Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 13 Review: Proxy War

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I have to admit, I was nervous about Madam Secretary taking on the Syrian conflict.

There's no Middle East conflict story that doesn't take a side on the issue of Israel's policies. For many Jews, support of Israel is equivalent to support of the Jewish people -- and this episode originally aired on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

But Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 13 illustrated the complexities of the Middle East situation and showed the US struggling to formulate a reasonable response. All in all, it was a balanced view of the issues that made for a gripping hour of entertainment!

(TALL) Dalton Holds a Meeting - Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 13

As always, Elizabeth had to work with a series of diplomats who didn't necessarily agree with her point of view or want to cooperate with the United States' plans.

Both the Israeli and Syrian ambassadors were frustrated with Elizabeth's demands, and their reasons were understandable.

The US is always happy to use Y'israel as a pawn to advance its own agenda. You give us weapons, then handcuff us when we try to use them. You give us money and tell us how to spend it.

Israeli ambassador

The Israeli ambassador's complaints made me realize how difficult it is for Israel to need the United States' financial support.

Regardless of where anyone stands on Israeli policy, the fact is that this is a tiny country that has been perpetually at war since it became an independent country in 1948. Without the help of the United States, Israel wouldn't be able to defend itself as it sees fit.

Yet as the ambassador points out, this creates a dependence of a different type. Israel wants to do what its own leaders think best but can't defy the US' demands too much or it will lose that financial support.

Even if Israel was able to broker peace with all its neighbors, it would likely still need help from the US in order to continue to function. I don't know if there's really ever going to be any way for Israel to be fully independent because of this issue.

Related: Get CBS All Access via Prime Video Channels for Hit Shows, Exclusive Originals & Live TV!

Meanwhile, Syria's alliance with Iran undoubtedly has benefits for the country. In addition to Iran's military power, there are probably trade agreements that help the Syrian economy.

So for Syria to agree to sever ties with Iran was a big deal that might have serious repercussions. No wonder the Syrian ambassador was reluctant to do so even on a temporary basis!

Listening Closely - Madam Secretary

It just goes to show that the whole matter is far less straightforward than it seems. There are a ton of alliances and political considerations in the entire region, and that's not even counting Russia's influence.

And it fell on Elizabeth's shoulders to find a solution to avert a war!

Dalton: I'm not going to tolerate any more Russian expansionism. It's tme we had a very tough talk with Syria.
Russell: A country with which we have no diplomatic relations.

I liked that this story addressed both Israel being used as a scapegoat and Israel taking military action that didn't seem necessary for its self-defense.

This is a much more balanced view than many Americans have, and I've never seen Israel depicted in this manner before. On most shows, the country is either purely heroic or an evil oppressor.

But on Madam Secretary, Israel had a right to be angry and a right to defend itself, but wasn't always right.

That was refreshing!

Considering Her Options - Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 13

I didn't blame Elizabeth for resorting to blackmail to get Syria and Israel both to agree to leave each other alone for the time being. Neither side was going to give an inch and both ambassadors had what they felt were good reasons for not doing what Elizabeth asked.

Only the threat of sanctions on both countries from the UN was going to get them to cooperate, even temporarily, and Elizabeth's move to ensure that they did was nothing short of brilliant.

Related: Madam Secretary Review: The Tangled Web of Politics

And then she was able to switch it off to talk with the Russian Foreign Minister about seeking common ground and convincing him to sign the ban on cluster bombs.

I have my doubts it would work that well in the real world, at least not in 2019. Russian-US relations have been tense for a while, to say the least, and I don't see any modern Secretary of State being able to pull this off.

But it made sense in the context of the story, and that's what counts. Plus, in some ways Madam Secretary is a fantasy about the America many viewers wish we lived in.

So getting adversarial superpowers to sign onto a deal that may not be in their best interest within the space of an hour is important in order to give viewers hope that the world could someday work like that.

Jason Stresses - Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 13

I was not a fan of the home life storyline in "Proxy War."

It was goofy and had no real purpose beyond comic relief.

I like the idea of Jason being an entrepreneur and I wish someone had helped guide him towards greater success rather than him arguing with his parents about the money it was costing and then realizing his business was a failure.

Elizabeth: Kind of busy, sweetie.
Allison: The Internet is really slow, like stone age slow!
Elizabeth: So call our provider.
Allison: My paper is due tomorrow!
Elizabeth: Go to the library. They have Internet and happy, smiling people who aren't busy trying to save the world order from crumbling.

Plus, Alison came off as super self-centered when she interrupted Elizabeth's crisis-filled day to complain about a slow Internet connection.

Russell and Bess - Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 13

In contrast, I loved Russell's side story about the homeless protester who kept getting under his skin.

Personally, I didn't see what the big deal was about her saying that the Dalton administration was evil, perpetuating injustice, and so on. Once the viral video of Russell yelling at her had played out and been replaced by her ranting about various things, she sounded like the kind of person most voters wouldn't take seriously.

She was yelling into the abyss and now she's got a megaphone! You had one job and that was to take care of this!


That said, I enjoyed Russell's impassioned speech about how pushing to be heard made her a true American.

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In these polarized times, it's easy to forget that everyone has a right to protest and to petition the government for what they believe in, even if we find their ideas abhorrent.

I felt like Russell was speaking to people on both sides of the political spectrum who are involved in political activism and reminding them that their insistence on making their voices heard is part of what America is supposed to be about.

Serious Business - Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 13

Finally, "Proxy Wars" did a great job of exploring the issue of children's lives being viewed as collateral damage.

Henry opposed the use of cluster bombs on moral grounds because they led to the death of innocent civilians, especially children, while Blake couldn't seem to get his head around the kind of response the grieving Syrian mothers needed and wanted from the United States.

I agreed with Henry that there's no number of dead children that is small enough that it doesn't matter, yet I also understood President Dalton's position that as long as Russia had cluster bombs, the US had to have them too in order to defend itself and its allies.

Elizabeth: You okay?
Henry: Yeah, I'm just trying to wrap my head around normalizing the number of dead children that is acceptable.

Blake's dilemma was more interesting. Blake kept doing what he knew how to do: offer monetary concessions in an attempt to smooth things over, and while his ideas were well-intentioned, they would have made things worse.

Kat impressively spun the children's death as a sacrifice so that cluster bombs would be banned and no more kids would die. It was idealistic and put an awful tragedy into a dubious positive light, but it worked.

It'll be interesting to see what Blake learns from that and how he grows in his new position!

Related: 21 Brilliant TV Minds That Could Be the Next Supreme Court Justice

What did you think, Madam Secretary fanatics?

Were the issues in the Middle East portrayed realistically and fairly?

Do you think the deal Elizabeth successfully negotiated could ever happen in real life?

Was I the only one who found Jason's storyline silly?

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

Proxy War Review

Editor Rating: 4.8 / 5.0
  • 4.8 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.5 / 5.0 (11 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 13 Quotes

Dozens of dead children! There has to be accountability.


Protester: Hey, you work for the White House, right?
Russell: I'm just trying to go -
Protester: One of the architects of the bombing, right here?
Russell: Hey -
Protester: I have a right to my opinion!
Russell: I'm not saying you don't! But while you're out here protesting, I'm working 16 hours a day to try to resolve the situation you're protesting about.