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On a scale from 1-10, CBS rates at about a 1.1 when it comes to causing controversies, but that doesn't mean the network and its programming are completely incapable of ruffling feathers on occasion. And there has certainly been some ruffling going on with one hit drama, as Madam Secretary is facing a marked backlash from the Embassy of the Philippines over one of Season 3's upcoming episodic plots, as shown in a recent TV promo. This is an awkward one, folks.
For the episode titled "A Break in Diplomacy," which is scheduled to air next week, the titular Secretary of State has a meeting with what is being referred to as "the Philippines' unconventional new president" Datu Andrada, who's being played by The Man in the High Castle's Joel de la Fuente. In the promo and synopsis, it's made clear that the Filipino leader makes some kind of a pass at Elizabeth, and the situation quickly escalates to the point where she clocks him across the face and bloodies his nose. Even though this isn't meant to represent the current President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte, the room for debating is clear, and according to the Embassy's report, a letter of protest was drafted and sent it to CBS.
Below, you can read some of what the government officials had problems with.
While Madam Secretary is a work of fiction, it tracks and mirrors current events. It is, therefore, inevitable that its depiction of world leaders will have an impact on how its audience views the real personages and the countries they represent. This highly negative portrayal of our Head of State not only casts doubt on the respectability of the Office of the Philippine President but also denigrates that way our nation navigates foreign affairs. It also tarnishes the Philippines' longstanding advocacy for women's rights and gender equality. In view of the injurious effects that this program will have on the interests of the Philippines and the Filipino people, the Philippine Embassy urgently calls on CBS to take the necessary corrective actions.
TV has been giving audiences looks into foreign governments for a long time, with countless fictional leaders crossing our screens over the years, but this kind of a situation is most certainly not how things usually play out. It appears that a sensitive chord was struck with Madam Secretary's upcoming episode, and the Philippine embassy wants something done about it. As well, Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman took to a press conference yesterday to say that the series should have used a fictionalized U.S. President for such a plotline.
Of course, if you're familiar with news that's come out of the Philippines in the time since Rodrigo Duterte took office, then you've probably read some pretty controversial things about what that President has allegedly been doing. Some of the complaints that Duerte has received run parallel to what Madam Secretary's fictional take is doing, too, so the writers likely weren't drawing random plot strands from the ethers.
It seems unlikely that CBS would pull the episode, and since the offending moment appears to be the crux of the entire installment, it's unclear what will end up happening here. For now, Madam Secretary will air "Break in Diplomacy" on Sunday, March 12, at 9:00 p.m. ET. Head to our midseason premiere schedule to see what else the small screen has to offer soon.