Here is a line of dialogue from the Netflix show The Diplomat, which I enjoyed the first time I saw it and have enjoyed more every time since. This is a conversation between Kate Wyler, Ambassador to Great Britain (Keri Russell) and Stuart Heyford (Ato Assandoh). her principal staff aide.
Except that those designations are only superficial. The White House actually wants Kate to be the next vice president and Stuart is part of the team vetting her. Kate doesn’t know either of those things when she agrees to come to London; Stuart knew both.
What Kate knows is that she wants to be part of the diplomatic mission to Iran where she is a veteran and knowledgeable diplomat. Stuart keeps bringing up the vice presidency, which she resists and which eventually irks her into doing what she does in this little clip, which begins at 12:52 of Season 1, Episode 4. I’ll pass along the dialogue and enough remarks to tell you why I liked it so much.
This is one of those awful times when someone who thinks a joke is hilariously funny, tries to explain just how it is funny. Such attempts are notoriously unfunny, but there is a sublety to the interplay that I am hoping you will enjoy.
It is easy to like these two people. He appears earnest and reasonable. She appears decided and energetic. Kate is a ball of fire. She is decisive and action-oriented. When we hear one of her pair of secret service agents say, “There she goes again.” we know what he is talking about.
They are in her office. She is sitting at the table. He is standing in the middle of the room. I’ll bring the dialogue down to the line I want to highlight and then talk about it a little. Here is Phase 1.
Kate: I don’t want to talk about the vice presidency
Stuart:Is Mr. Wyler the reason? Would you consider it if your marriage wasn’t—
Kate: A dead horse?
—if it wasn’t the issue?
Kate: It is the issue.
Stuart takes a moment and begins revising his approach. He knows he is pushing a topic his boss does not want to consider. He probably expects her to continue to be as candid as she has been. That means that he starts to miss some cues that he would otherwise have caught. I missed them too the first time through.
Stuart: People have… arrangements
Kate: Like what?
Kate knows exactly what Stuart is talking about. From this point onward, bringing him out to where the ice is thin is what she is after.
And here is the line. This dynamo of a diplomat, candid, confident, and action-oriented, manages to project a halting, wide-eyed confusion that requires him to continue even if he is beginning to sense already that this is not going the way he hoped.
Kate: I— I just—-I don’t see how it would, I mean. How would it work?
Stuart gives a careful answer. This is not going the way he thought it would. She is neither accepting nor rejecting.
Stuart: Separate bedrooms. Separate lives. It’s a professional partnership.
We know now just what “works” means in the question “how would it work?” but at this point it is too late
Kate: Sex or no sex?
Stuart: Um…whatever you want. You get to make the rules.
There is a long pause here. She is still seated at the table. She looks up at him inquiringly. Stuart is beginning to get wary but he is too late.
Kate: Like, just oral?
Stuart sees now that he has been being led astray for most of the conversation. Everything since “It is the issue,” probably. Now he is just looking for a way to end it.
Stuart : Ma’am, are you messing with me?
Kate: I was gonna ask for a drawing.
I think that answer counts as a Yes.
Stuart: Sorry. It’s none of my business.
And the point has been made. Right. It is none of your business and don’t mess with me. Actually, we know that it is part of his business. He has been given specific instructions by the White House to do what he is doing. But she doesn’t know that—yet—and he knows, White House or not—that she is not someone to tolerate being messed with.
But what makes it funny is that Wiley Coyote moment when he realizes that he has just run off the cliff and knows that there is nothing he can do about it.
The line “Kate: I was gonna ask for a drawing.” is priceless!