Sunday, March 1, 2015

REVIEW: 'Madam Secretary' - Elizabeth Faces a Public Scandal While Stevie Figures Out Her Future in 'Whisper of the Ax'

CBS' Madam Secretary - Episode 1.14 "Whisper of the Ax"

Elizabeth is humiliated at a public budget hearing when her staff fails to find the corruption that exists in her microloan program. Also, the investigation into Marsh's death continues.

Elizabeth is the type of person not to fire the entire State Department staff just because their boss died in a tragic plane crash. She has worked with these people all season long and has started to form bonds with them. There is still those professional boundaries though. She's the woman in charge. The staff can express their opinions but, at the end of the day, her way of doing things is the way the situation will be handled. "Whisper of the Ax" further shines a light on the bonds Elizabeth has with her staff. They make a crucial mistake in preparing her and her purposed budget to go in front of a committee. It's a big problem that the person running the program she's selling the hardest has been embezzling funds from the program. How they missed that fact isn't the primary focus though. Elizabeth simply wants to bounce back from this public setback and keep this microloan program alive.

No one is questioning the good that this program does for the people and communities who receive the aide. The problem is that the public faces are being scrutinized for how the program is being run. It's a very weird episodic story. There is the threat of one of the staff members being fired for this error - as they should because of the severity of the mistake. Jay seemingly packs his desk halfway through the episode as well. It's all just a fake out in order for Elizabeth to retaliate against the head of the committee who's sole purpose for the hearing was to embarrass her. It's a plot trick that actually worked because Sebastian Arceleus isn't a contracted regular. He has appeared in multiple episodes this season. But he could realistically be fired and it wouldn't be an empty threat. If the hook in this story was Nadine, Matt or Daisy, it wouldn't have worked because I would have been guessing how he or she would win their job back by hour's end. With Jay, there really is the possibility that he may be on his way out of this office.

That's simply not the case though. Because of this move, Elizabeth is able to one up this man who the office built up as this master political force. He wasn't that much of a threat to the way that Elizabeth conducts her business in this office. So ultimately, this story was just another one in the line of Elizabeth dealing with a problem that she'll be able to neatly deal with while making her appear good by the conclusion of the episode.

It's also a story that ties into Stevie and her journey of discovery on what her future should be. She hasn't been that great of a character throughout this first season. She has had more focus and a character arc than the other two children. However, it doesn't feel like her story has actually gone anywhere. Her parents have constantly been telling her to go back to college while she changes jobs every other week and discovers how much better the world is when you have a college degree. It's a very one-sided argument that actually wins out in the end. Stevie finally finds a position she's passionate about - helping at the microloan office - but can only do it as a part of a college's internship program. So, she applies to Georgetown but wants to frame the discussion as it being her choice and not her parents wearing her down. It's an anti-climatic ending to this story which has had so much time devoted to it this season.

But "Whisper of the Ax" also featured the next stage of Elizabeth and Russell's investigation into the death of former secretary Vincent Marsh. They discover that there's a mole in their investigation - because there's always a mole! It turns out to be the CIA friend of Elizabeth's who didn't want to be a part of the investigation. She worked on the previous plane crash alongside George. Her personal life is falling apart. And now, we learn that she is messed up with some nefarious people. But she's also able to slip away without being caught because Elizabeth and Russell brought in the President too late to catch her effectively. She was able to vacate her house and leave a note for Elizabeth. What does it say? We'll have to tune in next week to find out!

Some more thoughts:
  • "Whisper of the Ax" was written by Barbara Hall and directed by Eric Stoltz.
  • I liked seeing both Kevin Rahm and Josh Hamilton pop up but their characters didn't have much spark or depth to them. Fortunately, this probably won't be the last we see of them this season.
  • Elizabeth initially turned to Isabelle as the mole as she was the only other person who knew the details of the investigation. I appreciate Isabelle saying she understood the reasoning behind suspecting her even if she won't be able to forgive Elizabeth any time soon for it.
  • Nadine, Jay, Matt and Daisy should go out drinking more often. It's levity and camaraderie that further fleshes out the inter-office dynamics.
  • Sooner or later though, Elizabeth is gonna have to fire someone from her staff. Just because everything works out in the end for her doesn't mean she could find more competent people to work for her.