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Madam Secretary - The New Normal - Review

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Madam Secretary “The New Normal” was written by Alexander Maggio and was directed by Felix Alcala. Once again, the show tackles a real world issue: climate change. In a bit of a change, this episode really didn’t feel like it actually had a sub-plot of any kind – all roads lead to the discussion of climate and the United States’ culpability in what is happening to the earth. And the complete absurdity of climate deniers. Look for some of the issues to continue even into the next episode.

As the episode opens, a weather plane is tracking Typhoon Blessing and gathering alarming data. Blessing will be the most powerful storm in history, but it also represents the new normal – expect all storms to be like this in the future. It looks like the storm is going to make landfall on US soil, so Stevie (Wallis Currie-Wood) is working on it with Russell (Zeljko Ivanek) until the storm changes course and becomes Elizabeth’s (Tea Leoni) problem as Secretary of State.

It was nice to see John Pankow back as NASA Administrator Glenn – with a nice shout out to Nadine when he asks Elizabeth to say hi to her for him. He comes to see Elizabeth to warn her that Blessing is the new normal and that the people on Nairu – where the typhoon is now going to make landfall – have to evacuate – and leave permanently. There 8 mile square island is made of coral and even if Blessing doesn’t destroy it, another typhoon will be like a tsunami hitting a sand castle.

Blessing ends up killing the President and all 19 members of the parliament along with 10% of the population. This makes the head of Consulate Affairs the President. It turns out that David Akua (Tai Hara) is a 23 year old Master’s student at NYU. He is brought to Elizabeth and she breaks the news to him. Previously, the only communication he’d had was with his mother via What’s App! Elizabeth tells him he is the new President, and he confesses that the only reason he took the position at Consulate Affairs was to help pay for his MA!

Elizabeth tells him that he’ll have to convince his people to evacuate permanently.  He tells her that they can build a sea wall – she explains it won’t work. He then insists that the US must help them as US pollution is a huge reason they’re in this mess in the first place. Elizabeth clearly agrees with him. He tells her that his people have lived there for 3,000 years. They speak a language that no other people on earth speak – they are a distinct and ancient culture. He tells her that his people won’t leave – but he agrees to get on a plane and head home to assume his duties as President.

We get a lot of scenes between Henry (Tim Daly) and Elizabeth in this episode. I really like how they use these two characters to play out the ethics (Henry) and practical politics (Elizabeth). In this first scene, Elizabeth tells Henry that David’s mother was found alive. She also compares the upheaval in his life to two celebrities in the news. I thought this was just a bit of fluff as Blake (Erich Bergen) and Nina (Tracee Chimo Pallero) gossip over them, so it was interesting to see celebrity Bryce Manley (Constantine Maroulis) end up playing a role in the solution that Elizabeth is seeking – one that Henry points out requires balancing the moral responsibility of the US’s culpability with the practical realities of the situation.

The team tries to find a permanent home for the refugees. Blake finds that Figi and New Guinea will take some, but not all, and Jay is turned down for any from Australia. Jay is going to try Japan, India, and the Eu and points out that David won’t break his people up. Meanwhile, Daisy (Patina Miller) informs them that another cyclone is brewing.

Blake and Nina’s gossiping bears fruit when they discover that Bryce Manley owns a huge Island in Figi, and he’s in a huge battle with the IRS – they have leverage. The Island could easily house all of the people and the industry from Nairu. Of course, Jay points out that they still have to get Figi and the UN to agree and recognize the new location as Nairu. Elizabeth is on board even if it means giving Manley a medal.

Elizabeth calls David with the news. He’s read the NASA report, so he knows the danger they are in. However, he tells Elizabeth that the temple on the Island is the heart of their spiritual life and they can’t leave it. Elizabeth promises to move it, so David agrees to talk to his people.

I loved the scene with Matt (Geoffrey Arend) and Daisy negotiating with Manley and his lawyer (Henny Russell). I really felt for her having to deal with such an idiot for a client! At first, Manley refuses to give up the Island because it’s where he got engaged to Ashley and where they are going to be married. As soon as Daisy tells him the alternative to giving up the Island is jail, he’s a lot more receptive – although Elizabeth is appalled when she learns that Jay had to agree to apply for him to receive a Nobel Peace Prize! Jay assures her that the application will die in committee.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth and the team are hard at work trying to get countries to come on board for a Resiliency Fund – to help other countries devastated by the new severe weather. Jay points out that 56% of Americans support the fund. Dalton (Keith Carradine) and Russell are against trying to get it through Congress. Jay insists that extreme weather will continue to devastate other countries. Neither of them deny climate change or the basic facts, but Dalton is concerned that if Congress votes it down it will shut down the environmental agenda for years. And this is SUCH a timely topic! With the current administration in real life denying the scientific evidence under their nose and putting a choke hold on the EPA… but I digress.

In another side plot that dovetails beautifully into the main plot, Mike B (Kevin Rahm) is hard at work on Elizabeth’s yet to be announced campaign. He’s arranged for Henry to speak at a conference chaired by Pastor Eli Bragg (Jim True-Frost) of CRN – clearly a shout out to NCR (New Christian Right) and the Moral Majority of Jerry Falwell. Mike doesn’t have any illusions that they can win support from the group, but he’s hoping that Henry can at least win Bragg over enough to prevent him from supporting another candidate. After all, Elizabeth’s “brand” is her diplomacy and her willingness to find common ground! This first scene has the first appearance of Gordon that we’ve had for a while. He’s wearing a special vest to combat anxiety because Mike tells them Gordon has been acting strangely due to the new cat next door to them…

Henry meets with Bragg and his daughter Ruby (Lilli Kay) in Russell’s office. Bragg maintains that they are there to build bridges, not burn them, and Ruby adds that they want to maintain a civil dialogue. Henry assures them that he will speak on a very non-controversial subject – poverty and Jesus. We get some classic Henry banter with Bragg over the devastation in Nairu. Bragg suggests that it was providence for Blessing to miss the US and insists that God’s hand is seen in natural disaster. Henry counters that Bragg can’t think that Nairu deserved it – and Henry finishes much more humbly than Bragg by saying that he would never presume to know what God’s plan or thoughts were. After Bragg and Ruby leave, Russell warns Henry that CRN is a viper’s nest and to be careful. He also adds that he doesn’t know what Mike B is thinking! After all, Russell has run campaigns too. It’s clear in this first meeting that Ruby may not completely share her father’s views. I quite liked Kay in this and hope we’ll see her again.

We get another great scene between Henry and Elizabeth in the car on the way to the CRN conference. Elizabeth is outraged that there is a Cabal of special interests – like Bragg! – who won’t even let Congress debate climate change. Henry is all over it – and I loved that he completely re-wrote his speech in the car! I’ve written conference papers on planes – but those were generally long flights!

Henry tells the assembled group that the greatest “existential threat to humanity is climate change.” He goes on to point out that it is disrespecting God’s masterpiece – the earth – to destroy it. Needless to say, Bragg is not pleased. Bragg speaks with Elizabeth who again underscores the need to find common ground – and suggests that she can help him find it among his own people. Bragg insists that climate change is merely a Trojan horse for the government to use to grab more power.

Henry has much better luck in talking with Ruby. She tells him that she enjoyed his speech and that it spoke to her. She is not a climate denier like her father. Henry tells her to google David Akua and see what he’s going through.

Meanwhile, Mike B is waiting for Henry and Elizabeth to get home. It’s hilarious as always well groomed Mike B sits ramrod straight across from Will (Eric Stoltz) who is a mess, slumping in his chair. Mike B is furious. CRN has just announced that they are giving $10 million to another candidate – she’s lost Iowa – and he quits! Mike wants to know why she can’t just trust him, and Elizabeth points out that she’s not a politician. Mike tells her that’s why she will lose and he calls her a self-righteous blueblood. Hmmmmm….

Later that night, Daisy calls to say that cyclone Phoebe is now a typhoon. Henry tells Elizabeth that Mike B went too far, but Elizabeth is worried. She’s always trusted his instinct about people because he’s always been right. Henry surprises her by saying that Mike B isn’t wrong about her – but those aren’t bad qualities! Mike B is wrong about the religious community being a monolith, however, and Henry would know! Henry tells her about the conversation with Ruby, and also reiterates that it’s a long time until the election.

Henry meets with Ruby. He’s looked her up and found out that she used to be an activist. Ruby insists that they do good work without mentioning climate change – and she did look David up. Henry encourages her to do more by using her own voice – not just spouting what CRN tells her to. Ruby points out that going against CRN will blow up not only her career but also her family. Henry assures her that she is more powerful than she realizes.

In the end, Ruby goes on television and supports climate change. I loved that she quoted Henry when she said that the Lord calls us to be Steward’s of this earth. We last see Ruby arriving home and her father staring at her from inside. It’s clear she was right in what she was sacrificing.

Elizabeth makes the point that they have to define truth and agree on common ground when it comes to climate change – and it’s ridiculous given the clear scientific evidence. Just because I don’t see bugs when I have the cold doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in the virus that is making me sick! Just because I walk out of my house and it’s cold doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t believe in global warming. Just as a virus is too small to assess individually, so is the earth too big to assess just based on my own individual senses!

When it turns out that Phoebe will hit Nairu, Elizabeth tells David that he and his people must evacuate completely and immediately. David is torn – they can’t and won’t leave the temple! Elizabeth encourages him to declare Marshall Law – and then she loses the connection. In the end, all evacuate but a few dozen who stayed behind with the temple. David and his mother are safe. It’s absolutely shocking – as it should be – when Blake comes in after the storm with NASA satellite and Nairu has been completely obliterated. The final shot in the episode is David, his mother, and his people arriving in their new home with a small piece of the temple and erecting their flag. Meanwhile, the support for Nairu and recognition of the effects of carbon emissions passes in the House with 51 in favor.

Elizabeth, still troubled by her last exchange with Mike B, goes to his house when he won’t return her calls. She finds him a mess – in sweats! – and clearly distraught. It turns out that Gordon wasn’t having an anxiety attack, he’s in the last stages of cancer. I hate losing Gordon, but it is a brilliant analogy for climate change. The world isn’t having an anxiety attack – it’s dying of cancer – and it isn’t going to take 50 to 75 years for us to be in crisis – we are in crisis now!

Kevin Rahm is always a delight, but he is utterly fantastic in this scene. Mike B hasn’t returned Elizabeth’s calls because he’s been desperately trying to save Gordon’s life. He’s investigated clinical trials as far away as Germany. He’s blaming himself for waiting too long and blaming it on the cat. Mike is clearly devastated by the impending loss. He tells Elizabeth that he took the advice to heart that if you want a friend in Washington – get a dog. Elizabeth immediately points out that she is his friend. She also fondly remembers Gordon visiting her office as a puppy and peeing in it! She helps him come to terms. Mike thanks her and apologizes for blowing up at her – he also states that he never quits – so he hasn’t really quit her either. She stays with him as they say good bye to Gordon.

I thought this was a very powerful episode on a very timely topic. The acting as always is superb – with that special shout out to Kevin Rahm. The think that I like the most about this show is that it doesn’t pull any punches and that it really looks in-depth at these issues while trying to find common ground. What did you think of the episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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