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TV Recap: Madam Secretary, Season 1, Episode 7, “Passage”

Bess’s world gets shaken up (both literally and figuratively).

Bess and her Indian counterpart (Sakina Jaffrey). Photograph by David Giesbrecht/CBS.

Way back in Madam Secretary’s pilot, the show hinted that Henry McCord might eventually cheat on Bess. This week’s episode seemed to refute that idea, though the alternative stretches credibility. Let’s recap.

Bess is taking her first international trip as Secretary of State. She’s decided to head to Turkey, until she gets summoned to Camp David, where POTUS is doing some target practice with a business tycoon named Ted Graham. Graham has convinced POTUS to pressure Bess to go to India instead, to attend the opening of his latest chemical plant, which Bess accepts with as much good grace as she can muster.

Not going on the trip are Stevie, who has to work, and Henry, who says his book deadline has been moved up so he’ll be in the library researching 24/7. Also not going: Daisy, who’s headed to Nantucket to be a bridesmaid in her as-yet-unseen cuckolded boyfriend Win’s sister’s wedding; and Matt, whose passport isn’t up to date, leaving new junior speechwriter Scott to fill in, much to Matt’s annoyance. Stevie, running late for work, spies her dad having lunch with a young brunette and sends him a playful text about it, but when he runs after her with a serious look she gets suspicious. Later that night, Matt and Daisy are out at a bar when they see her alone and wasted at a bar. Matt flees, still trying to keep their affair under wraps, while Daisy attempts to sober up Stevie, who confesses her dad is a “cheating cheater who cheats”—he hasn’t been at the library for months. Awkward!

Scott writes a flowery, metaphor-filled speech for Bess to deliver at the chemical plant opening, to a frosty reception from her Indian equivalent Chondita Samant (played by House of Cards’ Sakina Jaffrey). But at breakfast the next day, the minister commends Bess’s passion, and things seem to improve—until a massive 7.3-magnitude earthquake hits, wreaking havoc but leading to, as Daisy terms them, some “great optics” as Bess and Samant work side by side on relief efforts. The positive PR is short-lived, though: The chemical plant Bess just visited was damaged in the earthquake, and begins leaking toxic chemicals that catch on fire, killing 4,000 and contaminating the Ganges. Bess wants to send a group of Texas firefighters called the Hotshots to battle the fire, but Minister Samant tells her the new Indian Prime Minister won’t allow US aid until the chemical company apologizes. Ted refuses to accept liability since his factory was built in compliance with Indian safety standards, though as Bess points out he could have built it to US specifications for a “drop in the bucket” of his company’s profits.

Matt, meanwhile, is acting like a jealous sibling, complaining to Bess that Scott refuses to work with him. Then Bess gives him a wake-up call: She had Matt’s passport held so she could test out Scott’s abilities, because Matt’s been phoning it in of late. “It’s not your talent I’m questioning, it’s your level of commitment,” she says. She’s also not happy with Daisy, who decides to tell her that her husband is having an affair. Bess snaps that Daisy is projecting her own guilt over sleeping with Matt onto her marriage, which is both true and pretty harsh. Still, she goes home and asks Henry outright if he’s sleeping around. He’s so squirrelly that for a minute it seems like a tacit admission, until Bess divines the real reason for his awkwardness: “You’re working for the NSA again,” she says. Yes, apparently mild-mannered ethics professor Henry is helping with an investigation that is “so top-secret, not even the Secretary of State can know about it,” and the brunette was his handler. In a series full of far-fetched twists, this might be one of the most ridiculous, although it will no doubt lead to some fraught conflicts of interest between the parents McCord in future episodes.

Her marital issues cleared up, Bess turns back to the India crisis. Matt has cooked up an audacious strategy: He advises Bess to take the blame for the blaze at the factory, which will give her a platform through which to reveal that India is refusing US aid, and Daisy, after apologizing for being unprofessional, works some PR magic that is effective enough to get Bess a celebratory drink with POTUS and Russell, who’s delighted that Ted has been forced to step down as CEO.

Matt, riding high on his success, shows up at Daisy’s apartment to profess his feelings for her—but Daisy cuts him off to say she’s just gotten engaged to her boyfriend. Even without having met the guy, it’s hard to feel much more about this other than that Daisy is kind of a terrible person. Things are a bit happier over at Casa McCord, where Bess tells Stevie, without revealing much, that Henry is most certainly not having an affair—and, by the way, Stevie’s grounded for drinking underage. Stevie, who continues to be the world’s most reasonable 20-year-old, merely hugs her mom and says she’s glad her dad’s not a cheater.

A few thoughts:

This week in What Are the McCord Kids Up To?: Allie has a brief flirtation with the son of an Indian diplomat, though it mostly serves to up her world awareness. Jason doesn’t get much to do, but I did laugh at him telling Allie’s new boyfriend, “She went crazy on the garlic naan.”

Every scene in which Bess meets with the President and Russell Jackson ends up just oozing a patriarchal vibe, even moreso with the addition of smarmy businessman Ted. I know it’s intentional, but it makes both male characters still seem more like caricatures, even seven episodes into the season.

According to Matt, Turkey is the Tofurkey of the Western World.

Speaking of Matt, is there anything more emasculating to hear after spilling your guts to someone than “I feel bad for you”? Then again, it’s hard not to feel bad for him, even though this plot line continues to seem unnecessary.

Blake has a drumroll sound ready on his laptop for the appropriate occasion. That’s the kind of preparation Bess needs in her staff.