Michael Simon ‘19 / Emertainment TV Staff Writer
Coming out of its excellent ninth installment, “The Blueprint,” Designated Survivor had an incredibly difficult task in delivering a mid-season finale that could raise the stakes as much as its predecessor did. This resulted in an episode that had several elements that were very effective in creating a firm stopping point in this show but opted for a bit of a cliché when it came to the actual ending itself. What we got was a very solid episode that fell ever so short of the greatness this show is capable of.
Designated Survivor has provided truly excellent tension week after week, so it was important for the show to do something a little different this time to display the heightened sense of urgency. This came through in excellent fashion through the plotline of Agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q). After a failed assassination attempt on her, she proves herself to be one of the most ruthless characters on the show as she fights through her wounds to uncover the truth behind this entire operation. The various twists and turns of her storyline here brought about the best revelation that this episode had to offer – the reveal of the late-President Richmond’s Chief of Staff, alive and well. With this, the show blew the doors of this conspiracy open even wider, as the audience is made to realize that perhaps this is even bigger than we could have ever imagined.
On the other side of this episode, we had President Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland – excellent as always) wrestling with another monumental decision for the nation. Seeing the President in such a state of uncertainty helps to keep the viewers in real suspense. We identify with the protagonist and seeing the once strong man spend the entire episode consumed in doubt and fear created a very somber and unsettling mood. When the source of hope seems hopeless, something is truly amiss.
In addition to the fantastic revelation of the Chief of Staff, Charles Langdon (Peter Outerbridge), the viewers were also provided with a number of very thought-provoking questions through certain characters taking highly unpredictable actions. On the smaller scale was the persistent reporter Lisa Jordan (Melanie Scrofano), who has spent the majority of her time on the show thus far wasting time with the infamous illegitimate son plotline. After finally earning back the trust of Press Secretary Seth Wright (Kal Penn), she starts a new scandal with her question about the suspect in the murder of Majid Nassar that the White House has been keeping hidden from the public. It makes her character far more interesting than she was before, as we begin to see that she will stop at nothing when it comes to asking the hard questions.
This episode also saw the surprising return of General Harris Cochrane (Kevin McNally) who stopped appearing after he was fired earlier in the season by Kirkman. With the new information on the Capitol blueprint, it made sense for the show to bring him back, but it was surprising to see an oddly complacent and almost friendly version of the general. A once one-dimensional cartoonish villain now has the chance to really add some substance to the show, and here’s hoping Designated Survivor continues their great work in calling upon their previously established characters to organically further along the plot.
Finally, Congresswomen Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen), soon-to-be Vice President Peter MacLeish (Ashley Zuckerman), and Chief Advisor Aaron Shore (Adan Canto) each raised some questions this week as well. Hookstraten’s role was small but important, as she had to surrender her delay of the hearing due to a threat from a coworker. It is interesting to see this highly manipulative character get manipulated by someone else; it shows the audience that every character is subservient to someone and that everyone has an exploitable weakness. MacLeish’s storyline continues to unravel curiously as it is hard to determine whether or not he is the mastermind in this plot or merely a pawn in a greater plan. The scene with his wife certainly raised some eyebrows, as she seemed far more in control of the situation than he ever has been. And finally, the shiftiness of Shore’s character – a plot point from earlier in the season – resurfaced here as we once again were made to think that he couldn’t be trusted. With these three characters being so crucial to the plot of the show, it was a smart move to call them all into question in different ways this week to assure the audience that there is still so much we do not know about these people.
As for the actual ending of the episode, it succeeded in raising some great tension with the viewers, as we were forced to watch an uplifting speech from the President whilst knowing that something truly awful was right around the corner. And yes, having all of the episode’s plot points converge on one spot was very effective and well done. But the choice to end the mid-season finale with an assassin firing a shot at an unknown victim was effective in the moment, but not in the long run. Right away, it’s obvious that Kirkman won’t be killed off so early on, so the fact that the shot missed him was no real surprise anyway, and this, unfortunately, made the final minutes somewhat predictable – which is the opposite of what a good cliffhanger should be.
When comparing this moment to the subtle ending of last week’s episode, where Kirkman himself began unraveling the Capitol conspiracy, it is easy to see that as the superior plot advancement. While it is perfectly understandable that Designated Survivor wanted to leave its viewers with a huge moment to keep their interest during its nearly three-month long hiatus, the simple fact is that sometimes, less is more. In the end, Designated Survivor delivered a thrilling, thought-provoking midseason finale, full of a wide array of interesting characters and unpredictable actions. However, much like the assassin himself, at the very end, they missed the mark ever so slightly.
Episode Grade: A-