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Madam Secretary - Between the Seats - Review



Madam Secretary “Between the Seats” was written by Lyla Oliver and was directed by Sam Hoffman. Once again, the show manages to weave the main plot theme (forced marriage) into the subplot (marriage as a work in progress) as the show also examines how the US interacts with other cultures and the plight of women in those other cultures. As an added bonus the episode also touches on the destructive potential of social media. Eric Stoltz guests as Will – and isn’t also directing! – and Anna Khaja reprises her role as Amina Salah.

The theme of religion and family dynamics begins with the opening scene when Will doesn’t want Annie (Cameron Seely) to say grace at the dinner table. Sophie asks Annie if she remembers the grace she said at her friend’s house and when she recites it, Elizabeth (Tea Leoni) says amen – and seals the deal. Will later explains to Henry (Tim Daly) that he’s always open to religion, and it had always been Sophie who was vehemently opposed and she had dug her heels in even more when Will suggested sending Annie to Catholic school.

Will is stymied as to why Sophie suddenly seems pro-religion. Henry suggests that maybe there are other things going on in the marriage and that maybe they should consider therapy. Will is shocked to learn that Henry and Elizabeth have been for therapy – the soulmate-unicorn couple! Henry assures Will that all marriage is hard work.

Meanwhile, the central storyline is about a visit to Afghanistan to offer a $10 billion dollar aid package in return for Human Rights concessions. Jay (Sebastian Arcelus) and Kat (Sara Ramirez) aren’t going and Matt (Geoffry Arend) is finding his own way to Kabul after visiting his mother for her 70th birthday. Jay and Kat give Matt a hard time for not having gotten his mother anything special! Gordon (Mike Pniewski) is worried about Elizabeth’s safety, but she insists she’s going.

On his flight, Matt befriends Farhana (Alexa Mansour) who had been in America for surgery. She is traveling with her chaperone Leslie (Jessie Mueller) form Hearttrain – the organization that arranged for the surgery. Matt knows the organization. The girl tells him that she can’t wait to be home. She gives him one of the many bracelets she made while in hospital to give to his mother. Unbeknownst to them, some random girl behind them taped their conversation and made it seem like a romance.

At the US embassy in Kabul, Jay, Matt, and Daisy (Patina Miller) are with Elizabeth when Matt is called away to the gate. Farana’s family have seen the video and her family is going to kill her because of it. Matt insists that they let her in, but Jay later tells him that as a minor who has not requested asylum, they can’t keep her. He also assures Matt that honor-killing is against the law in Afghanistan. Matt, however, has more insight, and tells Jay that Farhana comes from a remote rural village. Matt offers to meet with her parents and explain. Elizabeth reaches out to Amina for advice and tells Daisy to keep it out of the media. Elizabeth says that they will keep her for as long as possible.

Amina tells Elizabeth that she saw it on social media. The ban isn’t working and repression only feeds innovation. Even if the parents were ambivalent about the exchange, they’d face pressure from the community to “do the right thing.” Amina tells Elizabeth that there has actually been an increase in honor-killings since the last deal with the US. Elizabeth is shocked and points out that a decrease in honor-killings was supposed to be one of the Human Rights benchmarks that Afghanistan was supposed to meet in order to qualify for the funding.

President Sharza (Jay Harik) calls Elizabeth for a meeting. He tells her that they can’t keep one of his people. He agrees the practice of honor-killing is barbaric, and Elizabeth challenges him to take a stand. However, there are riots breaking out and Sharza points out that his rule is not that solid. The Taliban will seize control the moment that the girl doesn’t go back and will call his government weak. He tells Elizabeth that the rebuild/renew agreement is on hold until the issue is resolved.

Blake (Erich Bergen) and Kat call Jay and Elizabeth. Amina is right – the true numbers aren’t nearly as good as what’s been reported. Kat points out that if they let Farhana go, her death will simply be reported as something else.

Matt meets with the family with Amina and Leslie. Amina vouches for Matt and tells them that the girl is not being held against her will. Her uncle (Alon Aboutboul) says that they just want to take the girl back to her mother and that no one will hurt her. Matt explains how the video twisted the truth. I loved how he turned the volume off and explained each bit in detail, demonstrating the deception. The Uncle then says that the father (Ali Olomi) has calmed down. Matt must issue a statement and explain the video on social media the way he explained to them. The uncle also wants Madam Secretary to make a statement.

Matt and Jay go to Farhana and give her the good news, but she’s just received a call from her mother (Kareemeh Odeh) warning her not to come home because the men are still planning on killing her. Sharza has the uncle’s word that she won’t be hurt, so he wants the girl released. Jay and Elizabeth are walking outside when suddenly the military swoop in and bring them inside. Gordon was worried because of a mortar attack.

Gordon is also adamant that they send the girl back to her family, telling Elizabeth that they can’t save everyone. The deal that they’ve brokered will allow the US to start pulling out of Afghanistan and save American lives – which is Gordon’s concern. Elizabeth concedes that it was never a perfect deal – what “deal” ever is? Gordon kind of rubs it in Elizabeth’s face when he tells her that she knew what the cost for women would be with the deal – let’s not forget Amina getting turfed out of government.

There’s a great walk and talk with Elizabeth and Amina and Jay. Elizabeth tells Amina that it’s the end of the road. Jay adds there’s nothing they can do because Farhana never asked for asylum. When Elizabeth asks Amina for any way to save Farhana from death, Amina has an idea but knows that Elizabeth won’t like it. And this is where the two plots connect. The only way to save Farhana is to marry her off in an arranged marriage – talk about having to work at it! And never being able to get out of it…

Matt is furious. Farhana is just 17 and her husband is 20 years older – with children – but he is of a higher status than Farhana’s family and therefore a very acceptable match. However, Matt’s mother left Pakistan 50 years ago to escape an arranged marriage – and of course he feels guilty for his part in Farhana’s plight. I really like how they weaved this story together, touching on Matt going to his mother’s birthday and the subplot with Will, underscoring that any marriage is work, but sometimes, dissolving the marriage is the best thing for everyone – but not everyone has that luxury.

Matt runs after Farhana to try to help, but she’s ok with it – this is her culture after all. She sees it as a good match, but of course, the incongruity is driven home by how gorgeous she is as a bride and how ho-hum her husband is. Amina attends the wedding as it’s her organization that paid the groom’s price – and to ensure Farhana’s safety.

In the end, Afghanistan agrees to shore up their violence against women laws and Amina and her organization will act as independent watchdogs – effectively making her an active participant in government again! Elizabeth is pleased to be able to announce the finalization of the deal and the withdrawal of troops.

Back on the home front, Will has moved in. He took Henry’s initial advice to suggest counselling to Sophie, but she wanted a divorce. He tells Henry that as soon as they made the decision, they both started treating each other better – underlining that sometimes that is the better solution.

When Elizabeth returns home, there’s a terrific scene between her and Will. He explains to her that he never really had any role model for marriage as their parents died when he was so young, and they’d made it look easy. Elizabeth explains that he just didn’t see the difficult parts. She tells him that you have to work at marriage and in the end, it’s a mystery. She also apologizes for always trying to parent him. This all resonates with Farhana’s story – her role model is her own parents and the culture she grew up in. She likely has the same chance as anyone to make her marriage a success – but like everyone else, she’ll have to work at it. And of course, the show ends with the fact that it may be better to at least have a choice.

I really liked this episode and how it weaved the theme of marriage and cultural understanding throughout. Using social media to underscore how differently things can be interpreted was also brilliant. How often do we take posts out of context? How often do posts cause more harm than good – even when it is unintentional? What did you think of the episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


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