Secretary of state is pretty far down the presidential line of succession — that is, the order people who assume the nation’s highest office when the United States’ Commander-in-Chief is incapacitated or dead. But Madam Secretary‘s season premiere finds a somewhat plausible way to put Elizabeth in the Oval Office — for a few hours, at least.
You’d think that such an auspicious event might get us out of having to witness a performance of Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time,” only with the lyrics rewritten to reflect an impending trade agreement. You’d be wrong.
Read on as we recap what takes place in “The Show Must Go On.”
FOURTH TIME’S THE CHARM | When Air Force One goes missing on the same day the vice president must undergo emergency gallbladder surgery, Russell summons Elizabeth to the White House to assist with the swearing-in of the next in line. Usually, that responsibility/honor falls to the speaker of the House… but he’s on the president’s plane. So they haul in the president pro tempore of the Senate who, with a few confused comments, reveals that he’s not 100 percent mentally there. (A series of small strokes, his staffer hesitantly confesses, have seriously affected his mental faculties.)
So then it’s up to the next in line, and that’s Elizabeth. So she places her hand on the Bible held by the Supreme Court chief justice — played by the series’ executive producer Morgan Freeman — and boom: She’s the president.
STEVIE’S IN HOT WATER (AGAIN) | While Elizabeth is being briefed on nuclear codes and the like, the Secret Service rounds up her family and hustles them to the White House. Only Henry truly knows what’s going on; he also knows, thanks to official channels, that Stevie was found shacking up at a hotel with the president’s son. Worse, she confesses to her dad that she’s got the heroin that fell out of former junkie Harrison’s jacket — which he swears is old — in her pocket. Luckily, Henry’s blow-up about her poor choices in men is the only fallout from that revelation.
To be fair, Mr. Madam Secretary is a little on edge because his new Defense Intelligence Agency handler Jane Fellows wants him to recruit and handle a Russian student with counter-nationalistic tendencies at the war college. This is way more than he signed on for, he informs her, but she doesn’t really care.
A SOUR NOTE | Meanwhile, up in the literal ultimate seat of power, Elizabeth is ticked to learn that she’s been kept out of the loop in the appointment of the new National Security Advisor. And so, in the few hours in which she is president, Elizabeth has the chutzpah to pardon a journalist who’s been jailed for protecting a source. What you gonna do about that, Russell?
Ultimately, we learn that Air Force One’s communications systems went down, but everyone on board is fine. The president lands, relieving Elizabeth of her new duties just in time for her to make a talent show she’s dreading: She’s supposed to sing the doctored Billy Joel ditty in order to somehow make a trade agreement happen — yeah, the details really don’t matter — but has a panic attack because she’s tone deaf. Thank goodness you have a staff full of triple threats, Bess! Nadine, Blake and Daisy — all of whom are played by actors with Broadway pedigrees — step in to croon the parody and bring the house down. All’s well that ends well, right?
Wrong. Later that night, Elizabeth is called to the White House once more, along with the new NSA director: Air Force One’s comm system went down thanks to malware planted on the plane, probably by a foreign country. Or, as Elizabeth puts it: “This was an act of war.”
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