With the Jihadi John news this week, it’s probably smart that Madam Secretary stayed away from any mention of Syria this episode. I do have to mention, though, that the probable death of Jihadi John by drone airstrikes just days after the last episode aired is a pretty creepy coincidence, but it’s a new week and a new problem for Elizabeth McCord. Like most weeks, she completely takes care of business.
As we are well aware by now, the show is not afraid to cover real-life controversies that are happening in the U.S., and this week is no exception. This week, the topic of conversation is the Cuban trade embargo, which is a topic that people are actively fighting back and forth about.
The show opens in Chicago 1977, with three African-Americans being pulled over. The woman in the car, who we eventually learn is Afeni Rahim (Elizabeth Spars), tells the man driving to stay calm and relax as an officer approaches the vehicle. The officer raises a gun, scaring one of the men in the car who goes to grab a gun. The cop shoots both the men dead, and one of the men shoots the cop before he dies. We learn later in the episode that the cop who was murdered was Officer Burke, and Rahim was found guilty of the murder she obviously didn’t commit, causing her to flee to Cuba. (Hmm…definitely feels like Madam Secretary was drawing on Assata Shakur here.)
Fast forward to the present, and it’s the re-opening of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., after 54 years, and while everyone else recognizes it’s a controversial moment, Matt is not having it. Openly opposing the move, Bess decides that Matt’s beliefs will harm the speech she has to make when she goes to Cuba to re-open the American Embassy. So, he gets taken off the assignment.
That same night we learn that Senator Markes is resigning. Who is that? Well he’s a man who was pulled over going the wrong way down a one way street, failed a sobriety test, and was with a woman (not his wife) who had a half-ounce of cocaine on her. Oh, and he happens to be the head of the Foreign Relations Committee who stopped a bill on Cuba from passing. Now, Bess is going to do everything in her power to get that bill going again so that she can announce the lifting of the trade embargo on the same day the American Embassy re-opens. Let the 48-hour countdown begin.
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Craig Sterling is back, but I’m going to hold off on talking about him and save the best for last. Bess and Russell successfully convince Dalton to support their bill, which surprisingly does not take a lot of convincing. His “Hell, let’s make some history” line really reminds me of last season when he was listening to Bess on pretty much every topic.
Now they must get 60 votes. Blake and Daisy are manning the phones and calling senators to get support for the bill. When Matt learns the news, he immediately wants to be a part of it, even though he was super against it before, because now it’s going to be a historic moment when it goes through. Meanwhile, Bess is off promising Minnesota money for agriculture and offering Wyoming’s Wind River Mountain Range national park status, and Bess and Russell corner the Idaho senator and threaten to crack down on marijuana farms in Idaho if he doesn’t back them.
Finally, they have their majority — or so they thought. Right as their celebratory champagne is being delivered to them, Senator Parisi (one of their yes votes) holds a press conference to say that he won’t be voting yes on the bill unless Cuba hands over Rahim to the United States to serve out her sentence for the 1977 murder of Officer Burke.
NEXT: Bye, Craig
With the vote on hold, Bess, Henry, and Alison make their way to Cuba, where Bess tries her hardest to convince the First Vice President to give the U.S. Rahim. She offers up three Cuban nationals, to which he replies, “What kind of people would we be if we sold our friends out for silver?”
However, Manuel Barzan wants that embargo lifted. He says that the Cubans need that embargo lifted and he loves his country. So he drives Elizabeth over to a restaurant owned by Afeni Rahim and says that Bess could try to convince her to come back to America willingly. Bess tells her she would be treated fairly if she came back and that it’s not like how it was when she was convicted. Rahim tells her that she was not the one that shot the cop that night and it wouldn’t be different, citing Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner.
Bess tells Nadine to get the court files, which she brilliantly pulls off. Nadine fake-crying to get those court documents might have been one of the best scenes of the episode. As it turns out, the FBI did in fact suppress evidence and wiretap her defense team, so the attorney general offers her a new trial. Bess promises to release the old files, which state that she didn’t shoot anyone. Rahim could come home, stand trial, and have everyone see that she’s innocent of the crime.
Now it’s time for the big speech. There’s only one surprise, and for once it’s a good one. Matt shows up with Joseph Hoffman and Bill Thomas, two men who served in the military when the Cuban Embassy was closed in 1961. They were there to lower the flag, and now they’re there to raise it again. She announces in a historic speech the re-opening of the American Embassy and that the embargo is officially being lifted after 54 years.
Now for my favorite part of the entire episode: Russell Jackson finally realizes that Craig Sterling is the worst.
As it turns out, Craig Sterling was behind Senator Parisi’s press conference against lifting the trade. He called Parisi, told him about Rahim, and said that he would offer Parisi a cabinet post in Dalton’s second term if he held the press conference.
I’m pretty sure you do not want Russell Jackson as an enemy. When Bess gets back from Cuba, Russell sits her down, pours her a drink, and tells her about what Sterling did to get back at them. He mentions that Craig wants to undercut them in front of Dalton so that he’s the only voice in the president’s ear. So naturally Bess asks him what they’re going to do.
The episode ended with Russell saying, “We bury him,” to which I erupted in cheers…alone in my living room.
Next week we’re back to the impending war with Russia and probably a more solid plan to take down Craig Sterling. I am so ready!
- Let’s talk about Henry reprimanding Alison for taking a photo of the church because I kind of agreed with him. I’m 26 years old and call me old for saying this, but can’t you just appreciate the beauty of something without having to photograph and filter it on Instagram? It just kind of ruins a good moment.
- Speaking of Henry, he is having a rough time getting over Ivan’s death, which he seems to be taking out on Alison the entire episode. He doesn’t really have a huge role this week, but I assume with Russia the center of the next episode, he will be back.
- Fun Fact: This episode was directed by Tate Donovan. For those of you who don’t know who that is, you may remember him as Rachel Green’s ex-boyfriend Joshua on Friends or Tom Shayes on Damages or Mark Boudreau on 24: Live Another Day. Basically, he’s awesome.
- Finally, we learned that Bess is not a fan of kale, which makes me love her even more.