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'Madam Secretary' recap: Moral complications

Season 1 | Episode 3 | “The Operative” | Aired Oct 5, 2014

In Sunday’s episode of Madam Secretary, Bess realizes her new job as secretary of state might be affecting her moral compass. The show’s writers have been doing an excellent job blending Bess’s work and family lives, and have already developed her into a well-rounded, realistic, and lovable character. Also, Téa Leoni continues to show off her equal strengths in delivering serious political prose with dry humor.

“The Operative” begins with a tense reporter walking the streets of Conakry, Guinea. Homeland fans recognize this woman as Marin Ireland, whose intensity and fascinating features make her a great choice for intriguing, suspicious characters. Gina Fisher (Ireland) meets secretly with a former State Department employee named “The Viper,” who states that the information he has “is going to bring the United States to its knees.”

Fast-forward three weeks. Bess is at a friendly photo op with French Minister DuBois, who gifts her with fancy cognac. The first question by the press comes from Gina, a Washington Chronicle reporter. She informs Minister Dubois that a member of Bess’s team referred to him as an “empty crepe” via email. Gina brags to the press corp that the “Viper Cables” are being released at that moment, and will reveal private communications and secret documents leaked from the State Department.

The White House wants this contained immediately. Bess uses FaceTime all day to apologize for the insults said about other countries and politicians. Bess is a smooth talker and naturally a warm, well-spoken person, so her apologies go over well. This easy, well-meaning way Bess has of communicating is quickly becoming a beloved character trait.

But it couldn’t have been that easy; Fisher is planning to publish more insider information.

In a sweet, funny scene, Bess and hubby Henry discuss reading their children’s texts through their iPad (it’s connected to the kids’ phones). Their middle child was dumped by her boyfriend. “We spy because we love,” they joke. But they are in a tough place as parents because they can’t discuss the breakup or their daughter will know they read her texts. This is my new favorite television couple. They are so connected and protective of their family. Henry continues to show his love and support for his wife, including offering to “be the man beside the woman.” Bess loves Henry’s strong ethical backbone and is relying on him to help keep hers balanced. This week is a crappy one for Bess. “Work is tough, and I have to be able to turn it off when I come back here,” she says. She’s finding this more and more difficult to do.


The next morning, Henry gets invited to lunch with the Russian Foreign Minister, Gorev. Gorev says that his daughter, Olga, is in Henry’s ethics class at Georgetown. Gorev wants Henry to give Olga an A instead of the C’s she’s been receiving. Henry basically tells Gorev to shove it.

Bess meets with Gina, who feels she is not traitorous because the Viper Cables  provide an “important perspective on what’s really happening in America.” Gina radiates indignation and reveals that a second batch of cables will be released. Finally, Bess states what audience members have been thinking: “It’s like Snowden all over again.”

The upcoming second leak is more disturbing than the first, since it will reveal inside political operations and could blow the cover of CIA covert operatives all over the world. For once, POTUS agrees with Bess right away when she says they should call in all operatives (an unprecedented move), since they can’t legally slow down the publishing of the documents.

But it is too late for 37 of the 38 operatives, whose covers have been revealed. In a thrilling scene, Bess and the White House staff watch on video feed as Schaeffer, the 38th operative, races to make it to Islamabad before getting caught and possibly executed. To everyone’s horror, he fails, and is jailed in Lahore.

Schaeffer is tried and sentenced to be hanged. Getting him home safely becomes Bess’s main priority, and she decides to do whatever it takes, without having “time to worry about my decaying moral ethics,” as she says to Henry at one point. Jay, the staff member who was planning to resign because of the leaks, comes up with an idea. Pakistan wants a defensive weapon system (like the Iron Dome). Perhaps they can broker a deal to get Pakistan what they want.

Bess brokers a three-way deal in which Russia would give Pakistan the weapons system, but Henry has to give the Minister’s daughter an A. For the first time, we see real conflict between Henry and Bess. “How dare you?” he asks her, since she seems willing to risk his career. “Your work is more important than mine?” Trouble in paradise! Bess clearly cares deeply about her morals, as she left the CIA due to them. But she is very stressed and trying to come up with a solution to save Schaeffer’s life. She renegotiates with Gorev, who agrees that an “Incomplete” in the class would be good enough to hurt his daughter’s grades. Henry is willing to do this in order to save a life.

In one of the show’s already trademarked exciting finales, Schaeffer is seen arriving safely to Islamabad. Bess and her team deservedly drink the gifted cognac; this moment displays how she is beginning to bond and form alliances with them. Jay then tries to hand in his letter of resignation, but Bess tells him it is unwarranted; his great idea about the weapons system saved the day. He reminds her that it was she who successfully brought the plan to fruition.

Later at home, Bess thanks Henry for his part in the plan. He says that watching Schaeffer reunite with his family made it clear that he did the right thing. Bess confides in Henry that she is worried.

“Is this job turning me into a morally compromised version of myself? … I need you to be my touchstone and tell me if I’m crossing lines. I’d leave this job in a heartbeat if it threatened what we have.”

Henry affirms that he will help her draw ethical lines when necessary. They decide to sever the connection with their children’s phones and live without intel; Bess’s morals are still clearly intact.

Madam Secretary airs Sundays at 8/7C on CBS.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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