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Madam Secretary - The Detour - Review

It’s the journey, not the destination. That’s my summary of 3.12. For a little bit more, let’s get into “The Detour."

As the episode title suggests, Elizabeth’s State Department visit to Africa doesn’t go as planned. That’s the beauty of life, but not so much when you’re on a trip for the U.S. Government with an entire press pool on board. An unexpected plane failure forces the group to make an emergency landing. “We kind of lost an engine. The thing is, we’re not gonna die,” Elizabeth calmly states as if she forgot her socks at home. Listen. I have zero fears about flying, but if my plane loses an engine, I’m either drinking or praying. Or both. Elizabeth’s plane lands safely, although unexpectedly, in Togo. Togo was never on the itinerary, but in the end, Togo may have ended up the biggest winner of the trip. Elizabeth manages to pull yet another rabbit out of a hat, “tricking” China to invest in Togo’s economy with certain parameters that will benefit Togo far into the future. This detour opened Elizabeth’s eyes to a part of the world that probably would never be on the State Department radar otherwise and leaves an unexpected lasting effect on the region. Exhibit A that it’s about the journey, not the destination.

Exhibit B: With her plane one engine down, Elizabeth, Blake and her security detail are forced to fly commercial to make their planned stop in Nigeria. Even Elizabeth admits it’s not ideal, but she’s trying to make the best of it.. or at least fake it. She’s starving (and stealing Blake’s snacks), is cramped and can’t use any technology due to security concerns, but she’s getting in touch with real people. To a point. It’s not like she’s holding a summit with fellow passengers, but this short flight takes her out of her Washington bubble and puts her literally among people she’s working so hard to help.

Exhibit C: Daisy. Perhaps Daisy, out of everyone, needed to learn the lesson that it’s not always about the final goal. The unplanned stop in Togo and the extended stay for some of the State Department staff doesn’t phase Susan Thompson. She takes it in stride, making the best of the situation, decades of experience as her guide. Daisy doesn’t have that background to fall back on and, let’s face it, she’s not the most easygoing of personalities. When told they would be sleeping on the couch at the U.S. Embassy in Togo, Susan doesn't blink an eye, while Daisy is incredulous. The girl needed a wakeup call or to be smacked with reality. That would come in short time at the slave fort. Forced face to face with the true horror of humanity, Daisy learns some life lessons. What’s truly the injustice in the world? An unexpected detour on a government trip or being taken from your family and forced into slavery? She’d later admit that she gets so wrapped up in the messaging that she forgets about the message. For me, the most poignant moment was when Daisy and Susan take a silent moment of prayer near the fort’s window. It reminded me of the picture of President Obama and Michelle Obama solemnly looking out the door of a slave port in Senegal a few years ago. For Daisy, not only did Susan help make the best out of a less than ideal situation, she made it even better than expected.. a nod to the journey over the destination. It was also a very fitting reference during this time of transition in America and right before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

A quick plane-related question: how is the Secretary of State’s plane not designed for transcontinental flight? Being the nation’s top diplomat, traveling to other countries is literally the Secretary of State’s job. Several of the most recent Secretaries of State logged nearly one million miles during their tenures. Also, seeing as how Marsh’s plane ended up in a smoldering pile of ash, you’d think Elizabeth’s plane would be on par with Air Force One. I realize any plane can lose an engine at any time, but multiple references were made about the apparent Wright Brothers prototype she flies in.

Henry’s expertise is again called to action this week. A surviving member of the Covenant of John is the one who built the bomb used in the Illinois coffee shop attack. Yes, THAT Covenant of John. Shout out to Season 1 Bolivia. Henry spends much of the episode questioning Rex Mayfield, trying to figure out why Mayfield would supply ISIS followers with bombs. As he’d discover, Mayfield didn’t convert to Islam and doesn’t align himself with radical Islamic beliefs. He simply wants to decimate the world. Even though they’re coming from two separate backgrounds, Mayfield and ISIS are teaming up for their common goal of destruction. Thus begins an entire discussion about interests versus ideals. It’s a sentiment that can play into virtually any aspect of this show, as Minister Chen himself brought up with Elizabeth. One could argue Elizabeth’s entire career is a giant “interests versus ideals” debate. Like ethics and morals, this is a bit of a murky subject; a gray area that’s based on one’s personal philosophy and beliefs. Reason #4856 why I wouldn’t want Elizabeth’s job. I’m sure the discussion will return in the not-so-distant future, given the final scene involved Rex’s “lost” bomb. Another bombing may be upon us. Oh, goodie. Also, whenever I hear “the time is nigh," it makes me shiver.

Chen Versus McCord, Round 34576. It’s fun to see these two spar. Their backgrounds are different, but their goals are the same: make deals that benefit their own countries. I like to think they bring about the best in the other. It sometimes takes glasses to see that, but they force the other to dig for different options; options that aren’t always the most effortless, but in the end are the most beneficial. It’s Chen who puts the idea of helping Togo into Elizabeth’s head. Gun, meet foot. If anything, these two respect each other as peers and, sometimes, even as fellow humans. We catch a glimpse of that for .03 seconds this week, when Chen admits his father was killed at a young age. Elizabeth relates, given the early loss of her parents. These personal anecdotes are the base for their professional relationship. I still don’t trust him farther than I could throw him, but I like his recurring appearances.

Elizabeth uses her time in Africa to speak directly to young girls about the importance of education. Personally, I’m a Communication major from a liberal arts college, only taking enough Math and Science classes to meet my minimum graduation requirement. I’d rather talk to you about the Irish Potato Famine or Women in Religion than Calculus or Chemistry, but even I was inspired by her speech. There are thousands of young girls out there who desperately NEED to hear that they are capable of careers in these fields. Elizabeth is the living, breathing manifestation of those little dreams. As a child, she was told she was “less than,” and she’s now standing in front of these girls as one of the most powerful women in the world, telling them it IS possible. A powerful message for any girl from any country, both on screen and in real life.

Other Things:

--I loved Susan playing such a pivotal role this episode. Despite their rocky start, Elizabeth and Susan have hit their stride. It was nice to see two smart, successful, educated women working side-by-side for the betterment of the world.. especially during an episode that focused so much on the education and success of young girls.

--Elizabeth used the solar cooker given to her by the girls in Togo back home with her own children. It was a sweet, symbolic moment. My only question: I thought all State Department gifts had to stay in the State Department? There was even an entire episode about that last week. Maybe she made a special dispensation like she did with the cognac from Season 1.

--The comedy was rampant this week, both verbal and physical. Téa and Erich are gold at this. Their timing throughout the episode was perfection, but they both truly shined in the airplane scene heading to Nigeria. Blake crawling over Matt and Elizabeth, Elizabeth and Blake “fighting” over snacks, etc. There aren’t many times when comedy can beam through in this scripted drama, but we were treated this week.

--”Nobody pantses America.”

--I had no idea State Department officials carried equivalent military ranks. Every episode I seem to learn something new. Hats off to Nadine using her rank to her advantage. Never underestimate a tiny stubborn woman. When she said “I hate the Pentagon so much,” I laughed. Ticked off, exasperated Nadine may be my favorite.

--”I just gotta say, arts are of equal value. I’m just saying.” The writers threw Tim a bone… and I agree with him.

The show takes a week off, but I’m excited to see more of Jay in the next episode. Personal stories of the staff are always some of my favorites. What did you think of “The Detour?”