Plot: Elizabeth Faulkner McCord (Téa Leoni) is a former CIA spy that returns to the government as the Secretary of State. She now has to balance family life with her new job.
Madam Secretary is an interesting show with excellent actors, but it feels a lot like watching the news. In the series’ world, two American kids are being held captive in Syria, there’s an AIDS epidemic in Africa, and the media is more concerned with what McCord (Leoni) is wearing. The events sound extremely close to real life; they’re particularly close to when Hilary Clinton was Secretary of State.
The show doesn’t start with McCord as Secretary of State. We start off the series watching her as a college professor telling her student that he has to write a paper on the Cold War (because the class is about the cold war), but he is more than welcome to write an essay supporting his idea that we are in a new cold war. This scene was unnecessary. Madam Secretary could’ve easily started McCord in her kitchen as President Conrad Dalton (Keith Carradine) tells her that she is his new Secretary of State because her predecessor died in a plane crash on his way to Venezuela.
As Secretary of State, the first thing McCord has to do is plan a dinner with the King of Swaziland. The meeting will take place because the press eats that stuff up. McCord doesn’t want to do it because the king has 15 wives and hasn’t sufficiently addressed the growing AIDS problem in his country. At the end of the episode, McCord makes everyone uncomfortable by bringing up a topic that her advisers told her not to, and somehow gets the king of Swaziland agrees to the United States terms for treating AIDS in his country… because somehow he understands that Americans can’t possibly be expected not to make huge faux pas when it comes to other cultures. This entire situation is both idealistic and naïve.
The majority of the episode had nothing to do with Swaziland. McCord’s government life is spent trying to free two American kids, who were kidnapped in Syria. After an attempt by the CIA that wasn’t properly authorized, the president takes the responsibility of freeing the kids away from her. He hands it over to White House Chief of Staff Russell Jackson (Željko Ivanek), who insists on going through the proper channels and that McCord include him in every conversation she has with the President. Of course, McCord knows people in unofficial channels, decides to use them, and to hell with Jackson! She puts her plan in place, tells the president after the fact, and magically gets the boys released when Syria agrees to receive $1.5 million in exchange for the boys’ release.
When McCord is not at work, she has a family life that seems to only exist as a contrast to government life. Her husband (Tim Daly) is also a former CIA spy turned college professor, so he understands that she can’t share certain information with him and why she is so stressed out. As for her kids, Alison (Katherine Herzer) and Jason (Evan Row), they rarely factor into the story unless they are breaking a rule and their mom doesn’t care because she’s too stressed to care.
If you’re looking for escapist entertainment, Madam Secretary is not for you. The writers’ took one look at the world’s problems and fictionalized them, so that every story has a happy ending. The show may not be best in the world, but it is far from boring. Most of its flaws aren’t obvious until after you finish watching and realize the writers are doing a poor job of balancing way too many things.
Allison Lips is the Founder of Wait! What’s a Dial?, a television blog that showcases the writing of millennials. Allison graduated from Rowan University in May 2013. She has a passion for TV history, especially late night and game shows. If she could go back in time, Steve Allen would still be hosting The Tonight Show. Follow her on Twitter @waitwaitsadial.