its war with Serbia. Inevitably Kosovo pulls out of the NATO proposal, and for a moment it looks as if a full-blown civil war is about to break out.

The thing is, there’s no mass grave. (No newly-found mass grave, anyway.) It’s a made up story, propagated through the world’s media. Cui bono? Who in all the world (Russia) would stand to gain (RUSSIA) from ensuring the failure of a deal (RUSSIA RUSSIA RUSSIA) to admit East European countries to NATO? Well, Russia, of course. But Mad Sec wants proof before she tackles Foreign Minister Avdonin. It’s all inevitably, and typically, well-handled. And although it might be argued that the final scene, in which ethnic Albanian children and Serbian children share a classroom and plant hugely symbolic bulbs, is a bit on-the-nose, it should be said that the episode hardly gave us a happy ending on the macropolitical level.

Meantime, there are a couple of nice subplots in D.C. First of all, Secretary of Defense Becker turns up at the McCord home late at night. He’s somewhat, uh, overwrought, and is eventually shepherded away by his apologetic wife. The next day the incident is chalked up to sleeping medication, or something like that, but when Henry says that it needs to be reported anyway he’s on the receiving end of a bizarre little powerplay from the White House chief physician. And Blake’s first task in his new role is to sign off on a request for further funding from an NGO which has successfully reduced the incidence of malaria. Having done so, he then has to deal with representations from another NGO which points out that the mosquito nets he’s funding are killing fish. It’s a brisk and entertaining introduction to realpolitik for Blake, who is simultaneously grappling with having to watch Nina, his replacement as M-Sec’s assistant, knock it out of the park in a way he does not approve of, because it isn’t him doing that job any more.

Madam Secretary s5 ep 8

The main plot in ‘The Courage To Continue’ is classic Madam Secretary. Haiti’s new president-elect, Galbert, is liberal, tolerant; everything America wants. Well, almost: he’s a bit high-handed when it comes to accepting aid from NGOs, but Elizabeth is down with that. However, the outgoing president, a military strongman by the name of Dupont, is reluctant to go, in the manner of military strongmen everywhere. So while Galbert is in the States for a grip-and-greet with  President Dalton, Dupont declares that Galbert’s election victory was fraudulent (it wasn’t) and that he intends to stay in power, dissolving Parliament and the Supreme Court to make sure no-one can contradict him.

Elizabeth’s dilemma is that she wants to kick Dupont out, but without making Galbert look like an American puppet. Meantime, and without telling her, Dalton has ordered an invasion of Haiti, which would have precisely that effect. And Galbert wants to return to Haiti to stake his claim, running a significant risk of being killed. Dupont, Galbert, Monaco, Haitian oligarchs, and American billionaires are all part of Elizabeth’s diplomatic dance as she tries to remove Dupont, install Galbert, and keep Dalton on a leash, all without the spilling of blood. Frankly, she’s too good at this to run for the Oval. She should stay where she is.

Blake, meantime, is about to get fired, per M-Sec’s promise of a year ago, in order to move him out of his comfort zone. But what, he thinks, if I apply for a policy job within State? Then I could stay with my family! Jay, however, patronises Blake to the point where he loses his confidence, and forgets that he’s dazzlingly gifted and vastly overqualified. Frankly, Jay, Blake should be doing your job. Predictably, though, Elizabeth knows what time it is, and appoints Blake to her policy team. A highly enjoyable episode; even the underfed subplot with Elizabeth and Henry debating whether they should be buried in Arlington is skilfully done.

Madam Secretary s5 ep 7

During a crackdown on human trafficking in Laos, a number of pregnant women, acting as surrogates, are arrested. Vice President Teresa Hurst asks the President and Elizabeth to intervene in one particular case, as the arrested woman is carrying a baby on behalf of two of her constituents. Sorry, says POTUS; can’t. But – as VPOTUS swiftly admits to Elizabeth after the meeting – it isn’t just any old constituent who asked her to intervene. The surrogate is, in fact, carrying a child for her daughter and son-in-law. Her future grandchild. Think of the photo ops for me when we’re adversaries on the campaign trail, she doesn’t say. 

Elizabeth, of course, is the bigger person, and says she’ll do what she can. Her vision is broader, however, and involves some behind-the-scenes manoeuvring to put together an international coalition against trafficking. This runs the risk of specific action against Laos, and in turn an increased level of danger to Hurst’s daughter’s surrogate. So someone – perhaps not a million miles away from the office, and indeed the person, of VPOTUS herself – leaks the details of the coalition talks to halt the plan. The resolution of this mess is largely Elizabeth’s doing but will, in fact, make Hurst look like a brilliant operator rather the dishonest and disloyal VP she, in fact, is. Presumably it will be tasty if and when the two of them go toe-to-toe on the campaign trail.

The other two plots are slight. I love Blake, but couldn’t dredge up any interest in the peace garden thing at all. And Stevie is being followed by Talia Petrov, the sister of her old love interest and Russian defector Dmitri. It turns out that Dmitri found out about the explosion in the Oval and just wanted to make sure that Stevie was all right. Through official channels, they exchange letters: their reactions on reading them would suggest that they are still in love. It’s a passable episode but little more than that.

Madam Secretary s5 ep 6

There’s a refugee crisis on the border between Turkey and Syria. Turkey’s position is that it doesn’t have sufficient funding to provide food and shelter for the refugees and, at a UN summit in Doha, Elizabeth is doing her best to help Turkey by asking China’s Minister Chen for help, and by getting Jay and Kat to shake down France, Germany, and the United Arab Emirates. They’re all unsuccessful, though, so Turkey remains around $5bn short; and although Elizabeth offers some undertakings to Turkey, Foreign Minister Baran Tarkan makes it clear that he’d prefer cash money – and the return of a dissident – to fine words.

It all comes to a head when Turkey closes its side of the border which, with Syrian forces advancing, increases the possibility of a humanitarian catastrophe. No-one’s budging, though, so Elizabeth and her aides fly home. But when they stop in Ireland to refuel, they need to stay on the ground, because the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull has erupted, throwing dust into the atmosphere. And who else is stranded in Shannon Airport…? The Turkish party, of course. (And the Dutch woman’s chess team.) Thrown together, nowhere to go: will Elizabeth, do you think, be able to broker a deal? It starts badly when the Turks take all the food, and in retaliation the Americans take all the power points and Blake sings karaoke loudly.

But things start to calm down, and America and Turkey engage a little more. Also, Jay meets a Dutch chess player – the eighth best woman in the world, I think she said – and bizarrely he challenges her to a game of chess because he was quite good at school, or something. It is, of course, foreplay. And a metaphor – there are plenty of shots of diplomats’ legs marching back and forward across the black and white tiled floor of Shannon Airport as Elizabeth and Tarkan play their Great Big Game Of Chess, with… well, the lives of thousands of refugees at stake. Let’s not labour that point, though.

Back home, meantime, Henry gets a really strong storyline which was, I felt, thrown away just a little – he needs to step in and deliver, on Elizabeth’s behalf, and deliver a speech to an audience of service families who have experience, like he and Elizabeth do, of being separated by their duties. All while providing unwanted advice to Alison on how she should be negotiating her FWB relationship. I really liked this episode, although were I from Ireland – and I’m entitled to an Irish passport, so there’s that, I suppose – I would be slightly put out at the portrayal of my countryfolk as Guinness-drinking folk singers. It’s Geoffrey Arend’s directorial debut, incidentally, and he does a perfectly good job.

Madam Secretary s5 ep 5

Henry is in Thailand for some conference or other, also being attended by his college girlfriend Rochana. Elizabeth, left back in D.C., is visibly just a little bit jealous, and she hasn’t even seen Henry and Rochana – still attractive, there’s no doubt about that – having dinner. With Rochana TAKING HENRY’S HAND. Hey-ho, I thought; I don’t actually want M-Sec’s marriage to hit the rocks, but would a little what-happens-in-Thailand-etc. be so bad?

Then Rochana disses the Thai King at the conference and, as she intended, she’s arrested and faces 60 years in jail. Elizabeth does her best to sound disappointed when Henry phones her with the news. “She did violate the law”, she murmurs. “We can’t interfere…” this being something that flies in the face of the subject of pretty much every episode ever of this show, which is essentially predicated on America interfering. Henry successfully asks the King for a Royal pardon, which at first Rochana is unaccountably peevish about: can’t she just stay in prison to make a point, or something? Nuh-uh, says Henry; we’re leaving. But as they’re driving out of Thailand the King dies, which invalidates the pardon; Rochana is recaptured and faces the death penalty; and Henry himself is in jail as well. Suddenly – what do you know? – interfering is OK again, and an exfiltration operation is put in motion.

Back home, meantime, Elizabeth is about to officially announce her candidacy for the Oval, and meeting with a Mike B-appointed ghost writer who is going to write a book for her. Matt is worried that M-Sec no longer likes him. And Jason is pissing about with his college applications. The show appears to be determined to put Elizabeth and her family through a run for the Presidency, and I’m in two minds about that, because I quite like the focus on foreign affairs, even if this week’s foreign affair wasn’t quite the one I was hoping for. Never mind. A good episode.