Elizabeth McCord takes on ISIS.
Credit: David M. Russell/CBS

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.

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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

So at this point we know Adam needs medicine and that he’s getting it from a local hospital. This is where Will comes in and unknowingly leads Bess directly to him. He tells her how the aid workers get supplies from the black market in Syria. A courier (Tariq Monsieur) picks up the medicine and personally drops it off to buyers — a face-to-face guarantee. The US has a drone follow the courier, which of course leads straight to Fanning. On Dalton’s order the drone fires, and in an instant, Jihadi Judd is dead, along with the courier.

It’s hard blame Will for being upset with Bess. She did use him to get the information she needed and blew up a person who helped get supplies to innocent people in Syria.

If that wasn’t dramatic enough, we haven’t even touched on Ivan yet. Probably the most devastating part of the episode.

We’ve known since the first episode of the season that he was hiding the fact that he was gay, but now he’s being recalled to Moscow. And it’s not because he’s being honored or promoted. Like every other major problem on the show, everything goes back to Maria Ostrov being a real b!@#. The Russian dictator is calling for all “foreign agents disseminating western propaganda,” which simply means imprisoning homosexual military personnel. Dmitri goes to Henry and asks him to help Ivan stay in the United States; otherwise, he will go to jail in Moscow.

The DIA tells Henry that they will not be involved in this and that if Henry wants to help Ivan, he will do it as a concerned professor only. He talks to Ivan and tells him to seek asylum in the United States, but Ivan says that he doesn’t have a life if he’s not a soldier. So Henry tells him to talk to Gen. Doroshevich and make a case not to be recalled to Moscow. Dmitri tries to convince Ivan that the general is a fair man and will listen to him.

Henry receives a text from Ivan thanking him for everything, and because Henry is smart, he runs to Ivan’s dorm room, but it’s too late. He’s shot himself in the head, and his suicide boiled down to him rather being dead than gay — and that’s a serious problem.

Dmitri has a panic attack and tells Henry he wants out and wants to seek asylum, like Ivan was offered because Russia is heading back into its Stalin days. Henry tells him to take Ivan’s place and be recalled to Moscow, where he can make a difference, so Ivan didn’t die in vain. I like Dmitri. I really hope that Henry did not just send him to his death. I’ll be pissed.

At the very end of the episode Henry asks Bess, “When you were an operative, how did you know when you were in too deep?” Her response was quite chilling, “I didn’t, not until it was too late.”

Minor Debriefings:

  • Who knew Elizabeth McCord was an expert at fly fishing?
  • Did anyone else’s heart skip a beat when Bess was in the middle of a river and casually tossed her iPhone to her security guard? I mean, yes, he caught it, but that’s a bold move, Madam Secretary.
  • Where was Craig Sterling? He was noticeably missing from all of the drama.
  • Tim Daly is getting better looking by the episode. In the word’s of my roommate, who caught the last half of the episode, “Who is that? I’m all about that.”

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