Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 12 Review: Strategic Ambiguity

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Corporate money in politics leading to conflicts of interest.

Budget disagreements threatening to turn into a government shutdown.

Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 12 once again pulled from current political events without becoming partisan or preachy, resulting in a tense story that raised more questions than it provided answers.

Passionate About Her Position - Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 12

Throughout the hour, Elizabeth kept making too much headway too fast, so it was obvious something was going to go wrong.

She was right in her prediction that selling the F-40s to Taiwan was going to cause World War III, so it was a relief that the crisis was averted at halftime despite knowing there had to be more to the story.

I saw the guy with the camera, but I didn't guess that he was working for some Congressman. I thought that was one of Mike B's people taking unwanted publicity photos again.

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In any case, since the State Department had just closed a security loophole that had led to the info about the deal being leaked to China, you'd think they'd make sure unwanted persons weren't hanging around the meeting with Chen!

It made for great drama that they weren't, though.

I wasn't sure whether the camera guy worked for Brandt or whether it was another leak, but either way that allowed the Congressman to attempt to undermine Dalton and Elizabeth.

Zeljiko Ivanek as Russell Jackson - Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 12

Russell kept saying that their only option was to shut down the government. I'm not sure how he planned to do that since unlike in the real America in January 2019, Congress was willing to vote on measures the President didn't want to sign and had enough votes to override a veto.

More importantly, would that have been the right thing to do in this situation?

Well, I for one am tired of the tail wagging the dog, so let's go.


Brandt's strongest argument for his emergency rider was that canceling the Fossor contract put a ton of Americans out of work. So how would shutting down the government and furloughing more Americans who live paycheck to paycheck help anything?

It seems like that would be terrible optics and just give Brandt more support because he claimed to be pro-jobs.

If Brandt runs against Elizabeth, which I suspect he might, the last thing she needs is him pointing out she was part of an administration that allowed such a thing to happen.

Dalton: A good President accomplishes two, maybe three things that move the country forward. An excellent President, maybe four. I think you'll be an excellent President.
Elizabeth: Thank you, sir. But what does that have to do with Fossor?
Dalton: You can spend your Presidency fighting this. But before you do, make sure this is really what's important to you, because it will consume your entire Presidency.

Elizabeth was naive to think that convincing Congress to vote against the rider would be the end of Fossor Industries' involvement in the government.

She felt betrayed that Dalton agreed to let Fossor eat the cost of the extra planes and keep them in America. But Dalton was thinking more long-term than she was. 

If the contract remained canceled, people would still be out of work -- and Dalton doesn't want to end his term as the President who let that happen. Since the new deal with Fossor didn't affect international relations, it was a win-win for him and Elizabeth to take that deal.

Dalton could preserve his legacy and go out on a high note that would make it easier for people to want to vote for his preferred successor, while Fossor was put on notice that if it engaged in shady dealings, the Department of Justice would make sure the executives involved were caught and punished.

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Elizabeth is insisting on dying on that hill, but is it really as worth it as it seems?

She has lofty ideals, but she'll have to play the political game to accomplish anything, assuming she succeeds in winning the Presidency.

I think she probably knows it, too, because she so eloquently warned Alison against letting her ideals interfere with her voting for the best candidate on Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 4.

Look, Jeff, I'm not a Congressman, but I was a Marine, just like you, and I swore an oath to defend the Constitution, not a corporation.


So as angry as she is, she'll probably calm down, especially with some help from Henry.

After all, Henry is not only an expert on history and philosophy but was enlightened himself when he realized his friend Jeff had other pressures to consider when voting besides the pressure to do the right thing.

Blake at the Bar - Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 12

Blake's reaction to Gary was fascinating.

There was a ton of chemistry between the two men, and since Blake identifies as bisexual, I wondered immediately if Gary's offer of drinks was the start of something more than a work relationship.

It wasn't, but I enjoyed their interactions so much that I was disappointed that Gary left to take the job in Boston Blake had found for him!

Blake: Why did you ask to get a drink if you don't drink?
Gary: It's just something people say. Let's cut to the chase. Nobody wants to hang out with me socially. So I'm guessing Madam Secretary sent you here to find out something. Am I right?

It was sad that Gary was so cynical and distrusting. Maybe if he'd put less trust in his girlfriend and more in Blake and his other co-workers, he wouldn't have got himself into the situation he was in.

In any case, Blake put his whole heart and soul into trying to defend Gary, even demanding to know why Jay was being so hard on the guy.

Jay's explanation that Gary had brought classified material home and that the issues he worked on were matters of life and death should have been a no-brainer, but clearly, Blake saw something in Gary that no one else did.

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Blake checking on Gary and offering him a new job was sweet, and so was the advice Gary offered him in return.

Gary: For a seventh-floor type, you really have a big heart.
Blake: Too big, or so I've been told.
Gary: Listen to me. If you're gonna fight the good fight, you're gonna need a big heart, cause this job's gonna chip away at it every day.

Let's hope these two stay in touch, unlike Jay and his Dutch, chess-champion girlfriend, who hasn't been heard from since they parted ways at the end of Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 6.

Confronting the Dogsitter - Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 12

I have to admit I wasn't much of a fan of the Daisy/Matt story.

Jay thought their problems paled in comparison to the international crisis the staff was dealing with, and I had to agree.

Maybe it's because Matt is my least favorite character, but I found this subplot to be silly and somewhat predictable, even if it did highlight how hard it is for Daisy to balance all the aspects of her life while working at such a high-pressure job.

So what do you think, Madam Secretary fanatics?

Who was right: Dalton or Elizabeth?

Would you like Blake and Gary to share more than this one story?

Was Daisy and Matt's side story a welcome relief from the intense plot, or was it silly filler?

Weigh in below, and don't forget you can watch Madam Secretary online if you missed anything!

Strategic Ambiguity Review

Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 3.7 / 5.0 (6 Votes)

Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. His debut young adult novel, Reinventing Hannah, is available on Amazon. Follow him on Twitter.

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Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 12 Quotes

Dalton: We want you to convince Taiwan that buying these F-40s are in their best interest.
Elizabeth: But these F-40s aren't in their best interest, or in ours.

Man: What was your call name back in the day?
Henry: Prophet, but it wasn't as cool as it sounds.
Man: It never is. Hairy feet, thus Sasquatch.