Madam Secretary

This show has a strong following but definitely flew under the radar. 2014/2015 had an unprecedented number of new shows across platforms, and CBS’s “older” audience persona limits the number of people who could potentially watch the show. On top of that, you have the amazing Tea Leoni in a role that was developed when Hilary Clinton was Secretary of State causing obvious comparisons, but when you see the show you realize it is nothing like that. This show won me over late in the season and I am still working my way through it. From what I have seen so far, Tea Leoni’s character is not a career politician, she’s confident, practical, hopeful, and still manages to maintain a healthy balance of work and family. She is not perfect, she has emotions and they can overwhelm her, she is also new to the politics game and the naivete does occasionally show. My favorite part of the show is her relationship with her husband played by Tim Daly (We all remember/loved Wings right?!). I am so bored by seeing couples on television cheat on each other (again, haven’t finished the first season so hopefully that still holds true). It is as though every one on television has money, work in an interesting environment, but the only way they can deal with stress is to have an affair. Mad MenRay DonovanGame of ThronesThe Good Wife (that’s a little different but still)… it’s boring! It’s nice to see two people who work on their relationship and parent together, and aren’t “preachy” about it. I will write about this another time, but in your own writing it is definitely something to consider.

Anyways! Let’s get to the breakdown…

The episode we will be looking at is Season 1, Episode 5, chosen for it’s oh-so American and amazing title: Blame Canada written by Paul Redford. The series was created by Barbara Hall.


Dr. Elizabeth Faulkner McCord, Secretary of State

Dr. Henry McCord, Elizabeth’s husband and theology professor at Georgetown

Nadine Tolliver, Elizabeth’s Chief of Staff

Russell Jackson, White House Chief of Staff

Blake Moran, Elizabeth’s assistant

Daisy Grant, Elizabeth’s press coordinator

Matt Mahoney, Elizabeth’s speech writer

Stevie (20), Alison (16), Jason (13), Elizabeth and Henry’s two daughters and son

President Conrad Dalton, POTUS

Zahed Javani, Iran’s Foreign Minister and Elizabeth’s counterpart

Allen Bollings, US Ambassador

Lester Clark, Canadian Ambassador


A: Elizabeth deals with keeping peace with Iran, while being distracted by the Canadian ambassador’s need to pass an environmental report.

B: Matt and Daisy comically struggle to keep their affair a secret.

C: Henry helps Jason with a report for school while reflecting on his own past career.

Act One 

A: An anonymous man blows up a section of construction at the North American pipeline in Canada.

A: Nadine checks in with Lester Clark as he waits to meet with Elizabeth.

A: In a cabinet meeting, Allen Bollings recommends that the president bring the military in to deal with Iran and their nuclear reactor that has just gone online before they have nuclear weapons. Elizabeth recommends offering a “carrot before the stick” in the form of selling commercial planes and parts (something Iran previously vocalized a desire in). (Set Up)

B: The staff discuss who they will bring as dates to the party for the Secretary of State hosted by the Canadian ambassador. When Matt asks Daisy if she will be bringing her boyfriend, she says that what they did last night (sleeping together) must stop happening.

A: Lester needs Elizabeth to release the environmental report to quell protesters, Elizabeth says she can’t put her name on it without reading it first regardless of what her predecessor promised.

C: Henry is told by the kids that he has made the list of “Arm Candy” (a list of hot government spouses). Jason has to write a report for school about one of his parent’s careers. His teacher is pushing for his pick to be Elizabeth, so Jason has chosen Arm Candy Henry.

A: Elizabeth gets a late night call about a blockade against fishermen’s boats in Canada. She speaks with Lester about clearing it up. He tells her he will back off if she hurries up with releasing the report.

A: Elizabeth threatens to get the president involved and Lester backs down.

C: While Henry works on the report with Jason, Alison runs in and turns on Elizabeth’s press conference where she discusses Iran. The kids are fearful of there being a war.

A: Russell Jackson checks in with Elizabeth, pointing out the growing crowd of environmental protesters outside. He wants Elizabeth to hurry up and release the report. She tells him she needs to read it first so he gives her a day, the president wants this to happen soon.

A: Allen meets with the Iranian leaders and they become irate, completely rejecting his proposal.

A: Elizabeth is told that the idea has been rejected, and that Allen never even offered the planes and parts. She tells the president that she does not think Allen is the man for the job.

A: The president is furious. He is ready to send in the military. Russell steps in and defends Elizabeth’s opinion while she stands by silent.

TITLES: 17:46

Act Two

A: Elizabeth tells Allen that Iran is bringing in a new guy, Javani, and to make the deal in its entirety to him (unlike he did before). Allen is dismissive but agrees.

C: Matt tells Daisy that he broke up with his girlfriend last night. Daisy demands to know if Matt broke up with his girlfriend for her, but Matt denies it.

A: After reading the pipeline report, Elizabeth meets with the writers. They claim they were brought in to do rewrites on the information which has clearly been falsified, and they do not know where the report originated as they were hired by an independent company.

A: Elizabeth learns that the independent company was an oil lobbying firm. Nadine knew and defends the decision by previous Secretary of State, Marsh, to support the report. Nadine’s argument is not enough for Elizabeth, she cannot sign her name to a falsified document.

A: Iran walked out of negotiations with Allen and so Allen is returning to D.C.

C: Henry tries to get Jason more interested in his assignment by talking about all the other rebels in theological history while at lunch. Henry is confronted by a marine who mocks Henry for being Elizabeth’s “Arm Candy,” and yelling about the Iran situation. Henry hauls the marine outside and threatens to report him for misconduct since he is in uniform.

C: Henry backs down and lets the marine leave with his friends. He turns around and sees his son has watched everything. Henry apologizes that Jason had to see that.


Act Five

A: Allen updates Elizabeth on the meeting with Javani. He says he made the offer but they did not want to hear it and called off the talks. The president is ready to send in the military.

A: POTUS privately shares his disappointment with Elizabeth over his inability to bring peace to the Middle East, and says this is why it is so important to him that he at least be able to handle clean energy and pass the pipeline bill even though he knows the report was written by oil lobbyists. Elizabeth asks him that he give her six months to rewrite the report, and just one more day for Iran.

A: The president agrees to Elizabeth’s request. She makes a call to Canadian Ambassador Lester.

B: Matt tells Daisy says he broke up with his girlfriend because he knows she isn’t “the one.” He asks Daisy if her boyfriend is the one and she says yes without hesitation.

B: At the Canadian party for the Secretary of State, Blake and Daisy’s dates were unable to make it. Daisy is a little annoyed when she sees Matt managed to find a French girl to make his date for the night.

A: Henry and Nadine dance together to create a distraction while Lester takes Elizabeth down a private hall, to a back room where Javani is waiting.


Act Four

A: Lester arranged the meeting for Elizabeth. Javani tells her how Allen never made them any offer with any kind of concessions and tells her how he is risking a lot coming to this arty in secret so that his country will not be embroiled in a way.

A: Elizabeth makes the offer that Javani should have heard from Allen. She says she will sign the deal as soon as the nuclear reactor goes offline. Javani agrees to call his superiors that night and make the offer.

A: Javani asks why while at the CIA he was referred to as Elizabeth’s “boyfriend.” She explains that it meant she “had her eye on him,” in that she saw him as someone who had similar goals to her own.


Act Five

C: Henry finds his son up late, worrying about the situation with Iran. Henry tells Jason about his own time in the military, in a very matter of fact way but with some sadness about his role in taking the lives of others.

B: Matt and Daisy run into each other in the stairwell. Having spent the night together again, they are annoyed that people will notice and figure out what they’ve been doing.

B: Matt and Daisy’s arrival is noticed and commented on by Nadine. The pair each give an excuse but she doesn’t care because they managed to get the nuclear reactor offline a few hours earlier and that’s much more important.

A: Elizabeth meets with Allen and tells him he is fired. An angry Allen launches into a speech showing his apathy towards Iran, and that Marsh agreed with him. He says that if Marsh were still alive he would be the next president and would have appointed Allen as his Secretary of State.

A: Elizabeth speaks alone with Blake and after he agrees to do anything for her, she asks him to do an investigation into Nadine privately.

END 43:17

Overall Thoughts

This series is unique in that it has an incredibly long first act. Typically with a network show you will see a Teaser that will quickly establish the mindset of the major characters and storylines, then a longer first act. There is no break for over fifteen minutes before giving us the main titles. It does still adhere to five acts when you look at the commercial breaks, though you could argue six acts if you cut the first act after all the set up beats, but as I have said many times before, it is all the same ultimately.

I am still figuring out what the clearest way to walk you guys through beat sheets and structure is and have been changing it up a little every time. If you have a preference for what you like best, let me know.

Happy Writing!

One thought on “Madam Secretary

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