Madam Secretary - Killer Robots & Valor - Review By Lisa Macklem (November 3, 2019, 5:30 pm)
Madam Secretary “Killer Robots” was written by Keith Eisner and was directed by Rob Greenlea. This was another terrific example of how this show does a terrific job in juggling several storylines. The main storyline tackles the thorny issue of Artificial Intelligence’s place in the military. But we also get some insight into what happened between Blake (Erich Bergen) and Stevie (Wallis Currie-Wood) as the Congressional Investigation continues with Blake taking the stand – and taking the piss out of Senator Hanson (Wentworth Miller). The third storyline features Mike B (Kevin Rahm) trying to find the next Presidential dog. And really, considering what a special dog Gordon was, who else would you get to find you a dog?
The episode begins and ends with Henry (Tim Daly) and Elizabeth (Tea Leoni). They realize that they have an empty nest and Elizabeth is finally able to contemplate getting another dog. Some people won’t get this, but I totally got where she was coming from. I’ve had one dog in my life and it’s only now after he’s been gone almost 7 years that I can even think about replacing him… but I digress. This launches Mike on his quest to find the perfect FDOTUS! It can’t be a doodle or a poo or a service dog. He narrows it down to Beagle or Cocker Spaniel – and ew. No. Sorry, but Beagles need to be able to run around and at least pretend to hunt – and cockers are just cranky! Elizabeth wants a bull mastiff.
Mike brings in a puppy – but Elizabeth declares her to be too young and sends her back. Mike B next arrives with an old English sheepdog, but when Goddess growls at Elizabeth, she seals her own fate. Elizabeth tells him that she doesn’t want an overbred, tightly wound, bitch! She wants a Gordon – but Mike points out – and rightly so – that Gordon was one of a kind.
In the end, it’s Henry who saves the day when he arrives with a dog from the local shelter – and d’uh! Responsible pet adoption looks good on the President! Unfortunately, it seems that the border collie has bonded with Henry…. But by the end of the episode, he’s starting to warm up to Elizabeth too.
Blake has his day in front of Hanson who thinks that he’s caught Blake in using campaign funds improperly. We finally get the backstory to what happened between Blake and Stevie. It turns out that Blake had gone back to his boyfriend Trevor (Roe Hartrampf), but when Blake worked up the nerve to ask Trevor to move in, it turns out Trevor was expecting a proposal and was disappointed. Hanson wants to cut Blake off, and I loved it when Olivia (Amanda Warren) jumps in and says that if Hanson is going on a fishing expedition, the witness is entitled to describe the pond!
Blake’s parents – Edie (Caroline Aaron) and Fred (Tim Matheson) are having a huge party and insist Blake come and bring a date. They arrange for their friend Shelton Anderson (J Tucker Smith) to fly them on his private jet. Because he’s just broken up with Trevor, Blake asks Stevie to come – and of course, his parents think they are an item. Hanson wants to cast the free flight in the worst possible light and the opportunity to press for campaign donations. However, as it turns out, Stevie and Anderson were like oil and water and fought for most of the party. Blake did eventually text Stevie to butter Anderson up because he was their ride home – but that was the only reason. In the end, Blake ends up not rejoining the campaign for five days after the party…. And Hanson tries to make something of that.
However, the reason Blake didn’t go right back was that Trevor showed up at the party – the two made up – and Blake was able to introduce Trevor as his fiancé to his parents! I loved how Blake’s parents were even happier that Blake was with Trevor instead of Stevie! In the end, Blake and Stevie ended up reimbursing Anderson for the flight anyway, and Hanson dismisses him in disgust – a clear win for Elizabeth.
What isn’t a clear win is the thorny issue of using Artificial Intelligence weapons. Elizabeth has to decide how to attack the perpetrator of the gas attack that killed Peter Harriman (Skipp Sudduth) when he’s tracked to an underground hideout. She can use a bunker-buster that will result in civilian casualties, send in Seals – which could result in dead Americans, or sent in a fully autonomous robot – it’s too far underground to use remotely controlled weapons. I loved the way the episode unpacked all of the ethical dilemmas. It’s one of those great episodes where everyone chimes in with a slightly different opinion. Ellen (Johanna Day) insists that AIs are simple deterrents; Ephraim (Clifton Davis) says that AI makes the world safer; but Henry insists that AI lacks human judgment; and Russell (Zeljko Ivanek) argues that AI are not programmed to save lives but to take them. Susan (Tonya Pinkins) points out that a number of countries are already asking for a complete ban on them.
Helen argues that the technology is inevitable and they have the chance to get their first to develop an ethical system of use. Ephraim points out that just a few will save lives. Russia and China are dragging their heels on an agreement about their use. Henry points out that negotiating an agreement will inevitably take time.
Elizabeth dreams of Harriman, and then tries to decipher the dream with Henry’s help – and it was good to see that they still indulge in a little ice cream in the middle of the night! Does the dream mean that Elizabeth is looking for justice for Harriman and his family and is looking for the right tool or does it mean that tools need human oversight?
In the end, Elizabeth decides that they have the finest military in the world and they should use it – she sends in the Seals. At first it seems to have been a huge success… and then all Hell breaks loose. We cut to Daisy (Patina Miller) briefing the press. The Seal team was deployed to get Lazlo Galasee – 8 were killed and 6 injured. A reporter wants to know why Elizabeth didn’t use UGVs – it turns out that Admiral Parker (Tony Plana) was angry at Elizabeth’s decision and he leaked it.
In the immediate aftermath, Elizabeth wants to speak to the families of the fallen soldiers. She also considers the leak to be a perfect way to open the dialogue with Russia and China. In the end, the fallen soldiers’ families school her in what to say. They are proud of the sacrifice their family made. The soldiers are heroes, who died doing what they signed up for. They urge Elizabeth to stand up publicly for their willing sacrifice and honor them.
Elizabeth breaks protocol and crashes a meeting with Konstantin (Yasen Peyankov) and Chen (Francis Jue). She tells them that she wants a complete ban. She points out that the point of AI weapons is that they cede control – what if they are hacked? She tells them that she will make one of two statements. In the first, she’ll announce a complete ban, in the second, she’ll announce $30B in funding for R&D.
Elizabeth prepares to make a statement and Russell cautions her against it. I love that they are examining how a woman governs. She tells Russell that she feels like the patriarchy is telling her how things are always done. She tells him to talk to her like the President, not a woman. Russell tells her – don’t scare the public. Elizabeth tells him that today, she’s not worrying about being popular, she’s worrying about being Presidential.
In the end, we get another stirring speech from Madam President – it’s a complete ban in the end. She stresses that meaningful human control is the one thing that has tempered war and provided a safety check. She also stresses that technology isn’t the enemy.
The final scene brings us back to Henry and Elizabeth. She’s finally figured out her dream. It’s about accountability. It’s the first time that she’s sent troops to their death and it’s weighing heavily on her. Henry points out that this won’t be the last time. He thinks about his own missions as a fighter pilot and tells her that in the end, it makes you cherish life even more. I can’t say often enough how much I admire how this show has integrated Henry into having a meaningful role. As Henry leaves the room, the new dog finally seems to be bonding with Elizabeth and she names her Hope.
“Valor” was written by Lyla Oliver and directed by James Whitmore Jr. and was the perfect episode to follow “Killer Robots.” The episode deals with PTSD – it’s not just a soldier’s problem – and Elizabeth’s struggle to get a bill passed to deal with the reprehensible state of Veteran’s Care. The episode also features the beginning of Daisy’s testimony, which seems to be the one that’s going to cause the trouble. Finally, we also see Dmitri (Chris Petrovski) and Stevie reunited – after a fashion.
The episode begins with Elizabeth presenting a Medal of Honor to Major Jenkins (Sam Robards). The episode really focuses mostly on Henry. We meet Henry’s Chief of Staff who is also a veteran – Captain Evan Moore (Michael Patrick Thornton). Henry and Evan enlist Jenkins to address the committee considering the VA Bill that Henry is championing.
When the three turn up, the meeting of the committee has been cancelled – without Henry being notified. Jenkins is furious that once again, nobody is listening and he storms off. It turns out that the direction not to let Jenkins present came from the White House – from Vice President Morejon (Jose Zuniga). How much do I love that they have a woman as President and the Latino community represented by Morejon?? Is it possible to love this show more – and the subtle ways it subverts the travesty that has played out in real life?
Henry goes to Russell about Morejon. Russell points out that they have an arrangement whereby Morejon has agreed not to “publicly” oppose Bills, but this wasn’t “public.” Russell cautions Henry not to force Morejon to go public. Henry accosts Russell at the picnic for the Medal of Honor winners and their families – and I loved the underlying humor of Russell sneaking a hotdog and then not being able to eat it – underscoring why he shouldn’t be eating it in the first place!
There’s also some fun business at the picnic between Elizabeth and Mike B as he wants her to be getting photo ops – and calls all the fun that she’s having “pointless.” These would be the perfect pictures to help get the Veteran Bill passed… but of course, Elizabeth isn’t going to exploit these people! She has too much respect for the military.
Henry does go to Morejon, who explains that he has problems with the spending included in the Bill. He supports privatization – like every good Republican. Morejon explains that he didn’t intend to insult Jenkins.
Meanwhile, we see Dmitri is staying with his sister Talia (Masha King), studying for his citizenship exam. She presses him about contacting Stevie. He’s not sure that Stevie wants to see him, and she presses him to at least call and find out. When he doesn’t, Talia takes matters into her own hands. I love that she uses the social media that’s made Dmitri reluctant to reach out to track Stevie down…
Talia runs into Stevie “by accident” in a sporting goods store where she’s shopping for a camping trip with Griffin (Seth Numrich). The two are cute, but if you need to buy that much gear that you know nothing about, you aren’t camping people! Stevie asks after Dmitri, and Talia says he’s fine, but then asks Stevie to meet her later for drinks to discuss a roundtable that she’s sitting on as a nurse – Stevie’s work with the non-profit could be helpful. Stevie agrees to meet her…
We get a classic scene with Elizabeth and Henry discussing the issue in bed. Henry got Jenkins’ numbers: 87 kills, 10 kids, 12 women. Elizabeth says that she’s sorry about Jenkins, but Morejon has his deal. She tells him that she’ll be meeting with Senator Peoples (Tom Wopat) to try to get the Bill over the line. Stevie barges in looking for hiking boots – but is clearly there to tell them about having run into Dmitri’s sister Talia in the sporting goods store. Henry and Elizabeth play dumb when she mentions Dmitri being in town – which they didn’t know – but they do know he wants to contact Stevie. Elizabeth remarks after she leaves that Stevie really seemed to be over-selling the camping trip….
Peoples shows up with BLUE beer at 15% alcohol. Elizabeth proceeds to get drunk – and a very, very blue mouth! But she also manages to have a productive meeting and get Peoples to allow Jenkins to speak. I loved the scene with Blake and Daisy taking care of an impaired Elizabeth.
Jenkins never makes it to the meeting when he has a severe PTSD attack and essentially commits suicide by cop. We learn that he’d stopped seeing his therapist. Henry is devastated that he didn’t see it coming, thinking that Jenkins was only demonstrating enthusiasm for the Bill. I loved that this opened up an entire discussion about PTSD. Henry says that he didn’t have it after the Gulf War but suffered after being shot – and now hates fireworks. Elizabeth admits that she still has moments herself and when it looks like she’s listening to a podcast, it’s often whale sounds. Henry is concerned that she doesn’t tell him – and it’s important to talk about these things to lift the stigma. Such an important storyline! They both worry about Stevie too.
Daisy, Henry, Russell, Elizabeth, and Mike all discuss whether to use Jenkins’ death to try to get the Bill passed. Russell says no, thinking of the wife and kids. Henry, however, agrees with Mike and says yes. Daisy insists that they can spin it to please everyone – by using it respectfully.
Henry reads the email that he received from Jenkins to the committee and this is a very powerful scene. He describes some horrific incidents. His testimony is intercut with scenes from the funeral. Jenkins doesn’t blame the VA, writing that “the VA tries but it’s big and needs help… it’s hard for warriors to admit weakness.”
At the funeral, we see that Morejon is far from a monster and learn that the Bill passed. He feels very badly about not letting Jenkins speak to begin with. He insists that his objections were purely based in policy. Elizabeth understands and tells him that what they’re doing has never been done before. It demonstrates that different opinions can work together – something the sitting Congress and Senate could learn from.
Meanwhile, Daisy testifies, and Hanson is particularly interested in an altercation in a bar. She punched a guy when he was coming on to Nina (Tracee Chimo Pallero) and then grabbed Daisy from behind, surprising her. Honestly, the best part of this scene is really Kevin Rahm’s delivery of being disgusted with the youngsters. Although, the guy screaming and crying about a little bloody nose was pretty good too. At first, it seems that Hanson is out to get Daisy on using her position to get out of the charges. Once that’s proven not to be the case, he does find that she withheld a name from her witness list: Claudine Bernard, who works at the French Embassy. And it’s because of this that the episode ends with Daisy coming to Russell, telling him it’s very bad.
It turns out that Talia was setting up both Stevie and Dmitri because he’s the one who turns up in the bar. The two are awkward and adorable. He clearly doesn’t want to interfere with her happiness if she’s in love with Griffin. Stevie even tells him that they are going on this camping trip – and if they survive it, she guesses it’s a relationship. But let’s not forget that she’s been pretty lukewarm with Griffin all along. He’s clearly fun and she enjoys his company – but is it love? Is Stevie wondering why he waited so long to get in touch – and really didn’t at all, this was Talia’s doing after all…
In Stevie’s final scene, we see her in the car with Griffin, heading camping. The two are bantering back and forth about ticks and the Secret Service, but as the scene ends, Stevie looks pensively out the window. Is she maybe wishing she was back in DC with someone else? I sure hope so!!!
I liked the way these two episodes spoke to each other. We see why Stevie isn’t with Blake – and it’s ok because it looks like they are both heading to happy endings. I really, really liked how the two main storylines really spoke to each other. And I love the continued focus on working together for the greater good in a kinder and gentler world. I’m hoping that the trial element is going to wrap up quickly – and it would be pretty fun if Daisy gets fired and they need to bring Matt back to take her place… What did you think of the two episodes? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!