Sunday, November 30, 2014

REVIEW: 'Madam Secretary' - Elizabeth Heads to Venezuela to Learn More About Marsh's Secret Bank Account in 'Game On'

CBS' Madam Secretary - Episode 1.11 "Game On"

Elizabeth, Henry and Isabelle work together to find former Secretary of State Vincent Marsh's secret bank account, but soon uncover that one of Elizabeth's staff members already has access to it.

Back when Madam Secretary first premiered, I thought the conspiracy surrounding the death of former Secretary of State Vincent Marsh was just tacked on to give the drama a serialized and conspiracy device. It was not the most engaging element of the show. And now after 11 episodes, I can say that it has grown into a much larger thing and I'm very thankful for it. Too often the international diplomacy stuff that Elizabeth has to deal with every week doesn't feel all that nuanced or engaging. The conspiracy has opened up several character arcs that feel of one piece. I'm actually really glad that we've started getting more information and answers in regards to this plot in the last few episodes.

I'm also really glad that Russell Jackson was revealed to be one big red herring. He is not the master manipulator that concocted the plan to kill Vincent Marsh. Zeljko Ivanek plays bad guys really well. However, I'm excited to see what the show is going to do with his character now that they have revealed his innocence. So far, the character has largely just been ominous opposition to Elizabeth. Now that the two of them are working together, it could result in a much more dynamic relationship. Their final interaction in "Game On" was a step in the right direction. Quite frankly that could be really good for the show - if they are building this US-Iran conflict into a much larger issues. Honestly, I barely remember the episode where Elizabeth dealt with the Iranians earlier this season. Now that are being given more importance with the threat of a possible war, I will be much more engaged.

And yet, things still seem to be happening too easily for Elizabeth in her international dealings. Her main objective in Venezuela is to unravel the secrets of Vincent's hidden bank account. She is working with Henry, Isabelle and Nadine to get answers. And yet, the spycraft stuff isn't as tense as I would like them to be. Madam Secretary is not a spy thriller type of show. There's an esteem and polished aspect of the show that keeps it from going to the nitty gritty places. Everyone seems to carry themselves well despite the bad things happening throughout the world. However, I should be worried for Nadine when she goes to Venezuelan bank. I'm not because the show hasn't built up credible tension. Her hand shakes and she gets to wear a fun hat and that's largely the extent of her "undercover" work. Yes, it all comes back to hurt Elizabeth later. But I'm not interested in the politics Elizabeth has to use to cover her true mission in this country.

Still progress is being made to make Madam Secretary a stronger character ensemble. Pulling Henry into the conspiracy has made him a more interesting character - although he insists on coming on the trip as well and all he does is get food and have sex with Elizabeth (which is no different than what they do at home). Nadine's personal relationship with the former Secretary has given her a purpose and a strong drive. Does it explain why she withholds information from Elizabeth? Not at all. Her character arc right now is finding confidence in learning what her boyfriend was really up to during their time together. That should make her a strong presence as a professional woman. And then, she doesn't tell Elizabeth that she has accessed the bank account before. That doesn't add up. But I still see her as important part of the core of the show. It's a core that is still under development but one that is still filled with promise.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Game On" was written by Paul Redford and directed by Randy Zisk.
  • I could not care less about Matt and Daisy's relationship. Her fianc√© finding out about it was so bad. The most interesting thing about Matt has been his secret meetings with Russell. That made him an important part of the show. Everything else just feels like the show needing to have some kind of "forbidden" romance between the staffers - which ultimately feels cliche in this genre.
  • What is the point with the McCord children carrying their own scenes? I don't understand why the rift between Elizabeth and Stevie is suppose to be an important plot point. And I really hate that we are suppose to care about Alison's love life. It's all superfluous and bad at the same time.
  • The retired Venezuelan baseball player coming out could have been incredibly relevant but ultimately just felt like a waste. It could have been a story about different and clashing cultures and instead is just a ploy to make things a little trickier for Elizabeth. But good news, she put everything back together by episode's end - just like she always does!