8.6

Madam Secretary Review: “Need to Know”

(Episode 1.08)

TV Reviews Madam Secretary
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<i>Madam Secretary</i> Review: &#8220;Need to Know&#8221;

You have no idea how happy I am that this show seems to have hit its stride. After a slow start, the last three episodes were really strong, especially this week’s installment, which was a nice mix of two meaty main plots. One involved an attempted coup in Moldova, and another centered on Henry and his double life as an NSA operative. There was even some time with the kids and—hell—some Marsh/George murder conspiracy, to boot! Looks like Win’s proposal last week has put a wrench in Maisy, though….

In main plot #1, it appears that the democratically-elected government of Moldova has a bit of an internal problem in the person of General Kolba, a cartoonish despot, anxious to overthrow the current government, with Russian backing. He also seems to have a thing for our Bess, more specifically, her legs. He’s pretty much a cardboard cutout of a Russian-backed strongman, but is also pretty ruthless. And piggish.

On the Henry side of things, last week we learned that he had a past working for the NSA, and that he was reactivated to continue an investigation of a fellow academic who has ties to militant Islamists. While this is pretty farfetched, I can handle it. Anything that gives more balance to the Bess/Henry scale is good and besides, spy games are fun!

Not only that, but it was a very pleasant surprise to see my old friend Ronald Guttman appearing as Klaus Von Muhlberg, the object of Henry’s spying! Not that it should be a surprise, really. Ronnie’s had several recent CBS guest-starring turns, including on The Good Wife and Elementary, not to mention his memorable turn as Emile Calvet, Megan Draper’s father on Mad Men. But I digress.

On the Moldovan front, it was a great call to make the disappearance of President Diacov’s (the always-welcome Victor Slezak) plane a hijacking, rather than a missile or bomb. It opened up the episode to more options, including the eventual choice of the Trojan Horse storming of the air base, where the hostages were being held. It’s a little convenient that Kolba has such a unique car (and not the first time the gambit’s been used on TV or film). It’s an oldie, but a goodie because it works.

On the home front, it looks like Jason has a girlfriend! Or a potential one, anyway. It seems our budding young anarchist has asked Madison to go to a concert on the National Mall and she’s accepted. Show creator Barbara Hall and this episode’s writer Alexander Maggio did a great job with this little sub-plot. As an ex-teenaged boy, I can attest that even smart, well-meaning, and polite young men can make bone-headed and mean-spirited comments, and the chat between Henry and Jason about the latter’s treatment of women was well-thought out. That said, I would have liked it to be a little longer, but such are the limits of a 48-minute long show.

And if three plots weren’t enough, the Secretary Marsh/George’s death thread got some serious screen time again this week, although Juliet and Isabelle’s characters are still a little under-developed. Based on the scenes from next week, it looks like Bess is going to push her theories pretty hard. Well after all, it is sweeps!

A few other thoughts:

• The bit about Jason wearing too much cologne was so on point, it was scary. If you walked down the hall in my high school, every boy’s locker had either Polo or Drakkar Noir on the top shelf. Me? Grey Flannel. Oh yes, I was a rebel!

• Am I the only one who thought a scene got cut from the spy reunion? When Bess sat down at the table, it was like they were referring to something we were supposed to have seen. It was awkward.

• Continuing on that plot, why did Juliet and Isabelle flip flop? Isabelle was doubtful about Bess’s suspicions, but Juliet clearly agreed with Bess’s assessment of George’s death. Then at the end of the episode, they’re reversed. While I understand why Isabelle came around (the mysterious $5 bill), why did Juliet drop out?

• Bess asking the admiral if a Rolls Royce can be fit inside a C-130 was absurd. If I know how big a C-130 Hercules is, you can bet the secretary of state does!

• I love Blake. “Blake wishes he had earplugs.”

• Is this the last we’ve seen of Maisy? I hope not.

Mark Rabinowitz is a Nashville-based freelance writer, film producer, and regular contributor to Paste. He is the co-founder of Indiewire.com and a former film critic for CNN.com. He worships at the shrine of swine. Praise the lard. You can follow him on Twitter.