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Madam Secretary - Strike Zone - Review

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Madam Secretary “The Strike Zone” was written by Joy Gregory and was directed by Felix Alcala. The show continues its strong final season with this episode. It’s a shame that it has such a terrible timeslot. This episode is a standout on two fronts – or in both major storylines. Kevin Rahm (Mike B) gives an outstanding performance as Mike is first up to testify. I also give this show even more props as it takes the bull by the horns head on in addressing what makes this President different – and why it shouldn’t matter. Maybe America needed this storyline before the last election? It definitely needs it now.

As the episode opens, Daisy (Patina Miller) is briefing the press and covering questions on the investigation. She stresses that Elizabeth (Tea Leoni) recognizes the checks and balances of government and plans to cooperate fully with the investigation – unlike some other so-called Presidents we could mention! She’s also fielding questions about a new gas tax that is supposedly unfairly hurting low-income Americans. Daisy stresses that it’s short-term pain for long-term gain. Daisy also points out that prices at the pumps have seen a jump due to an oil refinery fire.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth and Henry (Tim Daly) are having breakfast. An on-going joke in the episode is that they are being “forced” to eat more healthily and keep gently complaining about it – no more standing in front of the fridge, eating ice cream in the middle of the night! Russell (Zeljko Ivanek) comes in to brief Elizabeth and she comments on how weird it is for him to be nice to her now! She immediately wants to try to explain the gas tax to the people protesting it, but Russell insists that now that she’s President, her job is to lead – she’s not a diplomat anymore.

The other on-going storyline with Russell is his inability to find a suitable assistant. I was really hoping this might be a way to get Stevie (Wallis Currie-Wood) back into the White House, but alas, they did not go that route. Instead, when Nina (Tracee Chimo Pallero) sees Russell abusing one of the assistants, she reads him the riot act. Russell, of course, likes her pluck – even more when she credits Peter Harriman (Skipp Sudduth) for it. So far, I haven’t been super-impressed by Pallero, so I wasn’t thrilled when Russell gives her the job of his assistant.

Russell worries that Elizabeth is getting too much information on the investigation and tells White House counsel to stop reading her in. Mike weighs in to say that Elizabeth isn’t getting any substantive information – and blows it all off as political theater.

Another sub-plot in the episode fills us in on what is really happening between Stevie and Blake (Erich Bergen), which is nothing! They’ve broken up! But, of course, they had to break up, so that Stevie can move on…. With DMITRI (Chris Petrovski)!!!! And I was THRILLED at this development. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, we have to watch as Stevie has a rather painful date with Griffin (Seth Numrich) – a friend of Blake’s. Stevie is having a bit of a difficult time being so much in the public eye – and we do get a sense of what it much be like from the army of secret service to everyone staring at her and taking pictures.

Later in the episode, we learn that Elizabeth is signing off on an amnesty treaty between Russian and US intelligence. It’s a nice way to have a scene with Russian Foreign Minister Konstantin (Yasen Peyankov) and the new Madam Secretary Thompson (Tonya Pinkins). But we learn from Henry before this that Dmitri is benefiting from this amnesty and is able to come out of hiding and he’s contacted Henry to ask for permission to contact Stevie. I loved how Elizabeth got all starry-eyed over how romantic it is!

We are left by the end of the episode, however, to wonder if Dmitri, who we see in the Alaskan airport, will actually call or come to see Stevie because of what he sees on her Instagram feed. She’s agreed to a second date with Griffin and the two take a silly photo together. Blake had made a comment that Stevie had stopped posting, so she posts it – but will Dmitri get the wrong idea? With so few episodes to go, let’s hope that he sticks to his plan!

What seems like a secondary plot, Elizabeth throwing out the first pitch at a Mets game, actually becomes the perfect vehicle for one of the main themes of the episode. We get some hilarious scenes of Elizabeth practicing her throw – and a terrific nightmare of her beaning the Mets Mascot in the head – which with all that padding, he never would have felt!

        It also leads to some comments on real-world politicians. While in the car, Elizabeth muses on how other Presidents were able to find ANY time for golf – a clear dig at the current golfer who occasionally visits the Oval Office. Elizabeth also asks Konstantin if Russian Presidents have to play sports too. Konstantin emphasizes that the Russian President chooses to – it’s a clear reference to Putin, who makes a spectacle of participating just as our fictional Philippine President does in the show.

We finally get to first pitch day, and Elizabeth is nervous on her way to the field. I love the way this show, SHOWS us things rather than belaboring them. Just like Stevie’s new reality, Elizabeth is wearing a Kevlar vest under her baseball jersey. It’s a little thing, but it carries a lot of weight. She seems to be stalling when she suddenly tells Russell that she wants to back off of the gas tax. Russell puts her off, asking to talk about it later.

Elizabeth heads out to the mound. In a previous scene, we’ve seen her answer some questions from the press. She mentions that at one time, she and Henry had long commutes when gas prices were high and they were able to save money by checking the air pressure on their tires – naturally, the public is annoyed by this offhand comment. However, when a reporter asks Elizabeth if she will be throwing from the mound, she stops them dead by asking if they ever asked any of her predecessors that question. They are thinking of her as a woman first – and then President. It’s important for her to be seen doing everything as well as her male counterparts.

As she walks out to the mound, however, she still has to wave the catcher back behind home plate. She still has to insist on an equal playing field – something all women can relate to. Naturally, she makes the throw – and if you were wondering, so did Tea Leoni – and it really was at a Mets game!

While Elizabeth is having her moment on the field, Henry takes a moment to talk the Russell. Russell tries to put Henry off by saying that it’s his job to make Elizabeth look good – Russell is always thinking about the next election. Henry corrects him and tells him that he’s second guessing Elizabeth and micromanaging. It’s Russell’s job to enact her policy. Henry tells Russell that they have to let it happen, they have to let Elizabeth lead and stop protecting her.

The next day, Elizabeth tells Daisy that she wants to make an announcement that she’s going to roll back the gas tax. Russell tells her that she’ll look weak by giving in to the protestors. Her approval rating went up with the pitch! When Elizabeth insists, Russell says he’s not ok about it, but he will be. I also really liked how this strategy dovetails in the episode with the flashback we get to the campaign.

The other main thrust of the episode is, of course, Mike B’s testimony before Senator Mark Hanson (Wentworth Miller). First, so far, Miller has had very little to do – other than be the straight man for Mike’s zingers and to glower. The episode really gives us insight into both the campaign and more particularly, to Mike B. It doesn’t take long to realize that the investigation isn’t really interested in the leak about Miller. Hanson starts off by asking about Mike’s position before the campaign – being a trusted UNPAID advisor. Mike is as savvy as ever, however, and knows when to shut up and let the lawyer take over. I love that this show never has to stoop to having foolishly stupid characters. When they are caught a bit flat-footed by the questions on the first day, Mike essentially plays out the time for the day. He tells them he can’t explain what happened in Bangor if they don’t go back to Portland.

We get lots of insight into how Mike really did have to manage and take care of Elizabeth during the rigors of the campaign. The grueling schedule of campaigning has also played out in the real world with Bernie Sanders suffering a heart attack recently due to the heavy schedule and the single-minded drive to the polls that makes candidates ignore their own health – he could clearly use a Mike B!

As they are heading to Portland, Elizabeth is insisting she wants to work more on the speech – this is Mike’s first indication that she may be suffering from “road burn” – burnout. He knows it leads to a meltdown, and it was his job to make sure that that didn’t happen in front of the cameras. Elizabeth is distracted by finding a dying bird. Mike explains that rather than focus on a dying democracy – Miller’s hate speech was working – or a dying campaign, Elizabeth fixated on the bird. The stop at a Vet’s, but the bird still dies and then they have to bury it, thus missing Portland – and that’s the end of day one. Rahm is terrific as we see so many sides to Mike – concern for Elizabeth, but also keeping that stoic face to keep her going.

On day two we get the story of Bangor. They are there to get the endorsement of Senator Woodhouse (Gannon McHale). He’s very old and clearly not well. Mike just wants to bail, but Elizabeth is exhausted and unfocused. Mike goes to the washroom where he finds Woodhouse dead. Hanson wants to know what Mike did. He tells him that he did what any good campaign manager would – he had to minimize the damage. He had to get his candidate out of there and to a town hall meeting in Burlington.

It looks like Mike is being utterly callous. Blake helps to get Elizabeth on the bus and seems a lot more visibly shaken. Meanwhile, Mike puts an out of order sign on the toilet. Hanson stops him there and wants to know why Mike stopped to call 911 from a phone booth – implying something nefarious. However, we get even more insight into Mike – and Rahm’s performance drives home that Mike isn’t as stoic as we’ve been lead to believe. He tells Hanson that he has a son with a severe peanut allergy – he knows what to do in an emergency. You call from a landline so that there’s no confusion as to where the emergency is.

Mike goes on to explain that he didn’t want America to see Elizabeth as weak – and here we dovetail back into that theme. In Burlington, Elizabeth fields a question from Ginny Matthews (Melissa van der Schyff). She’s a nurse and knew what pain medication could do to a person, so warned her husband when he was injured and had to take them. He still became addicted and died from an overdose three years before. In the last year, she lost her house without his income. She’s now living with her daughter who can barely afford her grandson’s asthma medication. She asks Elizabeth if this is how it’s supposed to be – she’s distraught and has done nothing wrong. Elizabeth simply moves to her and hugs her, telling her no. It’s not supposed to be like this. Mike tells Hanson that Elizabeth’s numbers went up 6% overnight, and he realized that her “weakness” was actually her superpower.

It seems, however, that Hanson isn’t concerned about that. He tells Mike that the coroner listed Woodhouse’s death as by hypoxia. At that point, Mike asks if Hanson is accusing him of murder!

In the final scene, Russell is having drinks with Elizabeth and Henry, and tells her that her approval rating got a bump. Elizabeth points out that all she had to do was admit that she was wrong. Mike joins them. Elizabeth expects that the investigation is now over, but Mike tells them anything but. He warns them that the committee is looking into everything, and Russel declares that it’s war.

I loved how this episode emphasized that the differences between Elizabeth and her predecessors are what make her an outstanding President. As always, I continue to love how often the show “goes there” and touches on current events. I also really liked how much more we got to know about Mike B in this episode. Finally, is anybody else as excited as I am at the prospect of Stevie and Dmitri ending up together? It’s the only thing that makes it ok that she and Blake didn’t work out! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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