Screen: CBS

Islands In The Stream

Madam Secretary plays chicken with China.

Is it a good thing that we're four episodes in to the history of this show and a clear formula has already emerged? Not really, y'all! Is there a wall of Post-Its out there with stuff written on them like, 1) EM disagrees with Chief; 2) EM calls Henry; kid in identical but smaller-scale crisis to nation; 3) Ethical quandary reveals chip on shoulder of [someone]. With an extra note that just says: "Order Leoni's lozenges."

Just...help me try to understand this. For some reason, the U.S. is brokering a deal over some islands whose ownership is in dispute between Japan and China. The Chinese don't even want to do it, but Elizabeth has worked her magic and the thing is finally about to happen when a brilliant Chinese student requests U.S. asylum and trash-talks her homeland on CNN. But then, twist: turns out the student isn't what she appears to be. AND THEN: she decides to return to China, after all, because she never wanted to leave in the first place.

Meanwhile, there is once again tension on the domestic front, both in Elizabeth's office, where she could be caught in the middle of a political revenge/murder plot against her predecessor; and at home, where she laments her inability to "be there" for her children.

And the tragedy of it all is that the lack of nuance and dearth of subtlety -- two qualities you'd hope a show about diplomacy would have in large amounts -- make it so very uninteresting and annoying. With all of that in mind, just how Madam Secretar-ial was this episode?

Madam Secretary-ish Element Present?
Women can't "have it all." Elizabeth has to save the planet from "World War III," but, sadface, she's missing Allison's sleepover party. Cue much motherly gnashing and guilty frown lines. As if a bunch of fifteen-year-olds want a mom at their party? A mom who is a major player in the federal government?
Someone's ethics are harshly called into question. Daisy snarks TO ELIZABETH that she thinks Elizabeth is abusing the trust of the Chinese student in order to ink the islands deal. Because that's a great way to keep a job -- bitching aloud that your boss doesn't do things as nobly as the former boss did.
Absentee President. Is Keith Carradine too busy for this shit? No one could blame him. POTUS is fully MIA even as China prepares to get nasty with Japan.
Religious (professor) persecution. Henry doesn't have much to do but wave off the daughter drama at home as he works on a speech no one cares about for his job. But he ain't mad about it (this time).
The menace is coming from inside the White House. The Chief of Staff slithers by just in time to heavily imply that the late Secretary was shady and maybe that the President killed him?
TWIST and DOUBLE-TWIST. Turns out that the Chinese student everyone is haggling over wasn’t an activist trying to overthrow Communism. Her mother was, and she sent her to America in search of freedom. But THEN, when Elizabeth finally offers her asylum, the girl...wants to go back to China and fight the power.
Blake makes all of this worth it. Obviously, among the MANY conspiracies against this show being good, there was one this week to keep Blake from having enough screen time.
A civil rights violation is perpetrated by the hair/makeup/wardrobe departments. Tea Leoni is forced to play basketball (horribly) in stiletto heels, and Patina Miller is basically assaulted by insanely heavy charcoal eye-shadow and frosted lipstick. To say nothing of the insulting church lady helmet foisted on poor Patricia Kalember, who plays a senator from Texas.
A McCord child grates like bad cheese. OMG, yes. Stevie is still butt-hurt and embarrassed at having been unable to hack college life, and is taking it out on everyone, especially her sister, Allison. In the episode's most satisfying moment, Allison lets her have it, putting her in place in no uncertain terms.
7 / 9
Final Score
78%
Madam Secretary
22%
Drunk C-SPAN
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