This week’s installment of Madame Secretary was brought to you by the word “feminism.” And boy was that a relief after last week’s disappointing episode. Madam Secretary resorted to what it does best: telling compassionate human stories. The main drama in this episode was a photo scandal involving a leaked image of Stevie and Harrison (the President’s son) in bed together. But before we get into that, let’s catch up with Bess.
She’s still in hot water with the President after her failed trip to Russia. When Bess tries to convince the President that the arctic research center that China’s recently built is not a spy center, Craig shuts Bess down and tells her her opinion basically doesn’t matter after the Russian debacle. Instead, Craig proposes that the U.S. should spy on China and do so by immensely increasing the defense budget and also just ignoring what the State Department has to say. But this obviously isn’t the only conflict Bess and her staff have to face…bringing us back to the photo scandal. Bess and her staff are trying to pass a disaster relief fund for Nepal when news of the scandal breaks, costing them the votes they needed for the fund. No one knows who has the photos or how many they have. The photo-person has only released one picture, but promises to sell the rest of them to the highest bidder. Bess and Henry talk to Stevie in what is perhaps the most painful conversation the three of them have ever had in the series so far. Bess questions Stevie about the nature of the photographs and if there’s any video. Stevie assures her that none of them are “gross” and that the actual, shall we say, intimacy was filmed.
Later that night, Bess and Henry continue talking about the Harrison/Stevie situation. Bess immediately jumps to blaming Stevie. When she asks Henry how many more times they’re going to have to bail Stevie out of bad situations, Henry surprisingly comes to Stevie’s defense. He’s usually on Stevie’s case, but Henry realizes the real situation they’re in. He argues to Bess that it isn’t fair to blame Stevie for this instance, acting like Harrison doesn’t have responsibility or that they even did anything wrong. Stevie and her boyfriend took private photos of themselves, which were never meant to be shared with anyone else. So the real person to blame is the jerk who’s trying to sell the stolen photographs. I’ve never liked Henry more before this moment. Henry comes to the rescue again the next day when he makes an appearance on CSPAN. A caller questions what authority Henry has to go on a show talking about morality when his daughter is involved in a sex scandal. This does not bode well with Henry, and results in him going on an epic rant putting that jerk in his place and once again sticking up for his daughter.
Meanwhile, the President’s approval ratings have fallen dramatically, so he invites Henry and Bess to dinner at the White House with himself and the first lady. The dinner starts off all right. Bess, Henry, Lydia (the First Lady), and the President make polite small talk, until the subject of the photo scandal is brought up. The President feels that the only solution is for Stevie and Harrison to make an appearance on a news show the next morning, pretend to still be a couple, and then apologize for their “mistake.” Henry and Bess quickly shoot down this idea, and Bess finally comes around and questions why Stevie should have to apologize at all. She points out that Harrison will be the only one who benefits from this plan, while Stevie will be left looking like a tramp. After the abrupt dispute, the four of them presumably spend the rest of the dinner in silence.
In the end, the President calls Bess and Henry to the White House to tell them they’ve caught the man who stole the photos. He was a former secret service agent who had been fired the previous month. Henry requests a meeting with this man before the President takes any further steps. In what was arguably the most wonderfully feminist plot point in this episode, Stevie ends up being the one to talk to the man herself. She starts out a little hesitant, just asking his name if he has a family. When Stevie learns that he was only charged with a misdemeanor and charged a $500 fine, she confronts him strongly about why he felt okay doing something so terrible. He obviously didn’t see her as a real person who wouldn’t want to be embarrassed in such a public manner. When the man finally asks what she wants from this conversation, Stevie reveals that she wanted to get to know him as a whole person and not judge him based on something “stupid” he did once. It was a great scene for many reasons. The first one being that Stevie was ultimately the one to stand up for herself. It was touching to see Henry and Bess stand up for her, but Stevie was the real victim of the incident and it was empowering to see her confront this man with compassion.
Bess is also able to confront her nemesis, and take him down a little less nicely. She talks to her new friend Ellen (an Admiral at the Pentagon), and they come up with a solution to the insane defense budget Craig has created. Bess comes up with a plan that is cheaper, more efficient, and provides many peaceful solutions that requires little military intervention. The President is thrilled with Bess’s new budget, and finally welcomes her back to his good side. Craig tries to make nice with Bess after this meeting. He congratulates her on this new budget, and brings up the idea of them getting lunch some time. Bess at first graciously accepts his praise, but turns on a dime and tells him to never question her authority again. The look on Craig’s face is perhaps my favorite thing I’ve ever seen on this show. Here’s to hoping for another excellent installment of Madam Secretary next week.