The creators of Madam Secretary swear that the CBS drama is not an action-packed retelling of Hillary Clinton’s time as Secretary of State, but like other ripped-from-the-headlines procedurals, the show does not hesitate to inject its plots with well-known, real-life scenarios.
This past week, Madam Secretary veered closer to reality than anyone involved could have imagined when the episode ended with—spoiler alert!—the drone-delivered death of an Internet-famous ISIS executioner calling himself “Jihadi Judd.”
In the world of the show, the terrorist is an American, as opposed to the British citizen Mohammed Emwazi, or “Jihadi John,” who is believed to have been killed by a U.S. drone strike in Syria early Friday morning.
Sunday night’s episode opened on a familiar scene for anyone who caught glimpses of the gruesome beheading videos disseminated by ISIS over the past couple of years. We see an American volunteer in a Guantánamo Bay-style orange jumpsuit kneeling in the desert and admitting to being a spy sent by the U.S. government to “undermine the Islamic State.” President Conrad Dalton shuts his laptop before he can see the black-clad assailant use his knife to behead the young man.
As the “first American in ISIS leadership,” the executioner has been dubbed “Jihadi Judd” by the U.S. media, much as the British media came up with the moniker “Jihadi John” for Emwazi.
“An American convert, native in English and fluent in Egyptian Arabic, that’s got to be memorable,” Téa Leoni’s Secretary Elizabeth McCord muses before setting out to uncover his true identity.
Over the course of the episode, the American ISIS leader is discovered to be the son of a State Department worker who has been sending him money—apparently without realizing she is aiding the terrorist organization. When she begs McCord not to let the U.S. kill her son on sight, the secretary replies simply, “I’m sorry.”
Ultimately, they are able to use a convoluted plot involving McCord’s doctor-brother who just happens to be on an aid mission to Syria to get “Jihadi Judd” in a hovering drone’s sights. McCord presses the administration to find some way to capture the American citizen alive, but it’s deemed too dangerous and on the president’s orders a drone obliterates him and the volunteer who had been recruited to bring him medicine.
An unnamed U.S. official who spoke to The Daily Beast about this morning’s real-life drone strike was similarly unapologetic about the decision to kill, rather than capture, Emwazi, saying, “This isn’t about avenging deaths but removing a despicable individual who committed brutal murders under the false pretense of a bankrupt and hijacked ideology.”