'The Diplomat': Diplomacy for Dummies
The popular Netflix series "The Diplomat" has Keri Russell playing a woman who's really sore that she's been made American ambassador to the United Kingdom. Many Americans would pay a fortune to become America's representative to the Court of St. James's, and some do. It's a non-secret that ambassadorships in the choice capitals go for campaign contributions of around $300,000. There has been only one career foreign service officer in London since 1952.
That's the sordid real-world of American politics. But in this fiction, you wish the honor had gone to a shopping-mall developer who wanted to do the job rather than a ludicrous character who hollers vulgarities and walks barefooted through the grounds of stately Winfield House, the ambassadorial residence.
A career foreign service officer who served five times as ambassador told me, with diplomatic understatement, that he started watching the series and was "not pleased." He couldn't get past the first episode, saying, "That was enough."
And that was just as well, I told him, in that the second episode has "Ambassador Kate Wyler" sprawled on the steps outside the front entrance dressed in a short silk slip. This was apparently her sulk over being allegedly forced to participate in a fashion shoot the episode before.
The real-life diplomat also missed the part where she tells the U.K. foreign secretary, "You're kind of an a--hole." Also the scene where she and her problematic husband (who previously had the ambassador job) are rolling around the grounds in a fistfight.
Had this story been presented as a frothy Cinderella tale for saucy teen girls, it could have been easily ignored. There's some precedence for fantasies of American gals behaving like slobs in manor houses as starchy Brits quietly place formal flower arrangements on their side tables.
But the straight-faced theme here is that the heroine is a savvy war-zone expert whose steel-trap brain is being wasted doing all this ceremonial fluff. (That she didn't have to take the position is nowhere noted.)
"You know why I don't want this job?" the character spits out to an underling. "I spent a decade building a reputation in a community such that when I say something, people f---ing listen to me."
Even the lowliest female employee would know not to prance around the formal residence in tight, distressed jeans. They probably wouldn't do it on the streets of Kabul, either.
Aside from the portrayal of the ambassador as a bad-girl 10th grader, the story suffers quite a few flaws regarding the mechanics of becoming and being an ambassador.
For starters, Wyler leaves for London without the distraction of a Senate confirmation. Thus, she is not a valid representative of the United States. (The Senate Foreign Relations Committee would have closely questioned and delayed the confirmation of so inexperienced a diplomat for an important post.)
Furthermore, diplomats do not enjoy regular, casual access to the president. They surely wouldn't be making references to "motherf---ers" as Wyler does with "President Rayburn," who volleys them back.
Nor could any foreign service professional imagine a situation in which the spouse, whether or not possessing the distracting title of ambassador, would work at cross purposes with the chief of mission and intentionally embarrass her and the United States. That person would be immediately ejected.
I could not get beyond episode three, so embarrassing was it all to America, the foreign service, women and grown-ups. But where are the cultural troops to back me up?
The Hollywood Reporter at least had the decency to make some fun of it as a "gourmet cheeseburger." But the critic for NPR, supposedly a defender of standards, called "The Diplomat" a "smart" political thriller.
Et tu, NPR?