There are a million and one reasons why I adore the political drama series Madam Secretary, from the gripping and almost eerily prescient story-lines, to the FANTASTIC scripts that give us profound moments one minute and have us grinning like idiots the next, to the brilliant cast and the characters they play who easily steal their way into your heart. There is one character, however, who stands a just a bit taller than the rest for me personally, and that is the brilliant, compassionate, and principled Henry McCord (Tim Daly). Marine pilot, religious scholar & author, military ethics professor, spy, husband, father, mentor, and friend; Henry is a man of many hats, but the most important part of his character which underpins all those definitions is the strong moral code he lives his life by.
Starting the series as a university professor alongside his former CIA analyst wife Elizabeth McCord (who, I just also have to say is one of the most well-written, relatable, complex female characters I’ve come across on TV, with courage, smarts, & an awesome kick-butt attitude, played to perfection by Tea Leoni), he follows her back into a life of public service when President Dalton offers her the job of Secretary of State in the Pilot. He also continues to do everything in his power to support her when she decides to run (and wins!) the office of President of the United States. Insanely loyal and romantic, Henry’s steadfast pride in and encouragement of his wife never breaks. Even when their relationship goes through the wringer when choices they make conflict with each other’s beliefs/work, they weather it together, and come out the other side even stronger than before (one of my absolute favourite instances of this is when, in the middle of one of their roughest patches brought about by the situation outlined in the paragraph below, Henry tells her the story of how he dressed up in Regency costume and learned the quadrille for a ball Elizabeth said she was going to but did not turn up at when they first started dating, ending with ‘I will always show up for you. Always.’)
Henry’s intense commitment to the people he emotionally invests in is also on display in what I believe to be one of the strongest story-threads of the series. While working for the DIA (Defence Intelligence Agency) in S2 as part of his role at the National War College, Henry is tasked with recruiting one of his Russian students, Dmitri Petrov, to serve as a spy for America when he is called back to take his place in the Russian army. And while their spy-handler relationship is fraught (particularly in the beginning), Dmitri eventually expresses an underlying element of trust that Henry will do right by him and have his back. The amount of responsibility Henry feels towards this young man he has placed in a position of tremendous danger is in return incredibly strong. Unfortunately, circumstances then occur which place Elizabeth in the untenable position of having to sell Dmitri out to stop a war from starting between Russia and the US. This decision leaves Henry with the heart-breaking experience of coming within seconds of being able to extract Dmitri, only to be forced to drive away and watch him being captured. A scene that continually haunts him. Even more so after receiving confirmation they killed Dmitri, this guilt places a tangible strain on his marriage.
When Elizabeth uncovers Dmitri might still be alive however, she moves heaven and earth to secure his freedom, and with Henry insisting on being at the exchange, the moment they finally reunite is completely silent, and yet screams so many things. While intense relief and guarded, cautious concern are clear in Henry’s features as they slowly approach each other, Dmitri sports a dead expression as he spits on Henry’s feet and painfully shuffles past. Henry simply turns around and watches him. Then suddenly Dmitri stops, finally letting himself breathe and comes to grips with the fact that he is free. Turning back around, he approaches Henry again, this time hugging him, but in such a way it seems he’s actually sort of sagging against Henry in utter exhaustion, trusting him once again, this time with his pain and tiredness. And the look on Henry’s face… the overwhelming emotion on full display blows me away Every. Single. Time. And even after Dmitri goes into Witness Protection, Henry continues to take him under his wing and protect him when he proves to have trouble adjusting, believing in him, and advocating for him to join Henry’s newly formed team at the CIA, with Dmitri eventually becoming Henry’s son-in-law after he and Henry & Elizabeth’s oldest daughter Stevie fall in love!
A world-renowned religious expert, Henry takes the philosophies and teachings of the ancient sages to heart, and his enormous sense of duty and desire to do what he knows to be right is evident in every decision he makes. One of many such examples of this is in the episode where he’s involved in a mission to locate and capture a terrorist, and his team needs the cooperation of a former Libyan schoolteacher; while his colleague prepares to take it by arrest and force, he instead quietly goes to talk with her, and can get what they need with respect and reason. Another instance is when he encourages a member of the committee who is trying to impeach his wife in the last season to stop being intimidated by the ringleader of the committee and follow his own conscience and what he believes to be the right course of action.
Who Henry McCord is at his core is a man who protects, supports, and fights for his family, his country, and the principles he believes in on a regular basis, whether it be from terrorists planning to harm others, or a political enemy/the media attacking his family. To close, I would also like to leave you with just two of his countless insightful quotes that truly encapsulate how Henry strives to live his life with honour and how he encourages those around him to do the same, while still only scratching the surface of the type of everyday hero he is to his wife, his kids, his colleagues, and those he inspires:
Henry: “The truth is like a lion. You don’t need to defend it. Let it loose, and it’ll defend itself.”
Elizabeth: See? I listen to you.
Henry: Mmm, Augustine.
Elizabeth: And Augustine. And Aquinas. And the Beatles. And all the other guys you live by. – S1E22 ‘There but for the Grace of God’.
Henry McCord: When everything seems to be lacking in integrity, you know what you do? You find it in yourself. You change the world right from where you’re standing. – S1E22 ‘There but for the Grace of God’.