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Madam Secretary - Sound and Fury - Review

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So. Anything special or out of the ordinary about this week’s show? Good gravy. This episode is definitely causing a reaction from both sides. Liberals are cheering, saying this is what should be happening in real life. Conservatives are upset with the “Hollywood elite.” I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a Madam Secretary episode get as much play in the media as this, everything from The Hollywood Reporter and EW to CNN. Also, twitter is a slight war zone. Fans are going back and forth, and some choice phrases are being tweeted to Téa and Tim. Social media stays classy.

The strong reaction is not surprising, given the plot in “Sound and Fury”: President Dalton suddenly becomes a trigger-happy tyrant, bent on retaliatory war, and his Cabinet must decide whether they should invoke the 25th Amendment. It seems like another “ripped from the headlines” storyline, even eerily resembling Michael Wolff’s new book “Fire and Fury.” Yes, I’m sure MS had their title months before Wolff’s book was public, but it just intensifies why some are so heated over this episode.

I’m torn over this episode. For the first time in a while, I felt all in. The time flew by and I was truly invested, wondering what was happening with Conrad and how those closest to him would respond. It’s been months (or even an entire season) since I can remember that feeling. However, I’m kind of annoyed the writers even explored this storyline. There’s enough crazy in the world and questions about competency in the White House that I don’t really want to watch that play out on television. I think of TV as a place where I can escape the insanity of real life for 42 minutes. Yes, Madam Secretary and Conrad are fictional, but you don’t have to have 20/20 vision to see how some of the Madam Secretary storylines parallel real life quite often. Would I have appreciated this plot under an Obama or Bush Administration? Possibly. There are just so many questions surrounding Congress, President Trump’s abilities and the 25th Amendment on a daily basis that I don’t want to see it play out with fictional people, too. Perhaps this is why I’ve struggled with the show over the last season or so. I mean, I have other issues with the show, which I’ve mentioned in previous articles, but maybe real life is also preventing me from fully enjoying the show I used to adore.

Theoretically, it’s a very interesting storyline: what happens when a President goes rogue? Do you become a lemming and fall in line with his (or someday, her) orders? Or do you challenge the POTUS, knowing irreparable harm could be done if you don’t act? In this episode, I truly did enjoy watching the process evolve. Elizabeth and Russell agonize over what to do. In the beginning, they try to make excuses for Conrad’s behavior, nearly willing a rational reason for the sudden change. When it becomes apparent his personality shift is not short-lived, they are anguished over voting on the 25th Amendment. This is someone both of them have respected for decades, and the sudden fall from grace isn’t something either wants to be a part of. However, they put country over their relationships and move forward. Not everyone in the Cabinet is convinced POTUS should be removed from office, a point I think rings true.

In the end, they vote in favor of the Amendment, but with a caveat: Conrad must undergo a medical screening and if he’s found to be ill, he will only temporarily turn over power. It’s a move by those in charge that not only saves the country, it also saves Conrad and his legacy. Because of the caveat, Conrad is diagnosed with a meningioma and a treatment plan is put in place. Talk about wrapping things up in a bow. He went from exhibiting the first signs of illness to raging madman to treatment in one episode. Will he be back in charge and finished with treatment by the time the show returns from winter break? If we’re going this route, I’d kind of like to see Elizabeth have to work with Theresa/Teresa as POTUS for an episode or two.

If the writers had to do a 25th Amendment story, I’m relieved they went brain tumor (only time I will EVER say that) instead of sexual harassment. They toyed with it, Conrad calling Elizabeth “fetching.” Is it the worst thing that could happen? Clearly not. We’re living in the age of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey. Someone calling someone “fetching” is about as mild as can be. However, in reference to the White House and the relationship between Elizabeth and Conrad, “fetching” was nearing a line never before crossed. Would I be insulted if someone called me that? Probably not, but it also depends on the circumstances. Never has Conrad ever mentioned Elizabeth’s appearance. The fact that he called her fetching was a clue that something was amiss. Had the writers gone deeper down the sexual harassment route, it probably would have had more lasting effects on the relationship between Elizabeth and Conrad. Yes, the tumor was behind the behavior, but some things are more difficult to get past, even if there’s a valid reason.

The final scene reminded me of Tamerlane. While Conrad was talking, the cameras panned across everyone: members of the Cabinet, people in DC bars, Russia’s foreign minister, shoppers in the Midwest (how do I know it was the Midwest? Because the actors are wearing a stereotypical amount of plaid and a trucker hat). Everyone is represented because everyone would have been affected if Conrad’s initial wishes were carried out and the U.S. was plunged into war. Conrad’s speech sounded almost like it was a personal message from the writers to our real-life Congress. “Our government is built on an ingenious foundation of principles and laws, and though the people within that system are fallible, the system itself is devised to withstand anything, even an unfit president… I thank the brave Cabinet secretaries who voted to invoke the 25th Amendment. They are all true American heroes and patriots. They put their country ahead of their personal relationship with me. That's what separates us from dictatorships and oligarchies.” It was a loaded speech.

I can’t let this review go without mentioning the family moments. While Elizabeth and Henry are trying to determine if the most powerful man in the world is losing his mind, they’re also trying to convince their youngest child that he is, in fact, loved. Jason has classic last child syndrome. Anyone who’s number 3 or later in their family knows well about the lack of baby books. I was kind of surprised Jason was so insulted, given this is common knowledge in larger families, but… it’s Jason. His parents remember. They just didn’t write anything down. Earl also provided some much-needed laughs... although Earl wasn’t the one I was laughing at. It was Elizabeth’s and Henry’s reactions to Earl. “Well thank you, Earl. This is a terrific opportunity for growth,” Henry deadpans.

Other things:

--”We have the best system of government the world has ever seen, but it’s only as good as the people in charge.”

--”In two hours, President Dalton will enter the Situation Room, and I will execute his order. Nine minutes later, all five Russian Oko satellites will be destroyed and we will be on a war footing... unless you alter history here tonight.” Bob Holland talking to his fellow Cabinet members sounded like Jeff Probst or Chris Harrison. I was half expecting him to bust out “the tribe has spoken” or call it “the most dramatic Cabinet meeting EVER.”

--”Jay has Chloe tonight, so he’s monitoring the situation from home.” Nice to see a man trying to find that work/home balance. I’ll assume Joanna is with the babysitter.

--It’s always good to see Christine Ebersole… although I do prefer her in scenes that end with Drunk Elizabeth.

--”I plucked you off a goddam farm, Bess. Shoveling horse crap in pigtails.” I laughed.

What did you think about the episode? Was it too much? Did it hit the right tone? I know there are plenty of reactions out there. Madam Secretary is now taking a few weeks off. We’ll see how it all plays out next month.

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