Sunday, October 26, 2014

REVIEW: 'Madam Secretary' - Elizabeth Pleads for the World's Help to Stop Genocide in Western Africa in 'The Call'

CBS' Madam Secretary - Episode 1.06 "The Call"

Elizabeth faces unexpected consequences when she makes a plea to the President to help with a dire situation in Western Africa.

Madam Secretary really is an idealist type of show. Every week it seems like the show presents a story with world-changing ramifications only for it to be resolved because Elizabeth is willing to talk with a forceful yet friendly hand. This week that includes the potential genocide of thousands of people in the Republic of Western Africa. The story comes to Elizabeth through a connection with Henry. The show really is struggling to keep him a vital part of the ongoing narrative. She presents it to the President and Russell Jackson who see no upside to military involvement. She turns a key speech moment into a speech about the ongoing issues in this country.

And like that, everyone is willing to help simply because it's the right thing to do. Sure, there continue to be physical roadblocks that stretch this plot out over the episode's second half. Warlords in the country keep African forces from taking control of the government and a scandal emerges with Priest Louis Gossett Jr. But everything resolves itself nicely and neatly by episode's end - without a hint of any kind of lasting impact on the characters or the series. After mentioning that intervening would seem like the United States is policing the world in the first act, Elizabeth doesn't deal with any kind of blowback after her speech. In fact, the opposite occurs. That moment is what gets the President onto her side. After that, they are all focused on the situation. It grows more complicated but it doesn't offer up any complexity that better defines the relationships of the show.

The relationships between characters is the one thing I find lacking the most from Madam Secretary in these first few episodes. The primary focus right now seems to be on plot and entertaining the audience by seeing Elizabeth deal with situations thoughout the world from her office in Washington D.C. It's a lot of people talking to one another about stuff. But how much of it is meaningful in fleshing out the dynamics between these people? Elizabeth makes a remark about Matt's first attempt at the speech early in the episode. She's basically saying it is void of any kind of content. And yet, we have nothing to go on to make that brief interaction between the two feel substantial. Matt and Blake are largely just here as comic relief. That's their roles and they have not been given the opportunity to be more than that yet. Attempts have been made - Matt's relationship with Daisy and Blake investigating Nadine for Elizabeth. But neither of which have been executed well.

I do have to say though that I respect what the show is doing in exploring the dynamic between Elizabeth and Nadine. Téa Leoni and Bebe Neuwirth are remarkable acting talents and they work wonderfully well in scenes together. Their characters inherited each other - Elizabeth as a boss for Nadine and Nadine as a second-in-command for Elizabeth. That relationship is integral to how the office operates. So, it was vital for the show to define what these two women mean to each other. They quickly need to build a rapport in order to do their jobs effectively. That has grown more difficult because of Elizabeth's newfound knowledge of Nadine's exact relationship with Vincent Marsh and all the trouble Marsh was cooking up when he was in the office. She needs to know if she can trust Nadine. An investigation takes place - although it doesn't seem like a very thorough or effective one. And yet, Elizabeth is now confident that she can deal with Nadine with a certain amount of decency and respect. That growth leaves me hopeful for what the show can become.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Call" was written by Matt Ward and directed by Mark Piznarski.
  • It's this show's thing to cut away to the action somewhere in the world where the episode's plot is set. And yet, we really didn't need those cutaways to the family of the priest trying to escape and find safety.
  • Henry went from being friends with the priest, to hating him and what he stood for, to needing him in order to save his country and then becoming friends again. All of it felt like keeping that character busy. He needs to go to Elizabeth's office more often.
  • Elizabeth apparently likes going to restaurants that deep fry everything. They are the perfect clandestine meeting spot between friends.
  • The three kids didn't get to do much and I am very happy. Stevie had to have one important scene to reenergize her mother but that easily could have gone to someone else. Elizabeth's reaction to that story was pretty great though.