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Madam Secretary - The Magic Rake - Review

28 Oct 2018

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Madam Secretary “The Magic Rake” was written by Matt Ward and was directed by John Murray. At the heart of the episode was a fairly familiar tale. Human rights violations are highlighted when sweatshop workers are killed in a factory – making clothing for first world countries. What’s most interesting about this episode is the focus on Chinese Foreign Minister Chen – and Francis Jue, who I’ve long enjoyed on the show really delivers a terrific performance.

We get a few humorous moments as Elizabeth (Tea Leoni) has to get out of jury duty – where she is mistaken for a Real Housewife. Blake (Erich Bergen) is given the unenviable task of having to keep juggling the Secretary’s very busy schedule. Blake, naturally, would love to see Elizabeth attend Fashion Week in Milan, but Elizabeth refuses to “take a boondoggle” on the taxpayers’ dime.

Henry (Tim Daly) is ready to take the Ethics Advisor job with Dalton (Keith Carradine) and is ready to ditch his administrative position at the War College. He finds it slightly more difficult to extricate himself than he thought he would.

Mike B (Kevin Rahm) is pressuring Elizabeth to come up with campaign positions, especially on domestic issues. He’s trying to tie up donors, but she digs in her heels and reminds him she has declared she’s running yet! On the way out of the court house, Elizabeth runs into – literally – Katelyn (Grace Rex), who is about to go to jail because of a series of unfortunate events. If she goes to jail, she’ll lose her job and have a hard time finding another. She has kids and is divorced and is also trying to put herself through school. Her public defender has told her to take this terrible deal. Elizabeth tells her to ask for a continuance and gives her the number of a legal aid foundation – who represent people for free. And when the legal aid foundation can’t help her – Elizabeth puts Mike B on the case!

Elizabeth has her mind changed about Milan over the factory fire. She wants to revive the “fair work and trade agreement” while there is traction from the fire. Jay (Sebastian Arcelus) agrees that showing up at Fashion Week might be enough to pressure the other leaders to sign on. The Italian Prime Minister Enzo Moretti (David Pasquesi) passes the responsibility from Italy to China. He insists that Elizabeth needs to secure Chinese cooperation.

I once again loved the smart way the show examined this issue, particularly China’s place in the world economy and how they can dominate the labor markets because they don’t have to abide by the same labor or environmental standards as the rest of the world – and thus can produce clothing a lot more cheaply – among other industries. Dalton is distracted by being in the Oval office – which is a nice reminder of previous events – and a nice signifier that time has passed. Elizabeth is going to start by filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization.

Dalton approves the plan, but wants the WTO complaint and her remarks in Italy to be measured. Alison (Katherine Herzer) is thrilled that Elizabeth is going to Milan – and offers to help her find American designers with good labor records – and Elizabeth has to do some serious back-peddling on calling the design industry silly…

Meanwhile, Chen is getting orders from home that his assistant, Wen Lin (Fang Du) doesn’t agree with. He thinks that Chen should at least be able to place wreaths for the victims. He insists that it only shows respect for the victims – it doesn’t admit responsibility, but Chen must do as he’s told. And the Chinese government issues massive tariffs in retaliation to the WTO complaint.

Meanwhile, we see that Daisy (Patina Miller) is working through some issues of her own. She passes up the opportunity to go to Milan. When Jay presses her, she tells him she doesn’t want to be apart from her baby.

Chen takes a hard line in a call with Elizabeth. He calls the WTO complaint provocative and the tariffs measured! Elizabeth sees that Chen is not telling her the whole story and tries to get him to talk honestly with her. I loved how this was shot with both Jay and Wen standing in the wings.

Russell (Zeljko Ivanek) is ready to blame Elizabeth, but Dalton reminds him that he signed off on it. Mary Wilford (Starla Benford) helps determine the US tariffs for a response, but Elizabeth doesn’t want to keep escalating. Russell wants to hit back, but Elizabeth wants to continue with the Milan plan. Dalton agrees to hold off on the tariffs until after Milan so that Elizabeth can try to get an agreement on the labor agreement. Russell thinks there might be some motivation due to the leader situation in China.

Daisy ends up getting shaken out of her funk by Sister Anne (Diana Maria Riva) who has brought a group of underprivileged kids who one a civic engagement contest to see the Secretary of State. The Sister understands that schedules change – but the kids deserve to meet someone – and she wants Daisy!

Daisy digs in her heels – they might not want to hear what she would say right now. Daisy knows that it’s important for kids to see someone “like her” in a position of respect and power. Daisy admits to Sister Anne that she is having trouble leaving her daughter because of the recent attack on the White House. I really like how they have let the attack play out on multiple levels. Daisy decries a country in which someone would rather blow people up than share the world with brown people like her. She also mentions five unarmed black men shot by police. Daisy insists that she wishes she was the inspiring person the Sister needs – she doesn’t trust herself not to kill someone else’s dreams.

Sister Anne tells Daisy that she wanted her “kids” to win this contest so that they could feel that someone saw them – and realized that they had a dream. Daisy promises to see what she can do.

We get a really lovely scene with Chen reading Alice in Wonderland to his daughter, Ai (Emma Hong). The passage of growing larger and smaller and having to obey orders from others is a delicious metaphor for what he is expected to doHe insists that she speak English – but she ends the scene by wishing him good night in Spanish – which he is clearly very proud of. This is a side we’ve never even had an inkling of.

Chen seems to be gathering support for his own leadership bid, and goes to talk to Elizabeth. Chen uncharacteristically agrees with Elizabeth that the new tariffs are going drive people further apart. He tells her that the situation will become clear in the next few days – and Elizabeth realizes that he’s on the short list to become President. He begs her to proceed with discretion – just for a few more days – for a bigger payoff in the future. I love that this show manages to humanize the other side of the political table rather than simply portraying them as the “bad guys.”

I loved Mike B showing up to defend Katelyn. Mike B proves that he’s actually a good lawyer – even if he can’t resist a little grandstanding. Even though he gets the jail time thrown out and the fine reduced, Katelyn still can’t pay it – but Mike can! I loved that when she asked who he was, Mike be told her usually just a DC “Hack” – but today an avenging angel of justice. Elizabeth clearly thought this would be a distraction and maybe a bit of payback for Mike B hounding her, but in the end, it’s put him back in touch with what Elizabeth is all about – and what her campaign should be – and will be about. Justice.

Moretti tells Elizabeth that the EU is pulling out of the agreement because they don’t want to piss off China and lose them as trading partners or be hit with tariffs. I loved Elizabeth turning to Benjamin Franklin for support – “If we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately.” She tells Moretti to just come to the signing – she’ll take care of China.

Meanwhile, Daisy steps up and delivers an inspiring talk to the students. She tells them that it’s not going to get any easier – but she tells them that on the bad days, they just need to find the belief within themselves of themselves to keep going. Daisy disappoints them by saying the Secretary is out of the country – but she’s got them Dalton! Daisy thanks Sister Anne for inspiring her. And Sister Anne tells her that she finds inspiration in the kids – and of course, Daisy has her own child at home to help her keep going and find hope in the future.

I also loved Elizabeth being asked who “she is wearing” – something we never thought we’d see or that she’d be able to answer – but here, when she needs to – she nails it. And you can hear Alison briefing her! The designer is from Brooklyn and the suit it 100% union and American made. She even knows the names of the very people who made it! I also loved that those names are clearly Latin-American.

Elizabeth holds the press conference for the agreement – with an empty seat beside her because China “chose not to be there” The Italian Prime Minister is sitting beside her not looking happy. She says that China prides itself on being a leader in the textile industry – among many others. But when it comes to taking responsibility for their workers – they are nowhere to be found. She then says that if China wants to be a leader in the 21st century, it’s time to come and join them and start acting like one. It’s not the measured response Chen was hoping for – and it crushes his chances at the Presidency. He needed to be able to show that he could bring the US to heel.

Jue is fantastic as he receives the news. He is clearly crushed – but he remains fiercely loyal to his country and tells a disappointed Wen that he will continue to serve as long as he is asked to. He goes to see Elizabeth and tells her that China will engage on the agreement if she stops shining a spotlight on working conditions in China. She agrees to modify the language. He says there needs to be “no more stunts” – referring to the public shaming of China. However, Elizabeth did concede China’s economic superiority, so there’s no more need for the tariffs.

Before Chen can leave, Elizabeth tells him that she’s met a lot of heads of state – and he would have made a fine one. She tells him that she’s really sorry – especially if her stunt played any role in it. He confesses that he suspects what happened was always going to happen – and he hopes for everyone’s sake that Elizabeth’s chances are better than his. He comes back to shake her hand.

Elizabeth isn’t as happy about the agreement as she should be. Henry tells her that politics is the art of the possible, but she feels like she is always “almost” solving the problem. She also worries about what would have happened to Katelyn if she hadn’t just happened to walk down that hallway. She sees that the system is broken. The tools they have to fix it are a magic rake – and that’s the significance of the title. It’s an imprecise tool – but she wants to try to help level the playing field.

When Elizabeth thanks Mike B, he can’t even remember Katelyn’s name – but he’s thrilled when Elizabeth finally says she’s running. He tells her that she has it in her to be “one of the most consequential Presidents in history.” He tells her she needs to get serious right away. She tells him that she’s found her signature domestic issue – criminal justice reform. He isn’t thrilled. But this also dovetails from the global issue in the episode – they condemn others for how they treat their citizens – and her are Americans being locked up unjustly. Her reason for running is to lift people up – at home AND around the world.

I love Mike B getting stuck on the rake conversation – Elizabeth tells him it’s not time to start raising funds, however.

The final scene focuses on Chen, putting on the bespoke Italian suit that he had made and going under cover of darkness to lay a wreath at the site of the warehouse fire. He takes his daughter with him – he’s clearly instilling values in her that may be more in alignment with Elizabeth than his own President. Yet he maintains his respect for his own country. Again, this is not the usual simplistic depiction of so many shows. It’s an important message in the current global climate.

I really liked this episode. What did you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!