Michael Simon ‘19/ Emertainment Monthly TV Staff Writer
And so, the game has been changed.
After weeks and weeks of plot advancement and character development and one shocking twist after another, Designated Survivor has reached what can only be described as a lynchpin episode. It did what it does best and created a packed installment, but it truly upped the ante this week for, by the time the credits were rolling, things had passed a point of no return.
Perhaps that sounds a bit dramatic, so let’s backtrack now to see how the episode got to its fantastic final sequence. After the elections depicted in last week’s episode, the United States finally has a functioning Congress once again, and their first duty is to confirm the Vice-Presidential Candidate Peter MacLeish (Ashley Zuckerman). This event ran in tandem with the ongoing investigation being conducted by Agent Wells (Maggie Q), who spent most of the episode chasing up a mysterious lead – 11:14 PM.
The revelation that this lead turned out to correlate to a wartime event and not an actual time helped to make it interesting, as the viewers were now given new insight into the mission that took place on November 14th that got Peter MacLeish declared a war hero. Now, the sequence that swapped between MacLeish’s confirmation hearing and Wells’ investigation was very well done but came off as being too scripted. All these men just happened to be telling a story that fed perfectly into one another. But, as it later turned out, that was the whole point. When it is discovered that these men have rehearsed extensive talking points to mask the real war crime that they committed, it all made sense. Designated Survivor truly rewards viewers who pay close attention; if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
The plotline that ran opposite this story had the difficult task of trying to catch the audience’s attention back from the exciting conspiracy theory investigation. It succeeded in spades. This week saw the crisis of a national security breach, in which an NSA whistleblower started releasing damning files without any clear motive. After creating a versatile conflict between President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland), his chief advisor, and the new Senate Head of the Appropriations Committee, the man then sought asylum in a Venezuelan embassy.
This plot point was fantastic on so many levels. At first, it allowed for some great scenes between Kirkman and Senator Hazelton (John Bourgeois) as they quarreled over some libelous documents written by Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci) that had been leaked. The show creates some truly fantastic moments whenever the President stands by his morals and turns out to be right. By refusing to allow Hazleton to extort him with threats of holding up Senate matters unless Rhodes was fired, the President stood has ground and was rewarded. Despite being such a minimal character, watching Hazleton fall so quickly was incredibly satisfying.
On another level, this plotline drew great parallels to the ongoing situation with Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba), who appears briefly yet effectively in this episode as a broken man. What tied this all together is the remarkable performance from Brent Sexton who portrayed the NSA whistleblower, Gabriel Thompson. Thompson is clearly no international terrorist but has made the choice to go against his own character for some unknown purpose – not unlike Atwood. Once this season reaches an end, it is all but guaranteed that Thompson will be looked back on as the character who changed everything.
When contrasted with this week’s other new character, Senator Hazelton, who was more or less a one-dimensional obstacle, Thompson is deeply complex, tremendously intelligent, and, above all, he knows how to get the attention of the right people. His sole intention was to gain access to the President, and, after weeks of audience frustration, watching as Kirkman remains blind to this entire conspiracy, watching Thompson drop it in his lap before being escorted to prison was incredibly well done.
As the episode entered its final minutes, many things started happening at once. Once Wells got the information that linked MacLeish’s ‘heroic’ mission to war crimes and the master-criminal Catalan, she contacted Congresswoman Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen) to delay the Vice President’s confirmation. Before reaching Capitol Hill, she is left T-boned by a truck-driving assailant, right as Kirkman gains access to Thompson’s government files, showing the planned-out attack on the Capitol. With both of these storylines blown open and left hanging in such great uncertainty, the pressure is on for next week’s winter finale.