Entertainment Weekly


Stay Connected


Advertise With Us

Learn More

Skip to content


'Madam Secretary' recap: 'Catch and Release'

Elizabeth McCord takes on ISIS.

Posted on

David M. Russell/CBS

Madam Secretary

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
run date:
Tea Leoni, Geoffrey Arend, Tim Daly

Madam Secretary was all too real this week. It’s no secret that the show pulls from real-life situations to create plotlines on the show, but this week the topic of ISIS hit particularly close to home and it was a surprisingly emotional episode across all the different storylines. I won’t lie: I teared up twice — once over Ivan and once over Judith Fanning pleading for her son’s life. Like I said, it was an emotional episode. 

The opening scene is very familiar if you’ve been keeping up with the news over the past year and a half — think James Foley and Steven Sotloff. We open on a video of an American aid worker exposed as a spy kneeling on his knees next to an ISIS leader, telling President Dalton how his intervention in Syria is the reason he’s about to die. The ISIS leader then threatens to exterminate all the “so-called” American aid workers within ISIS borders before beheading his prisoner. 

They determine from the video alone that this leader, nicknamed Jihadi Judd, is not only the first American ISIS leader they’ve dealt with, but also that he’s in his 20s and is fluent in Egyptian Arabic, a fact that actually turns out to be a key in finding out who he is. Bess’ first order of business is to evacuate all American aid workers in the area. 

Cut to a doctor saving a young child’s life in Syria before he’s carted away by the military for evacuation. Of course this doctor’s identity is soon revealed as Will Adams (Eric Stoltz), Elizabeth McCord’s brother. One of the things I loved about this episode was learning more about Bess’ family background. They never really talk about it, and now they’ve thrown her brother at us and showed that, even though she’s constantly solving world problems, she’s human like everyone else. Watching them get into a fight about politics at the dinner table reminds everyone of what happens when your extended family drops by for dinner. 

WANT MORE? Keep up with all the latest from last night’s television by subscribing to our newsletter. Head here for more details.

It doesn’t take long for Elizabeth’s team to identify the ISIS leader as Adam Fanning. His mother, Judith, a State Department employee is brought in and forced to identify her son and watch the video of him murdering an American citizen. They discover that, though Judith and Adam are estranged, she sent him $8,000 within the last year. Bess learns from Nadine that Judith Fanning’s husband died in a car accident caused by a seizure, a symptom of Huntington’s Disease. It turns out that Huntington’s is genetic and the money she sent wasn’t aiding ISIS, but helping her son get the medicine he needs — Tetrabenazine.

Here’s where I got emotional. Judith then pleads for her son’s life, to give him a chance and not murder him on the spot. All Bess says is, “I’m sorry.” As much as you want Adam Fanning dead for his actions, watching a mother beg for her son’s life is beyond painful. 

This is also the first time I’ve seen President Dalton get so worked up about pretty much anything. “I want the son of a bitch either captured or killed, and I don’t give a damn which,” he screams at Russell and Bess. I wish he would get upset more often. It makes him look like a real president.

NEXT: Two deaths