The first season of The Diplomat came out on April 20th are Netflix. The colossus of streaming wanted to do things big by entrusting an ambitious project to two decidedly out of the ordinary women: Debora Cahn e Keri Russell.
The first, screenwriter and executive producer, winner of a Writers Guild of America for the miniseries Fosse/Verdonalthough very young, already has a curriculum truly amazing serial. Between 2002 and 2006in fact, he served on the writing staff with Aaron Sorkin in The West Wing writing 34 episodes (receiving a nomination for the Emmy); immediately after, between 2006 and 2013 was on Shonda Rimes’ staff in Grey’s Anatomy for which he wrote 17 episodes (receiving a nomination for the Emmy); In the 2016 wrote three of the ten episodes of Vinyl; and between the 2018 and 2020 participated in the writing of five episodes of Homeland in the last two seasons.
The second, Keri Russell, among other things, between the 2013 and 2018 and was Nadezhda, alias Elizabeth Jennings, in The Americansrole for which he won a Satellite Award.
The meeting between the actress and the screenwriter, given the past of both linked to two very important thriller espionage, would make one think of a story with gloomy, complicated and complex, and extremely violent. Actually The Diplomat it is anything but. After all, the character played by Keri Russell, Kate Wyler, is the new American ambassador in London, settled in the English capital by the American president, played by Michael McKean (among other things Chuck McGill in Better Call Saul), and by his chief of staff, played by Nana Mensah (among other things Dr. Candelario in New Amsterdam). And as an ambassador she has and range rather restricted operation which certainly doesn’t allow her to pick up a weapon and start shooting left and right, let alone command a raid by a drone killer in enemy territory. Even if, at least in the case of the gun, one gets the impression from time to time that Keri Russell’s character would very willingly need it especially to use it against her husband, played by Rufus Sewell.
The Diplomat begins with the torpedoing of a British aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. Spy agencies and diplomatic missions are in turmoil trying to figure out who the culprits are. The former seek evidence, the latter initiate contacts with allies to ensure some sort of legitimacy in the event of an armed response. But things, of course, they are not what they seem and the task of the new American ambassador will be to direct American and English politics to make the right decisions, avoiding the outbreak of the Third World War.
The eight episodes on the platform of streamingequally divided among the directors
Simon Cellan Jones, Alex Graves (The West Wing), Liza Johnson (The Last of Us) e Andrew Bernstein (Ozark e Jack Ryan), they say a gripping political story stuffed with a romantic love story. In fact, the protagonist, in addition to venturing into the intricacies of the complex art of diplomacy, has to do with her husband, also an ambassador, currently placed on the bench by the State Department. Not a small problem for the self-centered ex-diplomatic unable, at least initially, to accept the role of mere spectator rather than a leading player on the chessboard of world order.
The creation of The Diplomat has distant rootswhich even date back to the era of The West Wing. The author, in fact, says she had a hint of an idea of her own working with Aaron Sorkin. The question, for Debora Cahn, was to transfer what she learned into a more international context than just the Oval Office. Something that had a reflection on the entire planet. This idea, then, began to sprout during his period homelandiano. As is known, the authors of the successful series, before writing the episodes of a new season, carried out meetings with high-profile political, military and diplomatic characters to try to give the series the greatest possible likelihood. It was during one of these meetings that an ambassador’s idea took shape: “I found myself in front of an extraordinary woman with a breathtaking personal and work history. I had always imagined the ambassadors intent on drinking champagne and talking about the weather completely wrong“.
“The character of Kate Wyler was born almost out of a personal need. I grew up in an environment where female ambition and the consequent realization of it were badly considered not only by men but also and above all by women. I felt inside me the need to represent a woman who is already largely satisfied with her career and who finds herself having to do a job she doesn’t want. But out of her sense of duty to her country she is able to do it incredibly effectively“.
A bit like it happens in Madam Secretaryother political drama where the protagonist, Tea Leoni, is a former CIA agent promoted to the rank of Secretary of State. And by the way it is not even the only similarity between the two series.
Of similarities The Diplomat it’s full. The conflictual relationship between husband and wifefor example, is very reminiscent of the one present in Political Animals between Sigourney Weaver, Secretary of State and former presidential candidate, and Ciarán Hinds, former president unable to accept a secondary role, especially if under his wife.
Another reference is certainly linked to Homeland where the character of Carrie Mathison, played by the wonderful Claire Danes, she is the only one who wants to avoid a world war by doing literally anything.
Not to mention the relationship characterized by constant bickering between owner and subordinate present both in The West Wing that in Grey’s Anatomy.
But besides the similarities there are also several quotes, some of which are tributes to the series in which Debora Cahn worked. Like for example when Kate Wyler gets her pants dirty with yogurt that leaves a nice stain. The reference is to an episode of The West Wing during which CJ Cregg gets her blouse dirty and can’t change.
A completely random event, a completely natural event. An event which, apparently, would seem useless but which instead places the accent on what we could define, quoting ourselves too, the comic line of the series.
“I wanted to write a story that ran continuously on the razor’s edge: on the one hand the seriousness of the topics related to the war, on the other the comedy useful to lighten a situation that could otherwise be suffocating, especially considering the current situation we are experiencing“. Why our reality is well present within the series baked by Netflix with references to the war in Ukraine, the presence of an elderly American president in need of carers and a British prime minister inspired by certain crazy policies of Boris Johnson.
So, the dualism between drama and comedy is constantly present so much so that in certain moments the spectator is displaced, forced to wonder what kind of series he is watching. In fact, during a single episode it is possible to alternate hearty laughter with sincere moments of concern both for the protagonist’s marriage and for the situation in the world.
And all the characters, regardless of the role they occupy within the series, give the viewers of these moments a little of limits thanks to a writing capable of skilfully juggling between deepening and lightening.
Fryderyk Chopin taught his pupils how his music should be interpreted: what one took on one side, acceleratinghad to be returned by the other, slowing downso that the balance of the composition never failed. So does Debora Cahn allowing her to create never lose tension or even fall into ridicule. The exhausting quarrels between the ambassador and her husband, for example, superficially appear as simple entr’actes, even rather unnerving to be honest about her, while in reality they serve to define the character of the characters and, consequently, explain their behaviors and actions.
This constant push and pullotherwise managed very well, seems to be the trademark of Debora Cahn, here in her first time as showrunner. The author’s talent is there and it shows. Intertwining two narrative lines, one geopolitical and the other romantic, managing not to tangle anything, indeed avoiding particularly complex plots, is not a trivial matter.
Debora Cahn’s mess tin made with The West Wing e Grey’s Anatomyof which we want to remind you of the most tragic moments, shines through in certain camera movements and certain scenes seem taken from his previous works and adapted for The Diplomat. The series has been renewed for a second season due to the success achieved and so, fortunatelyi cliffhanger finals will have an explanation.
As viewers we can look forward to future installments continue on this level allowing us not to get bored as we have not been bored in these eight. Perhaps, with the next season, the author will be able to free herself even more from her experiences by finding the right balance between past and future.