Sunday, September 28, 2014

REVIEW: 'Madam Secretary' - Elizabeth Protects an Ambassador in Yemen & A Daughter Returns from College in 'Another Benghazi'

CBS' Madam Secretary - Episode 1.02 "Another Benghazi"

While in the process of dealing with a crisis in Yemen, Elizabeth faces a challenge at home when her oldest daughter makes headlines for protesting her university's new policy.

In "Another Benghazi," it becomes apparent that Madam Secretary is going to be taking the "ripped from the headlines" approach to its episodic storytelling. And yet, those events have happened within this universe as well. Multiple characters talk about the situation in Yemen throughout the hour as another Benghazi. That tongue-in-cheek approach isn't quite necessary and more importantly it takes us out of the action a little bit. The show desperately wants to be seen as relevant in the television conversation about real world issues. But it's also still finding its footing which means there is a lot of hand-holding in this second episode. The stakes should be raised within this universe because the handling of these global issues could have bigger political consequences than the event they are referencing did. That's because it will seem like they didn't learn anything from the situation the first time. It's not like The Newsroom way of covering real world events where hindsight is implanted into the past making the main characters seem smarter than their real life counterparts. Madam Secretary isn't proudly saying this is the way things should have been done. Instead it largely just plays as events that Elizabeth has to deal with. There's no politics to any of it because the show is trying hard not to make any kind of political statement. That ultimately makes things much milder than what you may have expected from this type of show.

The main story isn't helped a ton by the addition of Jeff Hephner as Isaac Bishop, the head of a private security company. It's made a big deal that Elizabeth does not agree with the ideals of a privatized army. They should have played that up more. It gets mentioned by her press staff but consequences of her actions never occur. It's not made a big deal that she has hired people whose work she has publicly argued against. That's because everyone's sole focus is keeping the Yemen ambassador safe. That's where the focus should be because of the life-and-death stakes. But managing public image is another vital part of this position and the series would rather briefly mention it and then have nothing come of it - except maybe a passing comment by one of her kids. It then becomes even more wish-fulfilling when Bishop claims that her interview a year ago forced the agency to overhaul their training process. It can't even allow for two people to have idealogical differences and yet still find a way to work with each other. Everyone has to be on the same wavelength. Russell Jackson is ultimately the only person allowed to be in opposition to Elizabeth and that dynamic hasn't produced anything fruitful yet. He's largely just ticked at her for what she did in the premiere which isn't that interesting.

Lastly, Wallis Currie-Wood joins the cast on a more regular basis as the eldest daughter of Elizabeth and Henry. She's been deemed a mystery daughter - which is largely the show's fun way of addressing the fact that she hasn't really been mentioned before. She's nothing like that but the show makes it a big deal. Her character, Stevie, is largely just a more well-articulated version of the annoying teenage character. It does have some merit and I'd much rather spend time with her than the other two children in that family. Her struggles as a young adult thrust into the spotlight because of her famous mother have more weight than those of her young siblings who are simply in high school where everything is just trivial. I didn't need so much time spent on that character and her back-and-forth with her parents over dropping out of college. But I'm not terribly upset at her continuing existence on the series.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Another Benghazi" was written by Barbara Hall and directed by David Semel.
  • Elizabeth is slyly asking questions about George's death. And yet, in the end, she's going along with the accident story just like everybody else.
  • Bishop justifies withholding information from the President until Elizabeth gets to the meeting because she's the one who hired him. Also, he didn't vote for the guy.
  • George also sucked at magic tricks. That was the one thing Elizabeth and Stevie could bond over.
  • The hour isn't without casualties. A member of the private security team is killed. But it's all so impersonal. The main objective is the Ambassador and he is safe. But the weight of the operative's death does still hit Elizabeth. If only it did the same for the audience.