Show: CBS’ Madam Secretary
Featured Characters: Henry, Elizabeth, Stevie, Alison, and Jason McCord
Found families or excellently written blood families will always make a TV show or film that much better. Madam Secretary excels as a political drama for a myriad of reasons, but Elizabeth McCord’s life at home has always been one of the best parts of it. We could even write novels about the type of chosen family she’s surrounded by those she works with.
There’s also plenty to be said about how it’s a rarity to see authentic exhibitions of teens on TV. (FX’s The Americans is also great in doing justice to both the adults and the kids.) Ultimately, as opposed to showcasing the reality of what families are like through organic character development, television series often focus more on nonsensical forms of drama that don’t allow proper growth. The kids are too often sidelined and resorted to subplots. But Madam Secretary made us care about the McCord family even while we were frustrated with them.
It was easy to care about the McCord family from the very start. So often, it’s about the small moments, and Henry, Elizabeth, Alison, Stevie, and Jason made the episodes feel like home. You felt welcomed into their lives—you didn’t feel like an intruder. You wanted the episodes to conclude with the quiet nights at home or the early beginnings. Something about it always worked.
The McCord Family Siblings
There’s almost always an unspoken promise in families that the kids will always have each other’s backs, but the thing about Madam Secretary is the fact that we’re able to see those moments brought to life frequently. We’re able to see that promise come to the surface through their actions and the little moments that make it clear they’ll always take care of each other. And the beauty lies in how drastically different they are from one another.
Stevie, Alison, and Jason know that there will be times where they’ve got to take care of themselves and each other. They’ve also shown each other that they know one another, and that’s perhaps the moment riveting aspect for me. The age differences aside, so much of the truth they represent is something many of us know in our real lives. Our sibling is the one person we could threaten to kill one minute because they took something without asking, then five minutes later, you’re asking them if they want Taco Bell takeout. You don’t always know everything about them, but you know enough to understand their heart better than anyone else. The McCord kids know this, and they choose to love one another even while they roll their eyes at the apparent differences and mishaps. And in the same way, their parents know them just as well, which is incredibly impressive because few parents do.
Fathers and Sons
Jason’s arc throughout Madam Secretary and all that he stands for while trying to find his footing despite his mother’s role in government and his father’s teachings is one of the fascinating angles the show addresses. And while it puts him in complicated positions with his parents, it also allows all characters to grow in the process. I can think of about maybe five examples of solid father/son relationships, and that’s a tragedy all on its own. But Jason and Henry not only spend a reasonable amount of time together, but they’ve also shared incredibly moving moments that have showcased what it truly means to be a family.
One of my favorite moments is Jason realizing that he doesn’t want to be fighting with Henry in the future. Not every man is fortunate enough to grow up with a father they can admire. Still, being one of the lucky ones, Jason has often chosen to acknowledge that though he and his father are different from one another, he never once wants to be in a position where they aren’t close. It’s worth noting that Henry has always made sure his kids are aware that they can come to him about whatever need be, especially with Jason. We give what we receive, and if parents put no effort in getting to know their kids, then they’ll receive the same negligence. And for writers to tell this story with the authenticity that they have is admirable.
Fathers and Daughters
In the same way that Henry has a solid relationship with his son, he’s established a similar closeness with his daughters. Did I cry like a baby as he watched Alison help Stevie get ready for her wedding? You bet I did. And though Stevie didn’t go through with it in the end, what I said back then was that I admired the fact that Henry didn’t talk her out of it with some ridiculous, over-the-top, dad talk.
The McCord family is always honest with one another, and that’s perhaps one of the reasons why it’s so easy to open up to each other. Henry’s gentle approach to situations allows for vulnerable moments to be dealt with gracefully, and in doing so, it has allowed both his girls the opportunity to understand what they can expect from the outside world. Individually, he spends time with each of his kids, building distinctly solid bonds with them, which reflect wonderfully in their personalities outside of their home. Stevie and Alison know that they’ve got a father who not only loves them beyond words, but he’s the person they can feel safe enough to trust with everything. And sometimes, family dynamics are this healthy when approaches are taken to understand each other beyond the surface level.
Mothers and Sons
Much of Jason’s behavior impacts Elizabeth the most, but through conversations and moments of transparency, they’ve gotten ahead of the situation as best they can. Where he couldn’t trust any politician, he could always trust his mother and so much of his outbursts were because of his desire to make sure she’s in a better place.
Whatever Jason did, his intentions were always clear as day, and no one saw that more clearly than Elizabeth. No one understood her son and everything about him the way she did. She was often an example to him of how one should be, and thus, looking to her, Jason’s decisions are often about making her proud even while he rebels through it all.
Mothers and Daughters
We’ve already established that it’s safe to presume that the Secretary of State’s job isn’t the easiest. However, Elizabeth McCord handles it with an incredibly noteworthy grace throughout the entirety of Madam Secretary. It doesn’t matter how much work she needs to do at the office because she will always have time for children (and it makes me super weepy every time I think about it). We all know a middle-child who’s felt the pangs of invisibility, and when Alison went through that phase believing that nothing she did mattered, Elizabeth’s exceptional approach to the situation made it clear that her daughter is continuously cherished. The sole fact that she could talk to her mother about this is where the lines between fiction and reality get blurred because sometimes, a parent’s general approach to this is not taking the situation seriously enough, but that’s not the case with Elizabeth.
Madam Secretary deals with several life and death situations, but no matter what she’s facing, the first thought on Elizabeth’s mind has always been her children. Whether she’s cooking with her girls or they’re all taking time to go horseback riding, she is a mother first and Secretary of State/President of the United States second. Whether they are with her or not, they are her number one priority, and the unique relationship she’s established with each of them continuously makes the show riveting. And I’ve always loved the fact that when her children call, she’ll answer the phone. When they come into her office, she’ll speak to them. It doesn’t matter what is happening because they are her number one priority at the end of the day.
Husbands and Wives
While this post is strictly for the McCord family as a whole, I feel as though it’s vital to mention that without Henry and Elizabeth’s solid partnership, their children wouldn’t have turned out as they have. I’m constantly in awe of how Henry and Elizabeth have balanced their lives, but more often, I’m in awe of how beautifully they handle the most critical matters in life.
Henry and Elizabeth are perhaps among the most intriguing married couples on television due to their organic representation. It’s no surprise that creators believe there needs to be tasteless and ridiculous drama to keep solid relationships exciting, but portrayals of marriage like theirs are significantly better and always preferable. There’s beauty in simplicity and beauty in quiet moments—both of which are a constant presence on Madam Secretary. Henry and Elizabeth are each other’s best friends, and it’s that very friendship that’s sprinkled immense love into their family. Coming home to one another and unwinding together has resulted in gorgeously profound moments that have strengthened them individually and as a team.
Without Henry’s fervent support and belief in Elizabeth, she wouldn’t be the kind of Secretary/President that she is. At the end of the day, as mentioned above, she is first a mother. But Henry has made sure that she could live her dream and be the kind of mother (and wife) she wants to be. No one can achieve anything alone, and the McCord family was always a team even while they weren’t. Their decision to honestly confide in one another with whatever’s on their mind has effortlessly allowed their love to grow. And their choice to always listen to one another has strengthened their ability to trust and understand their partner in ways no one else can. Due to their unwavering adoration and remarkable communication skills, they can find the best ways to deal with whatever life presents them with. Henry and Elizabeth have built a rock-solid foundation with their love, and in doing so, created a safe, beautifully adoring environment for their children.
Henry and Elizabeth are perhaps two of the busiest parents on television, but it bears repeating that their children have always been their number one priority. And in beautiful ways, their kids have been raised so admirably well they’re wise enough to not only take care of themselves but each other as well.
The McCord family can’t always have dinner together, but believing that they’re loved regardless, they’ve each found ways to make their lives work. From the very first episode to the end, their loyalty is one that’s bound to stand the test of time.