Musings on Madam Secretary 2.21
Connection lost. That show title sums up the entire episode in two words. It’s both a literal referencing to the phone connection lost at the end, and a figurative nod to the emotional connection lost (or misplaced) between Elizabeth and Henry. And thus continues our Season 2 role reversal train plowing down the tracks.
The episode started with therapy. Praise Scripted TV Drama Baby Jesus. It was as awkward and uncomfortable as you’d think it would be. You could feel the clumsy tension just as a third party watching through a TV screen. There was weird small talk and they spoke over each other. Elizabeth was trying to put him at ease, but it felt like she was over-encouraging him. He wasn’t too willing to open up. They were both on edge for different reasons. It was almost like she was taking her boyfriend home to meet her parents for the first time. They both told Dr. Sherman that their work is collaborative and they’re on the same side, fighting for the same goal… although I think they were trying to reassure and remind themselves of that more than anything.
I enjoyed the (blue filter) flashbacks because it gave us an effectively quick update into what life has been like since Henry dropped his soul-crushing Bomb O Truth on Elizabeth. They’ve gone from not being able to discuss their jobs to not discussing anything else. Irony. Barbara brings it. It’s almost like work is their safe way to talk without communicating. Honestly, discussion of anything else almost felt superficial, like they were just going through the motions because they felt they had to. Henry acknowledged that therapy helped Elizabeth following Iran and, I believe honestly, admitted he’s grateful for it. However, he’s coming at both situations from a different perspective. Because nothing happened TO him, he doesn’t believe he has the right to be affected the way she was following Iran. He’s just being Mr. Tough Guy, hoping to plow through life and that magically his feelings will disappear. However, he IS being affected and Elizabeth sees that. “You said you think about it every time you look at me. How are we supposed to get past that?” It’s a legitimate question, said with hurt. It’s ticking her off that he’d rather bottle up his emotions instead of open up and deal with something that is a significant issue in their marriage. They need to get a handle on what’s gnawing at their “empire of two” before it eats a giant hole that’s too large to repair. (Note: I do not see this happening. I’m just saying this is why therapy is needed… and Henry needs to be an active participant.) I love the way the scenes in Sherman’s office were shot: very slow zooms and pans were utilized over harsh cutaway shots, and almost every shot showed either both Elizabeth and Henry or one in relation to the other. A united, team front. Afterwards, you could see how relieved Elizabeth was to hear Henry say that perhaps therapy could be beneficial. She made an excuse for it at first and then melted when he agreed he enjoyed it. It’s like she’s walking on eggshells around the person who knows her best.. and that isn’t a way to live. I personally am not well read on therapy, but it seems like Henry could benefit from a few standalone sessions. Some of you know more about this than I do from personal or professional experiences. Maybe his personal sessions will come down the line? Also, nice to see Elizabeth has a Dr. Sherman therapy uniform: orange blouse and black blazer.
Proof that Henry’s demons are eating him and affecting his marriage: he doesn’t show up to the gala. In fact, he lied to Elizabeth about why he couldn’t attend. Dressed in her gorgeous gown (more on that later), she was understandably heartbroken when he said he couldn’t go. It almost felt a bit like she was being stood up for prom. Of course Elizabeth was hurt and knew something else was wrong, but she remained hopeful he’d eventually make even a brief appearance, although deep down I think she knew that wouldn’t happen. Later when he returned home, she was still wide awake, thinking, hurting, wondering. Even though she needed him to be at the gala with her, she brushed off her pain (yet again) as the event being “just a thing” when it was actually something much more metaphorical and symbolic. It wasn’t just a work event. It was an opportunity for Henry to prioritize their marriage and for them to enjoy each other’s company again. Henry, being the Catholic and ethics professor, couldn’t keep a secret from his wife and blurted out the real reason he avoided the event: he couldn’t handle it. Yes, Henry lied to Elizabeth, but he also couldn’t keep up the charade once he faced her. If anything, that proves that Henry is still Henry. He’s just a bit damaged these days.
“I can’t accept what happened to Dmitri and what’s still happening to his sister.” “Which means you can’t accept me either.” Ouch. Elizabeth realizes the toll this is all taking on Henry and their marriage, but Henry still isn’t seeing the correlation. He’s blinded. “I’m scared, Henry.” She opened up and confessed one of her biggest fears. He acknowledged it, but brushed it off slightly by saying he wasn’t going anywhere. Elizabeth is desperate and terrified, and she’s not getting any reciprocity from the only other person who can give her the acknowledgement that she needs. It’s like our favorite couple, in the past so united that even a look conveyed an entire soul-baring conversation, are now two people on different plains.
We all knew Henry was going to Pakistan, but what have we said about sending a McCord overseas? I thought we agreed not to do this anymore. Alas, it happened. When Admiral (I will always call her “Admiral”) Hill first suggested the possibility of sending Murphy Station to Pakistan, Elizabeth was a bit taken aback. It’s that wife/Secretary of State dichotomy that is her life. Even Ellen felt the need to semi apologize to her for offering the option. Throughout the entire conversation, Elizabeth came across as a bit detached, like she wasn’t there in the Oval Office.. because she wasn’t. Understandably so. Physically she was present, but emotionally, he thoughts were on Henry and what this could mean for her family.
Henry packing for Pakistan was highly reminiscent of Elizabeth preparing for Iran, but myself and anyone else with eyeballs probably preferred Tamerlane prep. Back then, we knew she was going into danger, but we were treated with what are some of my favorite scenes of Season 1. This time, not so much. It was more methodical, with Elizabeth telling him to take a suit, etc. Sure we got a bit of fluff, but it wasn’t real fluff. It was masked by Elizabeth’s desperation to dig deeper and connect with her husband before he left. “You can tell me not to go, you know.” That was just a line by Henry. Even if ever fiber of her being wanted to say that, she never would because she knew he’d resent her even more than he already does. As if continuing on the “nothing to see here” train, Mr. Hands touched and kissed her, trying to get her to avoid discussing anything deeper than what’s on the surface. She even pushed him away at one point (the will that woman has to resist him), hoping to indicate that she’s serious. Of course it went nowhere. Also, why did they have this deep conversation about personal and covert political operations with their bedroom door open? I know their kids aren’t spies, but getting their “cover with the kids” straight while standing feet away from their open door seemed a bit messy. Let’s hope they’re both better at being undercover spies. The one thing we didn’t see was their final sendoff. Did they just do a quick peck and he walked out the door like it was another day at the office? Were they even semi emotional like Iran? I really felt the absence of seeing their final face-to-face moment.
All communication throughout the rest of the episode was done by phone. Despite oceans and thousands of miles separating them, Elizabeth still needed reassurance that Henry would not put himself in danger. “You need to think of the kids. We need you back.” It’s her way of pleading with him without pleading with him. At one point, Henry reminded Elizabeth of the Pride and Prejudice Ball. For the first time in a long while, the people talking were Henry and Elizabeth McCord: college sweethearts, parents of three, and two people who have invested in and dedicated their entire lives to each other. They weren’t a Defense op and the Secretary of State. “I will always show up for you. Always.” Well just leave me here to wallow in my pile of goo feelings. Elizabeth was just as taken aback, already emotional about everything going on in their lives. This unexpected and unknown walk down memory lane reminded her of who her husband truly is, even if she secretly questions it sometimes. The brief but much-needed scene only lasted a few seconds because they were interrupted by Jose. Eff you, Jose. Henry abruptly ended with “I gotta go.” By the time she said “I love you,” he was already gone. That didn’t sit well with me. It was actually the second phone conversation he ended that way, the first with just a “Bye.” Even after the foreign minister twitter fiasco in the middle of the night, Elizabeth managed to still say “Iloveyoubye” in one breath. The world was literally burning all around him and he didn’t take the time to tell Elizabeth he loves her? It seemed disjointed, rushed and unfinished.. which, I suppose, is why it was written that way. When he goes missing, she’ll replay their final conversation over and over in her head: they never got to say goodbye. From a pure tragedy perspective, it’s like Shakespeare is writing this stuff. Can someone please hug the woman??
Speaking of Jose (things I never thought I’d say), Mr. No-Acts-Of-Passion-Ever was the one who lead Henry straight into an act of passion. The country was falling apart around them, “Flight of the Bumblebee” was playing on repeat, and Jose decided this was the time to play “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego.” Dude. C’mon. We knew this would happen given the foreshadowing from the bar scene, but I still wanted to shake Henry. He’s a grown man who can make his own decisions and could have easily let Jose go off on the Where’s Waldo hunt, but that wouldn’t be Henry. It was a stupid and (kind of) selfish decision, partly made by the ethics professor and partly made by the former Marine. There was something that could possibly be done to could help the world or his co-worker, so he did it.. without necessarily thinking about the effects it could have on those he cares most about in this world. The only thing I don’t understand: why not take the phone with him? He tossed it onto the desk. Don’t you think you’d want some sort of lifeline as you go off into a coup?
As all of this was going on, Elizabeth was left to watch the chaos play out from the other side of the world, exactly like Henry had to do during Tamerlane. She’s the person who knows some of the world’s deepest secrets, yet she has no idea where her husband is. “I’ve been assured they’ll be brought to safety *pause* once they’re located.” Standing in the Oval Office, Elizabeth was going through the motions of being Secretary of State while internally panicking as a wife. Before Conrad decided to send in the troops, he double-checked with her, a signal to their personal relationship that’s often been overlooked this season.
I’m going a bit rogue here and am offering my two cents that no one asked for on the Henry situation. Has Henry been an a**hole? Yes. Is Elizabeth a fragile broken flower? No. Does she realize he’s a bit broken himself and that’s why he’s acting out the way he is? It appears that way. Are his actions fair to her? Absolutely not. Henry is still Henry. He’s just currently feeling the effects of multiple traumas. Even Dr. Sherman acknowledged that. He jumped into a job he probably didn’t have the emotional capacity to handle, lost his father and suffered potentially life-threatening radiation poisoning, and he’s just supposed to suck it up and not be affected? As a viewer, I’d question it more if he WASN’T affected. Heck, I DID question it, and have been all season long. The fact that Henry is supposed to be unaffected by this while Elizabeth was allowed to suffer PTSD following Iran seems a bit stereotypical, the same kind of stereotype the show is fighting against. I’m not giving his actions a pass. He behaved like a prick multiple times. However, he’s human and trauma makes people do things they wouldn’t typically do. I’m sure even he realizes his behavior isn’t acceptable and will (hopefully and eventually) see the pain he’s putting Elizabeth through and what he needs to do to address it. This is where the growth can come.
During the episode, Jay questioned why the United States was giving aid to Pakistan when Pakistan may be knowingly harboring Jibral Disah. Nadine responded that there are times you need to trust that you’re part of the larger picture. Jay may not know why things are happening, but he has to trust that someone is the key mastermind behind it all. I thought that was very appropriate for this episode and this season, given the current state of Henry and Elizabeth. Perhaps I’m not the typical Elizabeth-centered viewer. I’m watching the show from the larger picture, so I’m taking in how every character is reacting to things. One viewpoint isn’t better than the other. They’re just different. Kind of like how Elizabeth and Henry are looking at the same exact situation and seeing things differently. I’m trying to be like Nadine here and trust that Barbara and her staff are putting Henry right where he needs to be with a clear end point, and that it will all ultimately work out. Get back to me a bit into Season 3 if this hasn’t happened.
We interrupt this serious episode for the dress. THAT DRESS. I’ve been waiting weeks to see it and it didn’t disappoint. As if it was the answer to a prayer to the ghost of Coco Chanel, I didn’t even mind the headband so much… and I was verrrrrrry hesitant about that stylistic decision. I like to think Elizabeth twirling in the kitchen was for our sake, so we could see it in its entirety. I adore that dress so much, I made my friend promise it could be the bridesmaid dress for her wedding. She isn’t even engaged. I’d also have to sell a kidney to afford it and would be wracked with guilt for spending that much on fashion, but that’s beside the point. One of my biggest disappointments with Henry not going to the gala is that he didn’t see her in that dress. Your loss, buddy. You probably would’ve gotten some M-rated fanfic action afterwards instead of “brush your teeth, whiskey breath.”
–Where was Russell? That’s two episodes and countless major decisions he’s been out of the loop for. The dude typically doesn’t let anyone order a ham sandwich without meddling.
–Henry shooting a gun was weird. Hot, but weird. I’m not sure how I feel about the previews. I guess I want him to be armed if he’s in the middle of coup chaos, and the former Marine knows his way around a gun, but it felt odd.
–More Matt and Nadine, please. I love that the secondary characters continue getting little storylines that offer insight into their lives. Nadine being slightly standoff-ish about the hug shows she’s just as awkward as he is.
–That. Darn. White. Tie blouse. Is. Back.
–“Is that the Japanese place where you have to cook your own food? Isn’t that like eating at home?” Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you this is seriously why I don’t like Korean barbecue or fajitas. I don’t go to restaurants where I have to pay to cook my own food. Let me just sign up for my AARP card right now….
–Burgers and bowling. BURGERS AND BOWLING. Season 3. Let’s make this happen.
–Mr. Lying McCord not going to Elizabeth’s gala meant we didn’t see a tuxedo-ed Henry. I’m hoping we’ll see a tuxedo-ed Tim for the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday.
–“I love you so don’t die on me, OK?” Gah. Just let me think about that line for the next week. Thanks, preview editors. Also, once Henry returns, gets help and is back mentally, he better make up this entire season to Elizabeth.. and I’m hoping we get to see it.