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'Madam Secretary' recap: A day in the life

Season 1 | Episode 4 | “Just Another Normal Day” | Aired Oct 12, 2014

Viewers are beginning to feel at home while watching Téa Leoni shine in CBS’s political drama Madam Secretary, now four episodes in. “Just Another Normal Day” is the perfect title for this episode because the show is now portraying a “business as usual” quality due to the audience’s understanding of the show’s themes, characters, formula, and overarching storyline.

In this Sunday’s episode, the fantastic new secretary of state, Elizabeth “Bess” McCord, continues to hit home runs at work. But it’s at home where she’s feeling benched. Another normal day for Bess is beginning to be work, work, work, and that means missing out at home. Because Bess is such a tuned-in, supportive mother and co-parent, being preoccupied with her job and being stuck there late or overnight is taking its emotional toll. This episode’s family breakfast scene is notably missing Mom. Bess catches up with Henry, her wonderful husband and father of the year, via telephone for 99 percent of interactions in this episode.

But even on the phone, Henry knows just how to comfort her, particularly when Bess is feeling awful about missing her middle daughter’s slumber party. She calls Henry from her office and asks him if she is “a monster.”

Henry responds: “Working late doesn’t ruin the kids. It just shows them that in life, sometimes you have to do stuff that is hard. It’s just life, babe, normal life. You’re a mom that got stuck at work.”

With all the familial support and love a woman could ask for, Bess is free to focus her energies at work. The crisis she must cope with this week revolves around a group of islands in the East China Sea that both China and Japan lay claim to. Natural gas deposits are found underneath the islands, making the joint claims an issue. At the start of the episode, Bess and her team are just about to get both countries to sign a peace treaty in which no one claims the island but the natural resources are shared. Bess refers to her team’s efforts as “averting World War III.”

On the precipice of the treaty signing, a Chinese student refuses to board her plane back to China, instead seeking political asylum in the United States. This situation throws a curveball into the treaty signing. The Chinese ambassador tells Bess that he will not sign until the girl, named Xinpei, is refused asylum and sent back home.

In order to grant her asylum, the team has to dig into Xinpei’s life to find out if she is really being persecuted at home. They know she is angry about her mother having to give up a younger daughter because of the one-child law, but otherwise they cannot find anything that screams persecution. Xinpei gets a visit from her younger sister, who was adopted in the U.S., but Bess still feels they need to send Xinpei back to China. By now, Japan’s diplomat is pissed and no longer wants to sign the treaty either, but Bess uses the ally card and demands 48 more hours.

Bess’s interactions with Xinpei are touching, as she is her usual warm, intelligent self and makes Xinpei feel comfortable. But she is also trying to get to the bottom of things, and Téa is perfect at balancing Bess’s engaging, likable side with her no-nonsense Madam Secretary side, who brilliantly succeeds at getting things done.

Xinpei’s mother is taken in for questioning by Chinese secret police and tragically dies. The Chinese diplomat states that it was a simple interview, not an interrogation, and that the mother had a heart attack due to a chronic condition. Because Xinpei’s mother died while in custody, that now qualifies her for political asylum.

Bess goes to break the news to Xinpei in a beautifully shot scene in which they sit on the stairs in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Xinpei confirms her mother’s heart condition and admits that she does not want to stay in the U.S. It was her mother’s dream for her, as her mother was a protester against the government in her younger years. Bess understands and says everything Xinpei needs to hear: “She couldn’t have freedom, so she wanted it for you.”

Bess decides to deny Xinpei’s political asylum because she doesn’t really want it. But Bess doesn’t tell the Chinese diplomats that. She tells them that Xinpei can go back to China, “but she’s not going anywhere until the signed treaty is in my hands.” And presto, the treaty is signed.

Throughout the episode, viewers also learn more about supporting characters. White House Chief of Staff Russell has a photographic memory and is making things a bit easier for Bess. In a funny scene, he responds with “fine” after she describes the amazing treaty she and her team came up with. This response bugs her, but Russell tells her, “‘Fine’ means thank you for not screwing up. It’s high praise. Take it.”

Bess’s chief of staff, Nadine, admits to having an affair with Marsh, Bess’s predecessor. They were in love, and viewers see Nadine break down over his death, fleshing out her stern, rigid character a bit. Viewers learn that Daisy, the press coordinator, has guts; she questions Bess on her ethics (about using Xinpei as a pawn). Bess responds by firmly putting Daisy in her place.

Near the end of the episode, Russell reveals that Marsh was going to run against President Dalton in the next election, stabbing POTUS in the back. Marsh was just about to announce his running before his untimely death. Bess realizes that George was right when he said Marsh was dirty and had enemies. His enemies were  none other than the White House chief of staff and POTUS.

Bess has had a challenging couple of weeks, and she is jealous when she sees Nadine cry over Marsh, because she hasn’t had a good cry over the death of her dear friend George. In the episode’s final scene, she is finally home with her husband and tells him the revelations about Marsh. Viewers see Bess’s face begin to crumble. “I want to figure it out, but right now I just want to miss him,” says the fabulous Madam Secretary as she breaks down in her husband’s arms. This is a beautiful reminder that one of the nation’s strongest, smartest, most daring and determined women is just a person with feelings, like everyone else.


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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