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Madam Secretary - Break in Diplomacy - Review

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Elizabeth McCord may be a fictitious Secretary of State, but her storyline in “Break in Diplomacy” is something almost every real world woman can understand: sexual assault. Whether it’s an unsolicited comment, an inappropriate touch or worse, harassment is something almost every woman has endured in her lifetime.

Elizabeth’s unwanted advancement comes at the literal hand of Philippine President Datu Andrada. The guy would skeeve anyone out. Elizabeth’s female sixth sense is first piqued when she’s meeting with him and his assistant walks out of the room, leaving her alone with him. That’s enough to make her clench a finger. Andrada asks to call her “Elizabeth,” but she’s not allowed to call him “Datu” because that, of course, would put them on equal levels. Clenched finger #2. Andrada then sits Elizabeth down, but continues to stand, even circling her. It’s a move meant to intimidate her, asserting his authority over her, indicating she’s smaller and subservient… or so he thinks. Clenched finger #3. Elizabeth tries to stay on the task at hand (international diplomacy) by bringing up drones. Andrada responds with “Do you have any idea how sexy it is to hear a woman talking about drones?” We’re now up to clenched finger #4. As Andrada laughs a maniacal laugh, Elizabeth’s alarm bells are blaring. She tries to stay professional, but literally backs up, putting space between herself and him while not turning her back… until she does. It’s at that moment when Andrada grabs her. This is the last straw, and if you’ve been counting clenched fingers, we now have a full fist. Elizabeth whips around and punches him smack in the nose. It seems more of a reflex than anything, but the girl’s got a mean right hook. Andrada is bleeding. Elizabeth throws napkins at him. It’s her instinct as a woman to help and make the situation better, but she also needs to keep her distance for her own safety. I think a large portion of her also can’t believe what just transpired and her mind is racing: “Did that really just happen? Holy crap, I just punched the President. Thank God I stopped it. Now what happens?” The incident only lasted a few seconds, but the effects will remain. You know Madeleine, Condoleezza and Hillary have stories.

President Dalton and Russell Skype with Elizabeth following the attack. Now you know all the woman wants to do is get out of there and go home, but she’s attempting to stay for the sake of literal world peace. “I have to say, breaking the President’s nose is a whole new form of diplomacy,” Conrad chuckles. Not seeing the humor in the situation, Elizabeth retorts with “So is groping the Secretary of State in my experience.” Of course she has to remind them of that part. Russell jokingly calls her “Sugar Ray McCord,” but Elizabeth isn’t laughing. It’s too new and raw and terrifying. The men are seemingly more worried about the effects the U.S. Secretary of State punching the Philippine President’s nose will have diplomatically than how Elizabeth is doing. Russell also later calls it an “indiscretion,” but she does not let that slide, interjecting “Sexual assault isn’t an indiscretion. It’s a crime.” If Elizabeth was holding a microphone, she just dropped it and took off stage left. Perhaps it’s because Elizabeth doesn’t have any outward physical injuries that they just seem to breeze past what happened. After all, it was “only” a touch. What they don’t realize.. or seem to even care about.. is the mental anguish Elizabeth is now grappling with. She may not have bruises or need medical care, but the emotional effects of this harassment are just as significant. This puts Elizabeth in an awkward position because she’s been the victim of sexual assault, but she’s also working in a “Good Ol’ Boys Club.” She could’ve used Admiral Hill.

On the opposite of the male spectrum is Henry. Elizabeth walks through the door to her home and Henry is immediately there. He’s always waiting up for her, ready to jump up from his desk the second he hears the knob turn. The two pause and turn slightly to Matt, waiting for him to put her luggage down and leave. It was only a few seconds, but you could feel their anguish. Henry then envelops her in his arms. They stay there for a moment, just comforting each other, her fingers gripping into his back. Henry tells Elizabeth that Andrada claims he broke his nose sparring with someone named “Cobra.” “That cover story works for me,” she chokes out… although I don’t think that story does work for her. I think she wants the world to know exactly what he did to her, and by him using that BS scenario, the incident remains a secret. Unlike Russell, who immediately jumped to poking fun at the situation by calling her “Sugar Ray McCord,” Henry has a more tempered response. Elizabeth asks, “You’re gonna start calling me ‘Cobra’ now, aren’t you?” “As soon as it’s funny,” Henry rightfully responds. The world needs more Henrys. As wonderful as that man is, however, even he questions why she didn’t ask Andrada what he was thinking. He’s not blaming her by any means, but he’s trying to be rational about an irrational situation. No matter how empathetic a man is, it’s difficult to understand the precarious, multifaceted situation she (or any woman) is in.

Later in the episode, Elizabeth’s angst comes out in the form of a rant for and against pillows. Sure it’s a funny scene on the surface, but there are deep, emotional undertones. She’s scattered and rambling and everything is annoying. It’s like when you’re on the edge emotionally and you open the refrigerator to realize you’re out of coffee creamer. Something so innocent becomes the end of the world. Henry gets it. He even says so. Elizabeth realizes it, too. They then have a mostly one-sided conversation about whether or not she should reveal what happened or just continue sweeping it under the rug. Nadine, Daisy and Matt all want her to go public, but Elizabeth sees the situation differently. From a victim standpoint, she’s just like any woman who’s been assaulted. However, as even she explains, she’s not just “any other woman.” She’s the Secretary of State, and with serious political repercussions at risk, she’s willing to pretend the entire incident didn’t happen for the betterment of the world. She’s putting Elizabeth the SOS ahead of the Elizabeth the woman, wife, mom, sister and friend. It’s an unfair position to be in and an unfair burden to bear. “We tell ourselves to suck it up, just this once. Be better for everyone. But just saying that, aren’t I marginalizing a woman’s right to not be harassed and not be assaulted? When does that get to be the bigger picture?” Elizabeth is also exhibiting the typical signs of assault victim. She doesn’t necessarily want it to be made public for fear of backlash. She’s partly blaming herself instead of the perpetrator and then feeling guilty that she feels guilty. She says that people might not believe her because it’s her word against his. There’s a bit of shame involved. The only thing she didn’t do was question what she was wearing… which I definitely thought someone would mention considering they made such a big deal about her dress in the opening scene. If anything comes from this episode, it’s that sexual assault and harassment can happen to anyone, and that victims are not alone, no matter how bleak their world may seem.

The one thing I wish the writers would have added was a scene with the entire McCord family. Sexual assault is no doubt something both Elizabeth and Henry have discussed with their daughters before, so this seems like a very appropriate conversation to have with them. It’s also not just something Stevie and Alison alone should hear it. Jason would benefit, too. I’m sure it would be awkward for a boy his age to hear about his mother being assaulted, but boys should not be neglected from these discussions. As much as girls need to be taught how to defend themselves, boys need to be taught to respect girls. I am a huge proponent of women knowing how to get out of tricky situations, but why is it always on the girls to defend themselves? Why is it never on men or boys to NOT do violent things to begin with? This just seems like a huge Team McCord moment that was missed. Perhaps it will come up eventually, especially if this will affect Elizabeth going forward… which I hope it does. Not so much in the post-Tamerlane PTSD way, but if Alison goes on a date or something like that, she could share her experience. I don’t want the writers to forget what happened to her just because 3.15 is over. When a woman in real life is assaulted, it doesn’t go away. It stays with her for a lifetime.

Elizabeth eventually gets a bit of revenge and even takes the upper hand in the situation. She warns Andrada that she could reveal the truth behind his broken nose at any time. That leaves him living in a constant state of worry, always wondering when or if she’ll spill their secret. Rest well, a$$hole. Elizabeth also takes a page from his chauvinistic book and refers to him as “Datu,” while demanding he refer to her as “Madam Secretary.” It may seem like a small and insignificant thing, but to her, it’s a large step towards reclaiming her strength, proving her fortitude and standing up to her assaulter.

So let’s talk about Datu Andrada. I have no idea when this episode was written, but it screams mid-November… or at least post-election. It doesn’t take a Mensa membership to realize Datu Andrada’s character is not-so-loosely based on President Trump. Alison and Jason are interested in him because he’s entertaining and a “total genuine psycho,” like he’s some sort of movie character. Andrada used to be a successful businessman, ran an unconventional campaign, is a textbook narcissist, defiantly shouts and rants during press conferences, and speaks solely in rhetoric. He’s a so-called “strongman,” who, as Elizabeth astutely describes, “is just insecure and weak, without any good policy ideas, so he has to bully his way into power and force himself on women to feel powerful.” I mean, come on. The only way the writers could have been more overt is if they hired a sky-writing plane to spell out the connection. (Mar Me Elibet. Always have to mention that when sky-writing planes are noted.) It must have been therapy for the writers to create Andrada’s character and play out the scenario. Like when you’re upset and spill your guts into your journal… except in this case, millions are watching your journal play out. “The Philippines might frown on a President who sexually harasses women,” Dalton notes. Shouldn’t we all, no matter the country? Apparently not.

Elizabeth’s storyline took center stage this week, as it should, but Henry’s life as a handler is still playing out. Ian is alive after taking an unplanned scuba lesson, and finds out the cult has a military drone (so much drone talk this week). Ian also manages to kill one of the cult members. So now Henry has a dead dude on his hands. I’m still just like… whatever. I barely even half watch their scenes. The thing I was most interested in was why Henry and Ian met in the middle of a road in the middle of the day. Not so covert ops.

“Kevin” is still a bit of an enigma. The State Department is trying to figure out exactly who he was and why someone would’ve killed him. Somalia, Egypt, weapons smuggling, coverups. “Kevin” was at the center of it all. I almost care more about his backstory than I do Henry’s asset. The writers also seem to be humanizing “Kevin” a bit, talking about him being an uncle and paying for his nephew’s cochlear implants. Daisy is very hung up on him. I mean, I’d want to know more about some dude I was dating who was living a secret life, too… but she wants more and more info about him. Is this because she may be pregnant and is desperate to learn about her shady baby daddy? Yeah, I’m just gonna throw that out every week until we learn she isn’t pregnant.

For a second, I thought we were going down the “Jay cheats” road. I’m happy they didn’t. It’s an easy plotline… and the Madam Secretary writers don’t do easy that often.

Other things:

--Elizabeth is helping the CIA solve the case about “Kevin.” Although I appreciate the way she can marry her two worlds, I kind of hate that they make it seem like the CIA is inept and run by bumbling idiots without her. This isn’t the first time they’ve implied the CIA is incompetent. Maybe that’s their take on the agency post-Munsey and Juliet.

--”God, sometimes Democracy just blows.” Truer words.

--”Hey, you know what kids? School’s at the same time today. Crazy how that works.” I appreciate Papa Henry’s parenting style: snark + love

What did you think about Elizabeth’s response to Andrada? Are you liking the Henry storyline? Who do you think “Kevin” is?

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