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Couch Potatoes with a Cause (Feminist TV Club): Commander in Chief, S1E1

Posted on the 08 August 2011 by Beckawall @beckawall

Couch Potatoes with a Cause (Feminist TV Club): Commander in Chief, S1E1In case you haven’t heard, I’ve started a Feminist TV Club. We’ve started out by watching Season 1, Episode 1 of Commander in Chief – if you haven’t watched it yet, go to Netflix Instant or Sidereel and watch it immediately. It’s an excellent show.
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”

Episode Summary (from Wikipedia)

While on a diplomatic mission in Paris, France, Vice President Mackenzie Allen is informed that President Teddy Bridges has suffered a possibly fatal stroke. Mac is shocked when she is told of his wish that she resign should he be unable to continue acting as president. Speaker of the House Nathan Templeton would assume the presidency. Despite grief about giving up the chance to be the first female and first independent in office and reservations about allowing Templeton, whose policies she does not agree with, to take office, Allen has her staff draft a resignation speech.

Upon the President’s death, Allen is again asked by Templeton to step aside. But as she observes his prejudice towards Muslims and women, she chooses instead to take the oath of office and assume the presidency despite the challenges that lie ahead. After assuming office, she is faced with hostility from within the Bridges administration, making her all the more aware of what an outsider she has been. The Secretary of Labor and the president’s personal secretary offer their resignations, while Allen asks Bridges’ Chief of Staff, Jim Gardner, to remain in his post – formerly occupied in her time as VP by her husband, who is having some difficulty adjusting as “First Lady”.

As her first action in office, Allen finishes a mission she championed as Vice President by confronting the Nigerian ambassador, making it clear that unless they release the woman who is sentenced to death by stoning for having sex outside of marriage, the United States military will use force to see that she is rescued.

Faced with skepticism from political insiders and within her own family, Allen delivers a touching address to a joint session of Congress. As the President speaks, rather than risk U.S. invasion, the Nigerians quietly hand their prisoner over to the U.S. military and she is flown out of the country.


First off, this show is awesome. Had I known about it eons ago, I totally would have watched it. But I was 15 and an idiot, so – whoops.Was anybody else as behind the curve as I was? Also, Geena Davis is amazing. Moving on!

The thing that struck me most in this episode were the relationships and interactions Mackenzie Allen (“Mac”) had with the men in her life. When Jim, the Chief of Staff for President Bridges, comes to Paris to inform Mac of the President’s condition, he also asks her to resign, saying “We got Korea, Syria, Iran, things are unstable, we don’t need the world to see-“ and Mac finishes for him, “the world to see a soft indecisive woman commanding the troops as opposed to Nathan “bloody-hell” Templeton.” On the flight back to DC, Jim is appalled when Mac asks to speak to the Commander of the Joint Chiefs and immediately takes control of the situation; putting the US Military on a high alert. Jim asks how she’ll explain this to the President, and Mac simply replies, “he’ll know.”

Jim pulls Rod, Mac’s husband and Chief of Staff, aside to complain about her ballsy leadership style, and Rod brushes him off with a “my job is to protect the interests of the Vice President and the United States and in this case they are the same.” It’s hard to say, however, if this is the result of Jim’s hesitance to put a woman – particularly Mac – in office, or if this is because he is distressed that President Bridges, who he says he loves and clearly has a close relationship with, is in major surgery while all this is happening. He seems to come around to the idea of Mac in office, signing on as her Chief of Staff – the role formerly occupied by Rod.

Rod is certainly a great husband to Mac, supporting her along every step of the way – but the most interesting thing to me was the play of power in their relationship. He says it always works best when they are “side-by-side”, and he objects to Jim becoming her Chief of Staff instead of him continuing in that capacity. But as the first female president, she says she “can’t seem like her husband is running the country.” Rod seems to understand this, or at the very least is willing to let it go for the time being right before her big speech.

The best and most interesting part of the Mac/Rod relationship, I think, will be “FLOTUS” situation. As the first First Man of the United States, he’s faced with the challenge of being a man in a traditional woman’s position. His aggravation and displeasure with what was “expected” of him was clear. And that Nora Woodruff character (head of the First Lady’s staff) was a hilarious character. I thought it was hilarious that she used Hillary Clinton’s actions as a guide of what not to do – with the euphemism that it “…didn’t go over very well.” I always think of Hillary as a magnificent First Lady, but clearly the American Public – and Nora Woodruff, clearly a FLOTUS traditionalist – didn’t agree. What were your thoughts on that? Were they trying to say something about the office of the First Lady?

Another interesting relationship was that between Mac and President Bridges. Her flashback to when he asked her to be his running mate revealed quite a bit about the President – he was clearly brusque, charming, and confident. And a shrewd player in the game of politics – he says to Mac about nominating her because of the advantage he will give her with women, ” if my raw need for power is what opens the door for women, so be it.” But when it comes time to actually opening the door for a women – putting Mac in the White House – he asks her to step aside and instead let Nathan Templeton take office. Could her differing politics really be the only reason at play here? And why did he choose her as a running mate if he didn’t want her to take office? This irked me. Women’s Leadership is more than a political game, it’s a vital thing that we are seriously lacking and need to work on. What up with that, Bridges?

And, of course, there is Nathan Templeton, douchebag extraordinaire. I mean, they set him up to be a jerk, but seriously. But the fact that he was played by Donald Sutherland made me happy, because I love Donald Sutherland. He was fantastic as Tripp Darling in Dirty Sexy Money (come on, you knowthat show was good). Templeton is slobbering all over the Presidency and jumping at the bit to take the oath of office, and Mac calls him out on it (full scene is above!). Templeton asks to speak to Mac alone for a moment, and says that she should step down not out of respect for the wishes of President Bridges, but because “this is not the time for social advances for the sake of social advances”, meaning “a woman as a leader of the free world – how many Islamic States would follow the edicts of a woman? Very few” and Mac snaps back, “not only that, but we have the whole once a month ‘will-she-or-won’t-she press the button’ thing.”

Templeton says that her Vice Presidency was clearly a stunt – “you’re a female, you’re an independent, you’re a teacher – the point is, it was all done as pure theater, and you got great reviews. You should get off the stage before the audience figures out it was a stunt.” He even adresses her commitment to rescue the woman in Nigeria about to be put to death for having sex outside marriage, saying “we’re going to lose face for whom? A lady who couldn’t keep her legs together.” Woah. Gross.

This is the last straw for Mac, she puts her speech down, having clearly decided to take the Presidency, and says that “if some Muslim nations can’t tolerate a female President, it’s more their problem than mine.” Templeton asks why she wants this job, and says she should want to be President because she wants the power to control the universe – people who don’t want power “have no idea what to do with it.” I feel as though Templeton was asserting an issue for many women – it often feels as though women aren’t as “power-hungry” persay as men, and instead are interested in changing the world through other means. And Templeton was clearly asserting the beliefs of people who don’t want to get involved in the laws of Muslim countries and the injustices to women – the idea of, they broke the law, so who cares? – even if the law is unreasonable.

Speaking of which, I was crazy impressed with President Allen’s handling of the Nigeria crisis – I loved the idea of the military being used for human rights purposes, and not for some fight for oil or political gain. I have no idea if in practice it will actually work, but I do seriously enjoy it. And Mac’s quote was superb – “If you think I am going to stand by to watch a young woman be executed – tortured – for having sex, you are sorely mistaken.”

Stray Observations:
- I love that Grace Bridges said, “You are the first female President – if Moss had been a woman, she would have stopped and asked for directions. They’d have been in Israel in a week.” It was so nice to see someone in the Bridges team be somewhat supportive or positive about Mac taking office!
- Mac is clearly an excellent mother to her kids and truly cares about them and has a connection with them. But her daughter is clearly going to have tension with her re: political activities. I wonder what the daughter would have done about the girl in Nigeria in her mother’s place?
- Is it weird that I think her son is kind of cute?

Phew! Those are my major thoughts. But what are YOURS? Do you think Rod will get used to the First Man role quickly, or is it going to be a long battle for him? What did I leave out?

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