Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 17 Review: The Common Defense

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It was strange to watch Madam Secretary without Elizabeth.

The show is named after her, after all, and most of the time her struggle to balance work and family issues drives the story forward.

But Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 17 saw Elizabeth head to Camp David, leaving Jay in charge during a major crisis. The story was surprisingly engaging despite the lack of Elizabeth. Could this be a test run for a spin-off series in the future?

(TALL) A Measles Outbreak - Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 17

Although it was weird for Elizabeth to go off the grid, it also gave Jay the chance to shine.

Jay handled himself remarkably well despite the Australian Prime Minister's disparaging comments about him just being a stand-in for Elizabeth who couldn't channel her way of persuading people to cooperate.

World on His Shoulders - Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 17

It would have been interesting to see how Elizabeth would have handled this situation, but Jay did a fine job and managed to get the crisis under control.

This is a humanitarian crisis because the world is changing and we need to figure out how to change with it.


I liked both the continuity of the climate migration crisis and the way various issues were shown to be interlinked throughout the hour.

So many shows forget about the plot of the hour when it's over, but that didn't happen here.

On Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 16, Elizabeth worked hard to get the citizens of Nauru to a new home. Now her staff had to find a place for all the displaced people to go.

The message was clear: climate change is not going away and has far-reaching consequences.

Related: Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 16 Review

There were many other intersecting issues, too. 

I thought one of the most thought-provoking scenes was the discussion in Dalton's office about why people are not vaccinating their children.

That is the thing about democracy. People are free to consume as much misinformation as they want.


Russell focused more on the issue of people choosing not to vaccinate their kids because of misinformation or distrust of science. But as the others noted, it isn't always a matter of choice.

For people who have the means to get their kids vaccinated and don't, choice is involved -- but there are thousands of poor people who skip vaccinations because they can't afford it.

I hadn't even considered this issue before Jay brought it up, but it makes sense. People who live below the poverty line are less likely to see doctors for preventative care, period, and poor children tend to see the pediatrician less. 

An Important Meeting- Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 17

Getting health care if you're poor is a huge problem in the United States, which is why there's currently a debate in real life about whether or not the US government should provide taxpayer-supported health care.

But this issue is very rarely brought up in discussions about vaccinations, which tend to center around privileged people who fear their children getting autism from a vaccine.

Politics is the art of the possible. We're moving into much deeper waters here.


Russell's arguments against mandatory vaccinations provided some food for thought. How does a country respect its citizens' freedom while simultaneously protecting them from deadly diseases and other crises?

Russell felt that any kind of mandatory vaccination program -- including making vaccination a requirement for getting a passport -- was a violation of people's civil liberties. But is the resurgence of measles a serious enough health crisis to warrant taking action anyway?

Madam Secretary did what it does best by leaving the answer to that question up to viewers.

That's one of the things that makes this show so strong -- it raises questions but doesn't force answers down viewers' throats.

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

Madam Secretary also tends to show issues from a global perspective, and this was no exception. That other woman's choice not to vaccinate her child not only made the measles much more severe for her than for Joanna but also allied her with a ton of other people who don't vaccinate.

That, in turn, gave the Australian Prime Minister an easy way out of taking responsibility for the Australian tourist who started the pandemic: he countered all of Jay's arguments about that with the fact that more people in the US refuse to vaccinate than in Australia.

And the pandemic itself fed into xenophobic elements in more than one government, which helped rumors that the migrants came carrying disease spread almost as quickly as the measles itself!

Blake Tries to Think - Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 17

I was saddened to see the Australian Prime Minister take the attitude that staying in office was more important than standing up for the truth. 

That's a large-scale problem both in real-life politics and on this show. In a rational world, staying in office and standing up for what's right would not be mutually exclusive. But we don't live in an ideal world, and often politicians are motivated solely by fear of losing their jobs and refuse to stand up for ... well, anything.

I want to help you. I also want to stay in office.

Australian Prime Minister

I don't know what the answer to that is. But I think President Dalton was right when he said that since facts and reason aren't persuading people, he had to use bureaucracy to apply pressure.

Related: Madam Secretary: Celebrating President Dalton

Daisy's story was emotional without being trite.

I was glad that she didn't reprimand the other mother for not vaccinating her kid.

The woman wasn't evil and didn't deliberately set out to harm her child. She merely believed false information and thought she was protecting her kid's best interest when she was doing the opposite.

Nothing He Can Do - Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 17

This mother will likely be wracked with guilt for the rest of her life, especially if her child ends up with severe disabilities as the result of contracting measles.

Of course, even if vaccines do cause autism, it is better to have a child with autism than a dead child, and this mother may have learned that the hard way. I was glad she was using her experience to help others understand the importance of vaccinations.

I also found it interesting that she assumed that measles was a disease of the past and that skipping the vaccination wasn't putting her child at risk. I've never heard anyone who is anti-vaccination say that before.

Most vaccination debates center around whether vaccines cause autism and whether it matters if they do. It's important to consider this argument and educate people about how herd immunity works and what could happen if your child gets exposed to measles.

Kat Advocates - Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 17

Elizabeth's absence meant she missed the whole drama about Will dating.

That was the least exciting family storyline I've seen in ages, so the less said about it, the better.

But Henry's initial instincts were right. Will is an adult, and if he wants to date, it's nobody's business.

I also don't think that a reconciliation is in the cards for him and Sophie and that everyone needs to stop thinking it is. (I'm looking at you, Stevie.)

What did you think, Madam Secretary fanatics? How well did Jay handle the crisis that fell into his lap while Elizabeth was gone? How emotional was Joanna's illness? And did anyone find Will's story compelling?

Watch Madam Secretary online and then hit the comments with your thoughts!

Madam Secretary continues to air on CBS on Sundays at 10 EST/PST.

The Common Defense Review

Editor Rating: 4.7 / 5.0
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Rating: 3.3 / 5.0 (15 Votes)

Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.

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Madam Secretary Season 5 Episode 17 Quotes

Elizabeth: Okay. Disengaging in 3...2...1.
Henry: Whoa. The countdown. I haven't heard that since Jason went to summer camp.

I work for the Secretary of State and I understand CDC protocols, but I'd really like to get to work.