Washington's new protector
First, there was Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) in The Good Wife. Then, there was Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) in Homeland and Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) in Scandal. These powerful characters have impressed many of us who watch television. Now we can add Elizabeth McCord (Téa Leoni) from CBS’ new political drama Madam Secretary to the list.
In the series, McCord, a former CIA agent, is now a college professor, wife, and mother living on a farm. When the Secretary of State’s plane goes down in the Atlantic Ocean, McCord is drafted by her old friend, the President of the United States, to fill the sudden vacancy.
Now she must navigate the tricky social politics of the White House, while still being a good wife to her husband, and good mother to her three children.
We next see McCord working at the State Department planning a dinner for a visiting foreign leader. She’s also got her hands in more serious work, like freeing two Americans who are imprisoned in Syria.
At the moment, only three episodes in, the show is based in character and plot rather than action and melodrama. But it already shows quite a lot of potential. For example, the contrasting storylines allow us to see different sides of McCord, and Leoni’s ability to pull off both serious and lighter moments.
And while Madam Secretary appears to focus on a “crisis of the week”, it’s playing some cards close to its chest story-wise. The series is clearly eyeing the long-term, and I’m curious how this will affect how the story arc unfolds.
McCord as Secretary of State is much more human than most politicians on TV, which is the selling point of the show. This is a woman in power with private vulnerabilities. In the pilot, the question of whether McCord should uproot her children from their school and friends to move to Washington DC is instantly addressed. Can she use the fact that she’s a woman and a mother to her advantage? I’m sure the question will keep popping up in future episodes.
Compared to other Oval Office dramas, Madam Secretary is less dark than Homeland, less soapy than Scandal, and, so far, less intricate and interesting than House of Cards and The West Wing.
But just as The Good Wife has become so much better and more complex than it was when it began, Madam Secretary could develop into the next great US television series.