Madam Secretary - Carpe Diem - Review By Lisa Macklem (December 5, 2019, 4:45 pm)
Madam Secretary’s penultimate episode “Carpe Diem” was written by David Grae and was directed by Felix Alcala. As I suspected, it wrapped up the Impeachment hearings in a satisfying way, included an exciting international crisis, and made Stevie (Wallis Currie-Wood) and Dmitri (Chris Petrovski) official. A special shout out to Tea Leoni (Elizabeth) who embodied everything a world leader should be in this episode – not just a President. She clearly exhibited her humanity, her wisdom, her courage, her selflessness, and even her enthusiasm. It’s a nice reprieve from the seemingly endless stream of vitriol and bad news to see how it could be done. Strap in. This is going to be a long one – and so will next week’s…
I loved that the episode opened with a small montage of all the behind the scenes people working at the White House, preparing the oval office for Elizabeth’s first briefing meeting of the day. FBI Director Banks (Linda Powell) finishes her briefing with news of a Chinese ship firing on a Russian oil tanker – and thus begins our international crisis of the hour. Ellen (Johanna Day) takes up the incident which touches on the Singapore Accord Elizabeth negotiated some years before – and I remember that episode! – and Russell (Zeljko Ivanek) chimes in to add that Russia never signed the Accord. Mike (Kevin Rahm) points out it’s not shocking that China would seize on a gray area of the law. And then Ellen adds that China is clearly building up to take control of the neutral island at the core of that Accord.
I loved the Mr Rogers reference as Elizabeth summarizes “just another beautiful day in the neighborhood.” Ellen tells Elizabeth that the military does a flyby of the area once a month “to keep them honest.” Elizabeth suggests moving it up to as soon as possible. She doesn’t want China to get comfortable bullying others.
Elizabeth then turns the discussion to the Impeachment hearings. She explains that she’s kept things running as close to normally as possible because it’s best for US interests at home and abroad. Imagine that? Simply keeping working… as opposed to appearing on tv (coughHansencough) or angry tweeting… She then asks the room if anyone has any questions or concerns. It’s clear that the entire room is behind her. She then ends the meeting, and I felt badly for Russell who just sat down with his breakfast!
Russell tells Elizabeth that her testimony has been scheduled. She thinks it’s good, and Mike disagrees – strongly! He’s freaking out – especially over what Hansen (Wentworth Miller) is telling the press. He tells her that her numbers are eroding. I loved how passionately Mike was urging Elizabeth to use everything at her disposal to fight and how clearly offended he was by the attempts to defame her. Elizabeth points out that there’s nothing in the Constitution that protects her from this – and she’s right. She refuses to attack Congress.
I also loved how the show was giving us a primer on how Impeachment works. Russell tells her that the House will vote – by 2 votes – to Impeach, and Mike adds that the Senate is clearly voting for Impeachment, making her the first President to be removed from office. Russell, Mike, and Elizabeth then discuss what’s going on with Heeney (Nobert Leo Butz). Russell is sure that Hanson or Canning (Spencer Garrett) has something on him. I loved Mike calling him Weenie! And then Elizabeth is ready to move on to what’s next.
That night, Henry (Tim Daly) comes looking for Elizabeth in the oval office. She’s simply enjoying being in the room – and worrying about being removed. I’ve said before how much I love the smart way this show finds meaningful things for Henry to do, but I’ve never really commented on the fact that these scenes also serve to really humanize Elizabeth. It’s such a “fangirl” thing to do to just enjoy the fact that she gets to sit in that chair. Elizabeth acknowledges that it’s been hard on Henry too, he brushes it mostly aside, but points out that politics may be hard, but it’s not supposed to be The Hunger Games either.
Elizabeth shouts out to Blake (Erich Bergman) to go home, but there’s no way that he’s leaving his post until she does. Elizabeth then points out to Henry that she read that you can affect more change in one day as President than you can for the rest of your life after you leave office – and then the two decide to make as much change as they can in the time she may have left! They make a bucket list – and I loved that Henry’s list started with the Lincoln bedroom! She wants to answer calls, then it’s gun control…
The two are interrupted by Stevie who tells them that she’s going to propose to Dmitri! And it’s utterly adorable to see Elizabeth shift totally into “mom mode,” wanting to know how many kids and where they’re going to live – it’s another great scene that should remind us that the President is more than just the President. And did I mention how much I loved that it was very, very clear that there was no nepotism involved in Stevie working at the White House while Elizabeth was Secretary of State – and that there was no question of any of them working there after she became President?? But I digress….
Stevie is worried that her proposal might be ill-timed because of everything that’s been going on. But Elizabeth and Henry are clearly thrilled and agree that she should never postpone her life for “political noise.” I adored that Blake rushed in and had to hear the next part! Stevie tells them that the two are going out for dinner at a Chinese restaurant that does customized fortune cookies and she’s going to have them put the proposal in one – so romantic!!! Elizabeth urges her to proofread the fortune before it goes in – and this turns out to be a bit of foreshadowing….. Henry and Elizabeth tell Stevie to drop by for champagne toasts afterwards.
The next morning, Elizabeth crashes Russell’s first briefing with Nina (Tracee Chimo Pallero). He thinks he’s late, but she’s early and ready to put the bucket list plan into action! I loved the looks on Nina and Russell’s faces as she lists off what she wants to do. She explains she’s taking carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero, which means "seize the day, put very little trust in tomorrow” to heart. Russell sarcastically suggests adding world peace to the list, and Elizabeth tells him “that’s the spirit!” Elizabeth tells Russell that if she hunkers down, she’s just burying herself – not waiting for Congress to do it. Russell lists all the things that she’s already accomplished – and it’s no small list – but it’s not enough. Elizabeth spouts off her carpe diem in her good morning to Blake – who we have to assume understands Latin – because of course he does! – but the look he and Russell exchange is another terrific moment.
Dmitri comes to see Henry under pretense of discussing his future prospects. He’s come to ask permission to propose to Stevie! Henry is caught completely flat-footed – and his reaction is probably a lot less enthusiastic than Dmitri was hoping for, but now Henry has to decide whether to say anything about Stevie’s proposal – but knows that ethically he can’t! He does finally muster up the proper enthusiasm but tells Dmitri he doesn’t need his permission. I loved that Dmitri immediately asks if he should ask the President! LOL! But Henry points out that it’s Stevie’s call. I also loved that in addition to asking permission, he used “Stephanie” instead of Stevie. I also loved that he came dressed to the nines. Dmitri also says he wasn’t sure if they’d want him to wait – or disappear altogether – because of the investigation. Henry again reiterates that life goes on despite politics – and so it does…
Henry then asks when he’s going to pop the question. Dmitri tells him after their dinner at the Chinese restaurant! He’s booked a romantic cruise on the Potomac. Henry tells him that his secret is safe with him. Dmitri is just as thrilled as Stevie was the night before.
Elizabeth is on a roll, which is nicely underscored by the fact that she is literally on the move in another great walk and talk scene – always so reminiscent of the same shots from The West Wing, which really pioneered them. Mike wants her to practice her testimony, and she doesn’t want to take time out of her schedule to practice telling the truth. Blake updates her on the carbon initiative, and Russell is working on gun control. Mike is utterly distressed that his fact finding on Heeney has turned up nothing!
Elizabeth heads up to the residence where Henry is planking – and it’s adorable when she uses him as a footstool. Mike has mentioned that Heeney is from Pittsburgh, and it turns out that Henry knew Heeney’s father who used to hang out with his father. Elizabeth asks Henry if he’s ok sussing out the parental connection with Heeney. She explains that she doesn’t want to go whistling to the guillotine.
She then turns to more important matters – Dmitri’s “French farce” – and I adore that that’s how she referred to it! They discuss if they should tell Stevie – but Henry suggests that they can’t betray the confidence of their future son-in-law before they’re even married! Elizabeth agrees – and then Henry continues his bucket list with the Truman balcony! And wouldn’t that be a little too “exposed?”????
Henry does meet with Heeney, who comes to the White House to see him. Heeney knows that their fathers knew each other. Henry relates that he remembers Heeney Sr being in his house on more than one occasion. Heeney is clearly enjoying the reminiscing. Heeney gets right to the point – he knows why he’s really there. He says he knows that Henry’s “camp” was disappointed that he didn’t run interference for them at the Hearings. Henry is just curious why Heeney let baseless accusations by Canning slide. Heeney tells Henry that his dad also taught him that political life is also about relevance. There’s no point in throwing yourself in front of a train that you can’t stop. Henry isn’t happy that Heeney is putting political expediency and self-preservation first. Heeney didn’t come for a lecture and points out that administrations come and go, but he plans on keeping his position. I loved that Henry quotes Heeney’s own father to him: “He who ignores public injustice welcomes it into his house.”
And then it’s finally time for Elizabeth to testify. She begins by stating that “Democracy only works when government is accountable.” She then points out that her administration has responded promptly to all requests for information and her staff has been unconditionally available. She tells them that in addition to her family testifying, she is fully prepared to continue to cooperate with an investigation whose sole purpose is to oust her from office: “Instead of invoking executive privilege, I have chosen to cooperate without limitation, and my hope is that such cooperation will finally yield an end to this inquiry so we can get back to the business of governance.” And doesn’t that hold a mirror up to what’s been unfolding in the news – where the exact opposite seems to be occurring.
Canning begins by confirming that Elizabeth takes responsibility for the actions taken by her senior staff. She agrees that she is responsible for actions taken at her direction. We’ve already seen that she stood behind Daisy for as long as she could. And again, this is in sharp contrast to a President who has thrown senior staff under the bus time and time again. I loved Mike jumping in to insist Canning come up with a question – Rahm’s facial expressions get me every time! Canning continues to hammer at the same points, trying to imply that Elizabeth is lying every time she denies any knowledge of the Iranian election tampering during the election. Heeney begins to look uncomfortable and fed up.
The hearing is interrupted by Russell who rushes in to tell Elizabeth that a Chinese patrol boat has fired on a US destroyer. There have been 24 American casualties and the Chinese boat was sunk. They’re expecting hundreds of casualties. Mike and Elizabeth immediately exchange a look and both begin speaking at once – she has to leave. Canning accuses her of a choreographed escape, but Elizabeth now has much more important matters on her mind.
We get another brilliant walk and talk – and I’m assuming there’s some time lapse and location shift as we move from the hearing to the situation room – it’s a little confusing as at first I thought – wait. They can’t both be in the White House, right? Anyway, Ellen picks up the briefing she recommends a high level of alert and Elizabeth tells her to do it. General Hayes (Glenn Morshower) briefs her on where they’re at.
Admiral Fanning (Jeremiah Birkett) is close to the scene, but Elizabeth wants to talk to Lt Commander Harris (Jeremy Holm) who is on board the beleaguered destroyer. He describes that they were fired on for a routine flyby and that they can’t retreat because of engine failure. Things quickly escalate. Ellen doesn’t want to seem weak. Elizabeth suggests that the Chinese will see any further aggression as gratuitous. Hayes says that their war games don’t support that assessment, and I loved Russell jumping in to defend Elizabeth’s position by asking Hayes how many deals he’d negotiated with the Chinese! Elizabeth refuses to risk war without a dialogue. She tells the assembled that it’s a rescue mission until she says otherwise!
Elizabeth calls President Li (Dana Lee). Russell and Susan (Tonya Pinkins) are in the room. Li gives her an ultimatum after telling her that he no longer recognizes their political Interchange – he won’t litigate over who owns the island, claiming it for China. He tells her to apologize and withdraw her forces and hangs up. Susan says publicly they’ll get support from their allies, but in private, she’s hearing concerns. Russell tells her that the markets are in free fall and the top search on google is “nuclear war.” Russell wants her to make an address, but they’re interrupted by Hayes and Ellen who tell her that China is preparing for war. Ellen insists that they have to answer – and Russell agrees. Elizabeth okays DefCon2.
Russell, Elizabeth and Susan try to follow Li’s logic. Elizabeth is convinced Li must think that she’s hamstrung by the Impeachment Hearings. Is this a way to also tell the world that the current Impeachment hearing don’t make the US vulnerable too? Regardless, Susan agrees that Li likely thinks that they can’t take a divided country to war. Elizabeth insists that they need to send a message of unity. Elizabeth wants to ask Congress for authorization of military force – an AUMF. She has to trust that Congress will do the right thing – and in the end, they do. She also tasks Susan with getting a meeting between Elizabeth and Chen (Francis Jue) – and how happy was I that this was a Chinese incident and knew we’d get an appearance by Jue?? SO HAPPY!
Meanwhile, Stevie and Dmitri’s evening isn’t going quite to plan. Dmitri points out – somewhat hilariously, that it’s probably not the best night to be eating at a Chinese restaurant! He’s eager to leave – and skip dessert! He points out that she hates fortune cookies. She does her best to at least get him to look at his fortune, but the secret service interrupt to whisk them to the White House. Stevie stops to grab Dmitri’s cookie…. Unfortunately, she leaves her own…
Meanwhile, the destroyer has been towed out of harm’s way, but now the Chinese fleet in poised to seize regional advantage. Ellen points out that this was clearly their intention all along. Admiral Fanning points out that it’s their liberty that’s at stake, and Susan points out that it’s a blatant breach of the Singapore Interchange – the could go to the UN. Russell points out that China has a veto at the UN. Ellen and Hayes are united that they have to strike – the alternative is a complete retreat. Russell points out that this could start carnage that they can’t pull back from. Ellen insists that they have the superior force, and they should use it. Elizabeth finally agrees that they can’t let the missiles reach the island. But she also doesn’t want a shooting war and asks for other options. Russell suggest a blockage. Elizabeth likes the idea of an exclusion area around the island. Admiral Fanning says it’s possible but Hayes and Ellen are disappointed.
Russell is surprised with Congress passes the AUMF, and Elizabeth tells him to make some noise about it. I had to wonder if this was also a helpful wakeup call to Heeney that he should maybe not count this administration out just yet.
Elizabeth comes back to the residence to find Henry about to pop champagne – and she’s clearly completely forgotten about the proposal. All Henry knows is that they finished dinner – and that’s from Stevie’s detail – so they think Stevie popped the question – so Henry pops the champagne and they joyously greet the two! Stevie immediately tells them that they had to skip dessert, and Dmitri adds that they had to come straight there from the restaurant. It works because both Stevie and Dmitri think it’s their own proposals – I just loved the many layers of irony in this scene!
The four are about to toast to… nothing – and notice that Dmitri is only having water – when Stevie declares it’s silly. She says this was supposed to be a big occasion – and Dmitri accuses Henry of telling and then Stevie accuses them of telling Dmitri about her proposal – and Elizabeth says they didn’t say anything and then she tries to send everyone home.
Stevie insists that she’s doing it – and she really should have checked her own cookie and “proofread” the situation because the fortune is the wrong one! Of course, the restaurant might be forgiven for assuming that Dmitri was the one proposing… But Dmitri sees what’s happening and stops Stevie before she can explain what the cookie was supposed to say. He tells her that this was supposed to happen alone, on a boat, but there might be a nuclear war – and he pauses to apologize to Elizabeth, who quickly brushes it aside and says, “no problem, go on!” – I just loved the way she delivered the line like it was telling someone to shush at a movie…
Not surprisingly, Dmitri’s speech is perfect – just go watch it again! – and he’s just kneeling and starting THE question when Russell runs in – and Stevie says “are you kidding me?” Elizabeth orders Dmitri as President to finish his sentence – which he does, and Stevie says yes – and then Elizabeth is running back to the crisis.
The Chinese are going to reach the quarantine line in four hours. Elizabeth then flies to New York to meet with Chen in person. I loved this scene, which also allowed them to actually use the New York skyline where they shoot. Chen quips about being ambushed by the American President and putting in his memoirs. Elizabeth tells him that she’ll look forward to reading it one day! Chen tells her that the naval blockade isn’t helping to get them out of the current crisis. But Elizabeth clearly shows her displeasure over the loss of 24 Americans. Chen quickly admits that the attack was not sanctioned or ordered – it was a rogue commander. Elizabeth is relieved. Li doesn’t want the conflict any more than she does. Chen is still concerned, however, because of course, Li can’t back down – he can’t be seen to be weak and he needs to preserve his honor, especially since she’s a woman. Elizabeth insists that she’s not allowing the militarization of the island, and Chen insists that there’s no way out.
Elizabeth suggests that the American fleet can move off the quarantine line. Chen says, so you will back down, but Elizabeth says no. They can defend the line without being on it, but the optics will allow the Chinese fleet to turn aside without any loss of honor to Li. As Elizabeth is bursting with her good news, and tells him that as a friend she wants to share that Stevie got engaged. Chen is thrilled for her – and also turns to grandkids! She tells him that she wishes the same good fortune for him. I just adore these two together, so it was a real treat for them to be physically together and not just on skype with each other. Chen tells her that her comment was highly manipulative – but very effective. I love how these two characters really are true friends – who understand and respect each other. Chen promises to take the proposal to Li.
Everyone watches in the situation room. Elizabeth is prepared to give the order to fire, and the Chinese turn at the last possible minute.
Canning begins the resumption of the Impeachment hearings by berating Elizabeth for running out on them, and then suggesting this “potential” war was an easy way for her to avoid questions. Mike presses him for an actual question. Canning then actually accuses her of fabricating the whole thing as a distraction! The room is clearly against him. Elizabeth refuses to let him politicize the death of sailors who died in service to their country. I loved Daly’s face in this scene. Our ethical Henry is clearly and utterly disgusted with this guy! Canning is going to ask his question again and if Elizabeth refuses to answer – as she says she will – he’s planning on holding her in contempt! And that’s it – finally! – for Heeney.
Heeney interrupts and says the committee will do no such thing. I loved Mike’s face as Heeney declares that Canning has used the hearings to grandstand and peacock at the American taxpayers expense. He calls out the conspiracy theories and false narratives. Kevin Rahm completely captured my own face throughout this scene. And Butz is absolutely fantastic in this scene! Canning can do nothing but recognize Heeney.
He points out that for two months the committee has conducted an endless crusade to undermine the President. All at the direction of Hanson, who was peddling similar lies about Volk. Heeney insists that someone has to call the hearings out for what they are: a political hatchet job and an endless harassment on the President and reality and the truth. Heeney says that after the past few days exemplary leadership of the President, he’s done. He’s no longer going to participate in this charade whose sole purpose is to punish this President for challenging their preconceptions about what a President should be. Heeney gathers his papers and leaves. Mike leans over – and the smile on his face clearly shows that he knows they’ve won.
Of course, we get a sweet scene with Elizabeth and Henry in bed, playing scrabble. Henry is trying to get her to go to sleep and she’s just too tired to sleep. She finally does fall asleep – and did you catch the little easter egg as she woke up? I can’t believe that this was simple happenstance. As she wakes up, she pushes three letters out with her hand. AOC. If you google those 3 letters, the top response is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – the other woman who is pushing hard against all our pre-conceived notions of politicians. LOVE it!
Elizabeth is woken up by a noise. Henry is at the window. The White House is surrounded by millions of protestors. It’s the biggest public protest ever and it started with a 10 year old girl from Atlanta who convinced her mother to drive through the night to show up outside the White House with a sign: She’s My President. And that’s what they’re all chanting. Henry tells her that the judiciary called an emergency meeting. The only vote for Impeachment was Cannings – the inquiry is officially over.
Once again, this was a very topical episode. The show never shies away from shining a light on the current state of affairs. Here’s a President who doesn’t hide behind executive privilege because she doesn’t have to. She stands behind her people and protects them, unless they do something without her knowledge. Here’s a President who has nothing to fear from the truth and who doesn’t need to manipulate the media and spread lies and innuendos and go back again and again to belabor the same point that has already proven to be false. Besides shining a light on the current political situation and showing how things could be done more ethically and humanely, the show also offers us plenty of heart-warming moments in this episode. Dmitri’s proposal was everything I could have hoped for, and Tea Leoni embodied the President I wished I had. What did you think of the episode? Were you as happy as Mike and I? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!