Madam Secretary Season 1 Episode 3 Review: The Operative

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Yes! They did it. Secrets abound In Madam Secretary Season 1 Episode 3 at home and at work to create a taut and exciting hour for the viewers.

It begins with a nervous reporter, Gina Fischer, meeting with a former State Department employee in Guinea, West Africa. He gives her thousands of secret U.S. Government documents that could do irreparable damage to the United States and put the lives of covert assets at risk. Yup, it's their very own Snowden episode!

At a friendly photo-op with French Minister Dubois, I bet you can guess which reporter is waving her hand high in the air when they open the floor to questions. Gina informs Minister Dubois that a member of Elizabeth's team referred to him as an "empty crepe" via email. Oops.

Gina gloatingly informs Elizabeth and the rest of the press corp that secret government documents are being published as she speaks. The outrage is immediate and swift. Elizabeth is going to need a throat lozenge to make it through all the apology calls she'll need to make.

I'm already crafting your apologies ma'am. On a scale of a non-apology, apology to full swagger Kanye, how far do you want to take it?


Elizabeth asks her team to find out who The Viper really is and what his security clearance was. She also wants to meet with Gina to see if she can convince her to stop releasing more documents and asks her Chief of Staff, Nadine, to find out more about her. Nadine asks how far to dig.

The Constitution shouldn't be violated. Let's make that an assumption from now on.


I initially smiled at this quip because Tea Leoni is so good at dry humor. And it's a good reminder that while Elizabeth isn't afraid to break some rules, she also has a strong moral conscious. This will be important later.

Back home, Henry informs Elizabeth that Allison's boyfriend broke up with her. This puts them in an awkward place. Technically Allison hasn't told them the bad news. They only know because they secretly read her texts.

An interesting, albeit not a terribly, surprisingly development in an episode about secrets and spying. One I suspect that many parents wrestle with themselves. When is spying okay? Is it less wrong to spy on your own kids, than a foreign country? I don't know the answer, but it's an interesting debate.

Elizabeth meets with Gina and it doesn't go well. Gina almost radiates rage. It seems personal to me, although they never indicate that it is. She made an impression, and I hope we haven't seen the last of her.

Elizabeth needs a viable foe STAT because Chief of Staff Jackson is her only obvious enemy and kind of a wimpy one. So Gina gets my vote. Plus a media foe can truly make life difficult for Elizabeth, while entertaining the heck out of us!

Henry has an interesting lunch with Russian Foreign Minister Gorev. I was looking forward to getting to know Henry better and to see what makes him tick. Now I know: strong moral integrity. It's easy to see why he and Elizabeth work so well together. I also like that he didn't hide this conversation from Elizabeth or his kids.  

I like a man with a big moral compass. It's a real turn-on.


With their asset in Pakistan caught and sentenced to be hanged, Elizabeth needs to find a diplomatic solution. Their answer involves Russia, a weapons defense system and Henry and his morals. Elizabeth asks Henry to give Minister Gorev's daughter an A in his Ethic's Class, which she needs to get into Harvard. It does not go over well. 

The scene between Elizabeth and Henry is so well done. It's superbly acted and tension-filled. You truly feel Henry's shock and sense of betrayal that Elizabeth would even make such a request, especially after getting everyone else onboard.

Was I the only one who was surprised by her request? Or how matter of fact it was?

Elizabeth: This is important.
Henry: So is my integrity.

You may recall in Madam Secretary Season 1 Episode 1, one of the reasons President Dalton chose Elizabeth to be his Secretary of State was because of her ethics and morals. She quit the CIA for ethical reasons, so it was intriguing to see a slight shift in her behavior.

On one hand a grade is a silly thing to allow a man to die over. On the other hand, it's a slippery slope, as Henry warned her. We live in a world with a lot of moral gray, and it will be interesting to see how far Elizabeth is willing to compromise her ethics. 

At first, I wasn't overly enthused about Elizabeth's family, but I fall a little more in love with them every episode. Allison deciding to tell everyone about the break-up while her parents are arguing felt genuine. It's a chaotic, real scene and a sign that Madam Secretary is starting to find its footing.

In the end, Elizabeth finds a way for Henry to bend, but still remain true to his morals. Schafer is released, but Elizabeth is worried that there will come a point where she crosses a line and loses too much of her moral integrity. And that is a show that I am interested in watching.

I have been hard on this show in my earlier reviews because it has such tremendous potential and wasn't living up to it. Honestly, I went into this episode expecting much of the same, but they surprised me in the best way possible.

There was a great blend of family and work scenes, which many shows struggle to do well. The tension that had been missing in the workplace scenes finally made a much welcome appearance with Schafer racing to the embassy and later being interrogated and tortured. It's much better to watch a scene unfold than to be told after the fact.

We still need to get to know her staff, President Dalton and Chief of Staff Jackson better because they still seem to only exist to interact with Elizabeth. They need to be fleshed out, but given the marked improvement of this episode, I feel hopeful that we will soon know who to root for (besides Elizabeth) and who to boo. 

What did you think of tonight's episode? Does it feel like Madam Secretary is turning into something special? And remember, you can always get caught up and watch Madam Secretary online via TV Fanatic anytime.  

The Operative Review

Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.0 / 5.0 (41 Votes)
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