Michael Simon ‘19/ Emertainment Monthly TV Staff Writer
Well, who saw that one coming?
After a drastically elongated hiatus between its winter finale and spring premiere, Designated Survivor returned with a bang, quite literally. Whereas other shows, such as AMC’s The Walking Dead, tortured fans by not immediately revealing the outcome of a cliffhanger, the midseason premiere of Designated Survivor picked up mere moments from where we left off. Within moments, the scene was reconstructed and continued to flow with such elegance and structure that the victim was already on the floor before the viewers (and the target himself) could fully register what had happened.
Spoiler Alert: Yes, the show did the unthinkable and had the loving President, Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland – this show’s driving force), take the bullet after all. After months and months of theorizing and guessing who could have wound up in the crosshairs, it is astonishing to see that the President himself was never a popular option. It’s funny because Kirkman’s ultimate survival detracts much of the tension from last winter’s cliffhanger, but the decision to have him hospitalized for the majority of this episode may have truly been the best next step for this series.
The domino effect caused by the assassination attempt brought many important elements to light, promising that this second half of the season may be even quicker to pull punches than its predecessor. With a show that has as dense a plot as Designated Survivor, that is always a welcome notion. The most important advancements in this episode centered around Vice President Peter MacLeish (Ashley Zuckerman) and Agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q), as the need for the latter to expose the former became more important than ever.
Peter MacLeish is quickly becoming one of those characters that viewers simply love to hate, and that is due in large part to the writers’ excellent use of dramatic irony when it comes to his character. Since we at home know the truth (maybe not the whole truth) about MacLeish, it is infuriating to watch as the characters in the show remain oblivious. This was never more apparent than with the evocation of the 25th Amendment, which made MacLeish the acting President. His decision to let the stock markets open and inevitably crash as well as his order to have the assailant, Catalan, shot dead were maddening – almost to a fault.
But, more on that later. It would be shameful to end this section on MacLeish without addressing the continued presence of his wife, Beth (Lara Jean Chorostecki). As she proves to be the more confident and ruthless one in their duo, it is extremely entertaining to notice the parallels between her and Lady Macbeth. It becomes clearer and clearer that the Macbeths and the MacLeishes are cut from the same stock, and one can only hope that they all meet a similarly gruesome end. Nothing better than some clever word play when it comes to the importance of character names.
As for Agent Wells, it was nice to see her finally make some progress in her quest to reveal the truth about MacLeish. After watching her frustratingly fumble around behind the scenes for the last few episodes, it was great to see her get through not only to Secret Service Agent Mike Ritter, but to the President himself. The final scene of the two smartest and most capable characters finally in the same room with all their cards on the table was as hopeful an ending as this show can give right now.
This episode also saw small, yet substantive, appearances from secondary characters. These included the grief-stricken First Lady, the always enlightening Press Secretary, the tenacious and cunning Speaker of the House, and the two Presidential assistants who are currently set on a bit of a collision course.
Now, as much as this episode did right, there were still a few missteps here and there. As mentioned earlier, the biggest one would certainly be the suspension of disbelief required when watching MacLeish act as President. Not only was there an assassination attempt on the President within minutes of his swearing in, but literally every decision he makes is in direct opposition to the President’s staff and the President himself. Surely this ought to be raising some red flags, beyond the occasional look of disbelief and disapproval.
In addition to this, we have the cringeworthy scene involving the President’s children. If Designated Survivor has an Achilles Heel, their names are Leo and Penny. For those of you readers who have forgotten, Penny is the name of the President’s daughter (which I just had to look up online to clarify because I don’t believe she’s made an appearance since the fifth episode). It’s getting past a point of no return when it comes to these characters. Their father was just shot and yet the show still cannot naturally integrate them into the plot or dialogue in a way that feels genuine or human. It furthers my personal belief that, while Designated Survivor excels in politics, it fails miserably in family.
Luckily, the bulk of this show is politically driven and, with everything coming up this season and a seemingly infinite number of loose ends to tie up, they certainly have enough on their plate as is. This first episode showed great promise in how this second half of the season is going to be handled and, just as it was refreshing for the American people to see President Kirkman back on his feet, it feels just as good for us viewers to see Designated Survivor back and ready to go as well.
Episode Grade: A-