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'Madam Secretary' fan recap: A Cold War is not the answer

Season 1 | Episode 20 | The Necessary Art” | Aired Apr 12, 2015

On this week’s Madam Secretary, Bess must help prevent another Cold War from breaking out between the U.S. after a Russian sub goes missing in American waters. Also, Henry gets entangled in the situation (as usual) while visiting with the Russian president.

A quick tip for the show’s writers: I love Madam Secretary. The stars are fantastic and the episodes are fascinating and thrilling. But in this week’s briefing scene, where Bess and her staff are going over the week’s problem du jour, they talked so darn fast that I had to rewind it multiple times to figure out what they were talking about. Just try not to scare away the viewers who might not be so current-events-savvy with rapid-fire political jargon and references.

Anyway, in this briefing scene, Bess finds out that there are Russian “war games” going on off the Alaskan coast, involving 50 different vessels and aircraft conducting test firings on international waters and outside of American air space. That makes what the Russians are doing technically okay, but the distance is insultingly close to U.S.’s northern borders. Daisy says that these actions are a response to the announced deployment of NATO rapid-response strike forces in Latvia, which the U.S. did as a response to Russia’s meddling in its neighbors’ affairs (i.e., Moldova). Bess says that Russian President Ostrov seems determined to relive the Cold War instead of focusing on the country’s struggling economy.

Importantly, one submarine has gone off the radar after splitting from its fleet and crossing into U.S. waters. The fact that the sub has this new stealth cloaking technology is unprecedented. The sub is nuclear-armed and its intentions are unknown.

Right before all this goes down, Henry leaves for Russia to lecture on fundamentalism as part of a military-to-military exchange. Bess reminded him that these “help keep the peace.” Now that the U.S. has this issue with Russia, having him there is nerve-racking. Henry always ends up in the middle of things! But it always ends up the perfect place for him to be, as he usually helps solve the problem.

At the beginning of Henry’s lecture, President Ostrov bursts through the doors for a photo op with Henry. Ostrov invites Henry to go hunting, during which he tells Henry to “tell your wife and your president that we don’t back down.” Henry responds, “I will convey your message Mr. President, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.” The Power Trifecta back in D.C. feel that Ostrov coordinated Henry’s visit with the sub incursion in order to use Henry as propaganda. Henry thinks it’s just optics and that Russian’s message is, “Do not let NATO troops into Latvia.” This message is reinforced when Bess talks to Russian Foreign Minister Gorev on the computer, who tells her the same thing.

In the situation room, the acting military leader thinks the U.S. should be fierce back at Russia. They U.S. decides to mobilize the strike force to Latvia while also deploying a fleet flagship to the Black Sea. Bess doesn’t agree, but POTUS thinks that Ostrov will only respect force. Russell looks concerned, along with Bess.

The only thing that Bess couldn’t clear on her schedule was the retirement party for Ezra Hellsinger, the department’s oldest foreign service officer, retiring today after 60 years of service. Bess gives a speech at the party and talks with Ezra, who knows about the threat of war with the Russians. He knows how to read the signs, including the naval flagship being sent into the Black Sea. “Tell that to the DMV,” he quips. Hellsinger is played by veteran character actor Philip Baker Hall.

Madam Secretary

Meanwhile, in the McCord household, Alison posted a picture of Stevie and Harrison Conrad (the First Son), which the paparazzi is spinning into a love story. Daisy meets with the girls and tells Alison not to post anything related to the family or the White House. While telling Stevie that “the best defense is the truth,” Stevie reveals that she is dating her 40-year old micro-loans boss. Daisy tells her she has to break it off and that “there are three words that can never go together in this town: boss, intern, and sex.” She also reminds Stevie that the micro-loans project is already on the chopping block, so this could be bad for the project. Plus, people looking to get back at Bess for something could use this info as ammunition. Stevie knows what she has to do.

Stevie meets Arthur at a bar after being accosted by paparazzi on the way. Arthur is completely understanding. Both characters are likable during this scene, and this is coming from someone who isn’t a fan of Stevie and hated the idea of their relationship. Stevie says she’s going to quit both her job and their relationship. He implores her to take a few days and consider not quitting the job, as he knows she cares about it. They say goodbye and it’s sad to watch. Both actors did an excellent job with this scene, showcasing two people acting maturely and handling a difficult situation.

Madam Secretary

Henry is visiting a historical church when he notices President Ostrov praying to St. Nick, who “represents compassion, someone you turn to when times are tough or in times of calamity.” Henry tells Bess about how Ostrov was looking at St. Nick. Maybe he’s scared of something? Maybe he lost control of the missing sub?!

After some back-and-forth between the Russians and the U.S., Bess suggests that the missing sub’s captain and crew could be running on their own, which is what could be scaring Ostrov. Russell backs up her theory and says that Henry’s intel could be on point, as he has “proven himself to be an helpful operative and useful religious scholar.” Heck yes!

The U.S. send a one-man submersible to tap out Morse code on the sub’s door, asking what their mission is. The sub responds by opening its distress buoy; they are asking for help. The executive officer talks via interpreter and states that the sub suffered a malfunction when their new stealth technology failed. There was a fire and they have been suffering from oxygen loss. Two-thirds of the crew already died, but the officer was told not to signal for help. Also, they were told to destroy the sub if they couldn’t restore power, rather than invite the U.S. on board and see the new technology. Instead of dying, the crew mutinized and took the ship over from the captain.

Henry poses the following deal to Ostrov: Rather than admit you had a mutiny, save face by allowing the news to say that everyone on board the ship died from a fire. However, allow the U.S. to rescue the remaining 20 men and provide them with new identities in the U.S. The men on board can never see their friends or family again or even let them know they are alive, but at least they will be. Ostrov agrees and the men are saved.

Madam Secretary

Bess had used Ezra for advice during the episode, and they sit together and decide to keep in touch. The final scene shows Stevie sitting in her pajamas, eating ice cream. She is clearly upset about the breakup. Bess comforts her and tells her to get dressed—the family is going out to eat to celebrate being together. This is a reaction to Bess thinking about the sub’s survivors never seeing their families again. Henry gets home from his trip, wearing a hilarious Russian hat (probably Tim Daly’s idea), and the family embrace and head out to eat.

Madam Secretary

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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