Madam Secretary season 4 episode 20 was a story about journalism, and what was so interesting about it was how most of it was told through the lens of a character new to the series.
At the center of the episode tonight was Neal Shin, a prominent journalist who worked hard but continued to battle many different things including the perception of the press, a lack of trust, and the slow decline of quality in his field. He was cynical, but he was also played really wonderfully by The Mentalist alum Tim Kang. He was very good at what he does and it’s with that in mind that he was brought in to help shadow Elizabeth McCord and take a look at her operation. He got close to the team and tried to do his job to the best of his ability. He did, after all, value trust.
This is where things did start to get interesting: Just before the halfway point of the episode a publisher known for conspiracy theories made him an offer: $200,000 as an advance for a book form of the article he was wanting to write. He was in desperate need of money. With that, he did look at a flash drive that was given to him by said publisher and as time went on, he continued to wrestle with what to do. He did care about and respect Elizabeth a great deal, but he was both disappointed by what was in that drive and frustrated with some of her beliefs. He thoughts that she made life a little easy for some bad people in Iran, from his vantage point, and that could have distorted his opinion.
How the end of the episode played out was tense and dramatic — Neal started writing, with us unaware as to precisely what he was typing out. Meanwhile, his wife was going into labor with twins.
What did Neal decide? He went the right route. He didn’t take the money and with that, he even got a visit from Elizabeth at the hospital. He gave a real, balanced profile and hopefully, he gives hope to journalists out there fighting the good fight as opposed to trying to do the right thing. In the end he actually offered McCord the drive, but she told him that she didn’t need it. He still let it go before walking out of the building.
Overall, Madam Secretary season 4 episode 20 was as intense and smart an episode as we’ve seen. It’s one that gave us a fantastic performance by Kang — heck, we wouldn’t mind spending more time with him in the future. It is also one of the more realistic portrayals of journalism we’ve seen on TV in terms of the relationship between integrity and monetary gain.
Heck, can we get a Neal Shin spin-off? We’re all about it now.
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