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Madam Secretary - The Chaos Game - Review

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Madam Secretary “The Chaos Game” was written by Joy Gregory and directed by Felix Alcala and the episode picks up in the aftermath of last week’s attack on the White House. Besides the personal stories in this episode, the show does a terrific job intelligently reflecting the state of world politics. One of the really great strengths of the show is how it weaves both storylines together. I will grant you that making Henry (Tim Daly) the President’s (Keith Carradine) Ethics Advisor, especially when no such position had previously existed, was a bit contrived – but then, it’s also just the sort of position that the current Administration could really use.

As the episode opens, the bomber is apprehended. Nathan (Gus Halper) is a young member of an Aryan Nationalist group. Henry gets pulled in to interrogate him when Russell (Zeljko Ivanek) wants to treat him as an enemy combatant rather than simply relying on the Justice system to prosecute him. Neither Russell nor Henry prove objective enough in the end.

Russell is struggling after the loss of June. Ivanek is really terrific in this episode. He always seems to get the best lines, but his grief over June as he delivers the eulogy is just a terrific performance. Russell delivers the proof of how much power and influence June had, especially with insights like “don’t ask for support – inspire it.” Which naturally resonates with all the current campaigning currently going on. The eulogy is a wake up call for Stevie (Wallis Currie-Wood) and her dismissive comments about June.

Stevie ends up going back to work too soon and ends up passing out and in emergency. She does get a great line as she’s heading back to work that she’s tired of trying to figure out Westworld – which really did have a brain-twisting plot last season! When Elizabeth (Tea Leoni) presses Stevie on why she went back so early, Stevie admits her guilt over the last conversation she had with June. Elizabeth is able to give her some perspective. Stevie has figured out that she’s na├»ve and selfish, but Elizabeth assures her that June would simply have seen her as young and inexperienced – but also driven and hardworking. In the end, Stevie is able to take some comfort in Elizabeth’s words and seems to get over her survivor’s guilt.

The main plot centers around tracing the bomber’s affiliations. They’ve discovered a link to Alex Starowalski – a rock band musician turned Member of Parliament in Poland. Elizabeth resists categorizing the bomber as an enemy combatant, denying an American his fundamental rights, and wants to hold Starowalski accountable. Elizabeth asks the Polish President, Demko (Piotr Adamczyk) to turn over Starowalski and he refuses. Poland is in the grips of ultra-nationalists in power and is very unstable.

Elizabeth is able to demonstrate to the Polish President that the RPG fired on the White House came from Starowalski, and he still won’t cooperate. It becomes clear that Starowalski was working with the Russians and that Poland is politically volatile – pretty much ripped from the headlines. Before they can agree to do anything, Demko makes it clear that they need to build a coalition of the more centrist members of the Parliament. Dalton doesn’t want to wait for a NATO ally to do the right thing, but Elizabeth convinces him to give her 24 hours after stating that if Poland falls, there won’t be a NATO.

Meanwhile, Henry won’t give Russell what he wants as he can’t tell whether the bomber is Patriot or an Anarchist without actually interrogating him. Even Elizabeth warns Henry against interrogating the bomber because of his lack of objectivity.

Nathan tells Henry that he was recruited in college. The Aryran Popular Force members jumped him outside the library and convinced him that he was a member of the warrior class and that they needed to stand up for their culture and lead a racial cleanse to do it. He denies knowing Starowalski. Henry’s secret weapon is to read one of the kid’s own essays back to him. Henry tells him that the paper shows a passionate and subtle mind. Nathan denies any part of the attack but eventually reveals that he knows who Henry’s wife is – and wishes that Elizabeth had been there to paint the walls with her blood. He then spits in Henry’s face. Yet, Henry is still unconvinced and recognizes that they are all biased by their personal involvement. Dalton determines he needs to sleep on his decision.

Meanwhile, Demko agrees to let the US come in and take Starowalski as long as they are kept out of it. Unfortunately, they find Starowalski dead – hanged. Most likely by the Russians. When riots ensue in Poland, Elizabeth proposes she go – to show what NATO is for and to help stabilize the region. Publicly, Elizabeth is expansive in announcing a new military base – but privately she reads Demko the riot act – she tells him to get his house in order or the military base won’t be the only thing going away.

Russell drops by and offers Henry the new position. I really like Daly and Ivanek together as they have great chemistry and play off of each other so well. Russell is also able to confide in Henry, and it becomes clear that he harbors a lot of guilt over June’s death. I suspect we will see more of him dealing with this in the future.

Finally, Elizabeth stops by to see Russian Foreign Minister Konstantin (Yasen Payeankov) – and to deliver a message. It seems the audience may be ending each episode with a message meant for them too. She tells Konstantin to stop spreading rumors about the US – and that she knows about the Russian involvement in Poland. They meets symbolically on the former site of the Berlin wall, and she reminds him of the dominoes that fell  - the nations that fell – both to build it and to bring it down. It’s a really powerful metaphor. She warns him that any dominoes Russia sets in motion won’t end at their doorstep – and that no reckless attack will shake the US’s core values.

I particularly liked how we saw ramifications carry over from the first episode. I always enjoy how the show is able to really delve into real world problems in a thoughtful way. Great performance this week from Zeljko Ivanek in particular. What did you think of the episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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