Madam Secretary, Blue Bloods
Seldom do I watch broadcast television shows. Their thin characters and formulaic plots dull the imagination. More critically, their cynical pretext that winces askance at traditional Judaic-Christian morality and their subtext of relative-individualism force a pernicious impertinence. But my wife and I do watch Madam Secretary and Blue Bloods. What I appreciate about the two series is their latent portrayal of human decency. Decency is a person’s acts that are modest of self and respectful of others. A decent person cares for the interests of others as much as one’s own interests. S/he is concerned for the common good as well as the individual’s wellbeing.
The shows are not necessarily utopic that requires a suspension of plausibility. Madam Secretary’s US Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord’s (Tea Leoni) and Blue Bloods’ NYC Police Commissioner Francis “Frank” Reagan’s (Tom Selleck) existential decency occupies an inconvenient resistance in the presence of power. Without sycophancy, they possess a gracefulness that speaks not only truth but a common decency to the powerful. Secretary McCord’s decency is affable and yet assertive. Whether to the president’s chief of staff, China’s foreign minister or a rogue dictator, Elizabeth champions moral responsibility in the face of naked aggression, exploitation of the disenfranchised or political expediency. Commissioner Reagan’s decency is onerously demanding. Whether to a federal official, the mayor, an activist reverend or his church monsignor, Frank dresses down anyone who perpetrates prejudice, injustice, pretension or mendacity. Their decency is nowhere quaint. Rather it is an embodiment of personal integrity, moral propriety, common veracity, and good taste with kindness.
Their decency in the public arena evolves from the private of their family warmth. The Reagans is an Irish Catholic family of four generations that includes frank’s father, “grams”, his divorced daughter, ADA Erin, and her daughter, Nicky, his two sons, detective Danny, and his two sons, Jack and Sean, and police officer Jamie. The family attends mass Sunday mornings to nurture its faith. And Sunday evenings, they sit down at the family meal to nurture their relationships. They are different in every way, but their values, convictions, beliefs and decency are informed by their Catholic faith. They say grace, banter, make fun, get serious, rejoice and grieve with one another. When Nicky is betrayed by a school friend, the family gathers to validate her. While Danny mourns his wife Linda’s tragic death, his family enters his darkness in silence with light.
In the McCord residence there are Elizabeth, her husband, Henry, a former marine and theology professor, and their three children, Stephanie, Alison and Jason. Their religion, if any, is veiled. But their unveiled decency is formed by the same Judaic-Christian traditions. Roped to the moorings of familial stability, both parents and children navigate the changing seas of post-modernity’s ethical and moral boundaries with shared decency. In a tender, tense moment, Henry talks to Jason about what is good and right in treating Jason’s date. After a clandestine CIA operation that has gone awry, Elizabeth travails with Henry because he refuses to break a promise to an expendable operative.
Madam Secretary (4th season) and Blue Bloods (8th season) are worth watching. They lift the soul with inspiring confidence in human decency. That whatever is noble, right, good and kind is still praiseworthy. In Philippians of the New Testament, St Paul urges us to think on these things. That is, contemplate on what human decency looks like.