Madam Secretary Season 4 EPisode 3 Zeljko Ivanek Interview

Madam Secretary's Zeljko Ivanek Previews Looming Government Shutdown, AKA 'Politics at Its Worst'

A government shutdown becomes a very possible event in Sunday’s Madam Secretary (CBS, 10/9c), and guess which tightly wound chief of staff isn’t pleased with that potential outcome?

While Russell Jackson views Congress’ inability to pass a budget — and the resultant consequences — as quite frustrating, “I actually love that storyline, because it’s not too far from possible reality,” star Zeljko Ivanek tells TVLine. “It’s politics at its worst.”

He recalls that, at the end of Season 3, “We elected a president, an independent, who now has to navigate not just one opposition party, but two opposition parties and all the politics that go with that. I think there’s a lot of rich material there, and you know Russell is always interested in [President] Dalton having the widest range of possibilities and the widest range of capabilities ahead of him.”

But a government ground to a halt and public employees on furlough is “a huge stumbling block,” Ivanek previews. And the financial crisis in this week’s episode happens to take place just as a Syrian refugee camp needs immediate help with its electrical grid, which puts Elizabeth in the position of asking Dalton — alongside a very disapproving Russell — for a special dispensation. (Watch a sneak peek of the scene below, then scroll down to read more.)

Ivanek notes that Russell’s traditionally harder stance is a good counterpoint for that of the secretary of state, who tends toward the idealistic. “There’s an experience that’s in his blood. At some point, you ask yourself: How low are you willing to sink, or what will you consider to do for the greater good?” he says. “Are you actually working for some greater goal, or are you just as caught up in the politics, in winning?”

And while Russell’s heart attack last season certainly gave him some pause regarding the intensity with which he performs his job, Ivanek jokes that it’s not often that his character remembers to relax. “There definitely are situations which are more personal as a result” of the health scare, he says, “and confrontations that play out differently as a result, because you kind of can’t help but be forced into having some perspective when you step back from that kind of a crisis.”

Then again, he says, chuckling, “Most of our situations are crises, and when you’re running from crisis to crisis, everything is ramped up to its worst, and all those lessons tend to fall away.”