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TV Recap: Madam Secretary, Season 1, Episode 8, “Need to Know”

Bess gets a leg up on her enemies.

This is Henry's non-suspicious face. Photograph via CBS.

If marriage is all about communicating, Bess and Henry seem to be headed for a rough patch. Both are longing for the simpler days when they were just college professors, but when there are German would-be bombers and Moldovan would-be dictators to thwart—not to mention impressionable tweens to parent—who has the time? Let’s recap.

The A-story this week centers on Daisy and the giant rock given to her by the unfortunate Win. Just kidding, thank goodness, though the two things to note about this ongoing plot are that 1) Matt and Daisy are still sleeping together despite the presence of said rock, and 2) everyone knows about it, leading to an incredibly awkward scene wherein Nadine has to chastise them for letting their sexcapades interfere with work. Moving on: The real issue this week is that the Moldovan Prime Minister has come to visit Bess to ask for weapons from the US to defend his government against a “misogynist warlord” named Kolba who’s trying to stage a coup. He’s also apparently pretty social-media savvy, though he mostly uses his Twitter feed to say disgustingly sexist things about Bess and her legs.

Bess has an old CIA friend named Jim moved over to the State Department so he can accompany the Prime Minister back to Moldova to develop a counter-insurgency strategy—except their plane disappears in rebel airspace before they arrive. “How does a plane that size just disappear?” Bess asks the CIA director (I’d check with CNN, Bess), but eventually they find it at a military base controlled by Kolba. For once, to Russell Jackson’s surprise, Bess supports the military option, though the element of surprise is key. Her solution: Have the US military fly over an exact replica of Kolba’s treasured white Phantom Rolls-Royce, then get Kolba on the phone and pretend to cave to his demands to distract him long enough for the military to drive the car right onto the base and ambush the rebels. This involves Bess having to listen to Kolba call her a “minx” and “little lady,” among other choice epithets, but she gets the last laugh when the strike on the base causes his regime to crumble. The Prime Minister is killed, but Jim makes it back to the US safely, and Jackson is impressed enough with Bess to joke around with her (or at least approach it).

As revealed last week, Henry is working for the NSA, which makes Bess furious because Russell kept it from her. He says the order came from POTUS, who decided she didn’t need to know—but he promises it will probably be a brief assignment. Henry is tasked with finagling an invitation to the home of a German religious scholar/money launderer named Klaus, whom Henry knows from way back when and who the NSA believes may be hiding chemical weapons smuggled in from Syria. Henry spends a lot of time trying to be inconspicuous as he climbs into and out of a ridiculous black van, but proves quite a smooth operator when it comes to lying. His handler gives him a bug hidden in a replica of a pawn from a distinctive chess set Klaus owns, and once Henry gets himself invited to a party at Klaus’s house he has to switch out the piece, which is heavier than the actual game pieces. Klaus catches him around the chess set, and Henry lies that he wants to buy it—which leads to them playing a game for it and Henry wisely calling a draw before Klaus picks up the fake piece.

Henry’s NSA handler tells him his job is done, but he says if there’s more he can help with he has a responsibility to do it. His handler says she’ll have to check with the President, but he’s under no circumstances allowed to tell anyone regardless—so when Bess asks him at the episode’s end whether his NSA run is over, he uses his black-belt deception skills to convince her that’s the case.

The conspiracy story gets ever so slightly deeper this week, as Bess uses another spy-reunion dinner with her CIA friends Isabelle and Juliet to finally tell them her suspicions about Marsh and George’s death. Juliet believes her, but Isabelle is mostly angry that Bess could be putting their lives in danger. Bess meets with the head of transportation safety to ask about what may have happened to the Moldova-bound plane, then casually asks him whether the ground crew monitoring Marsh’s plane were polygraphed. He of course wants to know why, but she refuses to elaborate, so he simply says they weren’t because it’s not protocol in the case of mechanical failure.

At the end of the episode, Juliet shows up at Casa McCord and shows Bess an envelope postmarked the day of George’s death, containing a $5 bill with TAMERLANE written in Sharpie on one side. Juliet says she thinks maybe George wanted her to help Bess investigate, and while Isabelle, who has two small children, is out, she’s willing to do it.

A few thoughts:

This week in What Are the McCord Kids Up To?: Allie is trying out Meatless Mondays, and apparently gets her cooking skills from her mother; Jason is discovering the joys of cologne and grading women like cuts of beef, prompting Henry to give him some romantic advice. No Stevie at all—she’s still grounded, I guess.

For once, Matt replaced Blake as my favorite character, both for using Gremlin rules to explain why negotiating with warlords is a bad idea, and for trying to sneak puns into Bess’s speeches.

A funny visual detail: Bess carefully buttoning her jacket all the way up before video-chatting Kolba.

Finally, some forward movement on the conspiracy plot! Between this, her day job, and Henry keeping secrets from her, Bess is going to have an even busier schedule.