Madam Secretary; Season 2, Episode 6; Catch and Release
Madam Secretary is a fictional television drama that follows the work of Elizabeth McCord, the United States’ Secretary of State. In this particular episode, the State Department learns that a new leader of ISIS has released a video showing the beheading of an American aid worker. After some research into the “Jihadi Judd” character who committed the act, Secretary McCord learns that not only is this leader an American, but the son of a State Department Secretary employee, Judith Fanning.
Secretary McCord calls Judith Fanning into her office after learning that her son, Adam Fanning, grew up in Cairo and learned Arabic in an American international school. During his time in college, he became radicalized. The mother claims that she has not been in contact with her son for over a year and begs the Secretary for his safe return.
However, after further research, Secretary McCord realizes that there is more to the story.
Nadine [State Department Employee]: The husband’s death complicates things.
Secretary McCord: How? I thought it was a car accident?
Nadine: I remembered the circumstances when I reviewed her file. He lost control of the car due to a seizure caused by Huntington’s disease. He was barely 43 years old and he had been misdiagnosed for almost two years. My understanding is that she blames herself for not catching it sooner.
Secretary McCord: This is a morbid detail to note.
Nadine: Too morbid?
Secretary McCord: No, I think you might actually be on to something.
Upon learning that Adam Fanning’s father had Huntington’s disease, Secretary McCord knows Judith Fanning is hiding something. Furthermore, it is discovered that Judith Fanning contacted her son within the last six months and had sent thousands of dollars to the Middle East for the purchase of a drug called Tetrabenazine. Secretary McCord decides to question Judith Fanning in person one more time.
Judith Fanning: I didn’t realize you’d be the closer.
Secretary McCord: When my own employee lies to my face, I like to find out why.
Judith Fanning: I can’t help you. You want to kill my son.
Secretary McCord: I want to stop him from killing innocent people. You should too.
Judith Fanning: I want my son back, the way that he was.
Secretary McCord: Before he became radicalized. Before you found out he had Huntington’s disease. Early onset sufferers are likely to have children who exhibit symptoms even earlier. Is that what happened to Adam?
Judith Fanning: Last year, he e-mailed me that he wanted to talk about his father’s symptoms so we Skyped. And there he was, he was shaking like a leaf.
Secretary McCord: Did he say where he was or who he’d been with?
Judith Fanning: Nothing. I told you, I will be of no help.
Secretary McCord: Your computer records show shortly before you sent the money, you searched online for information on a drug, Tetrabenazine. It’s the only medicine proven to help with early onset spasms. It’s what the money was for, wasn’t it?
Judith Fanning: I know what Adam did was unforgivable. He’s still my son. Promise me that you’ll give him a chance, promise that you won’t kill him.
Secretary McCord: I’m sorry.
Later to her assistant:
Secretary McCord: Get any traces of Tetrabenazine crossing ISIS territory…make it clear that no one outside our inner circle knows why we’re looking into it.
During the rest of the episode, we witness Secretary McCord’s thought process as she tries to figure out how to stop Adam Fanning from killing more innocent Americans. Through a conversation with her brother, Secretary McCord learns that a courier is transporting large orders of Tetrabenazine, a prescription medicine that reduces motor spasms and uncontrolled movements, across ISIS territory to Adam Fanning. After verifying the courier and Adam Fanning’s identity, Secretary McCord watches over video surveillance as President Dalton issues the order to kill both the courier and Adam Fanning through a drone strike.
This episode of Madam Secretary does an accurate job describing Huntington’s disease. Judith Fanning knows that her son is symptomatic with the disease, as demonstrated from the tremors she sees from a Skype video call. Since Adam Fanning is in his early 20’s, it is likely that he has Juvenile Huntington’s disease. However, a genetic testing would be needed to determine his CAG count. If it is over 38 repeats, it indicates the presence of Huntington’s disease.
Furthermore, Tetrabenazine is currently the only FDA approved drug on the market for Huntington’s disease. It reduces occurrences of chorea and other symptoms that result from motor control. Secretary McCord notes that early sufferers often have children with early onset as well. While there is correlative evidence that this may be true, one cannot make a causal claim that all early onset sufferers will have symptomatic children with similar age of onset due to genetic variations during reproduction.
Overall, this episode does an accurate job of reflecting the medical science and treatments of Huntington’s disease, albeit in an unfortunate scenario involving issues of national security.
K Powers 2016