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‘Designated Survivor’ Review: “The End of the Beginning”

Michael Simon ‘19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

When any television series decides to grant an episode a title as solemn as “The End of the Beginning”, they better be sure that they are going to deliver on that grim and foreboding premise. And deliver they did. The best episodes of Designated Survivor have always been the ones that simultaneously feel like a crucial piece of the show’s elaborate puzzle as well as a standalone epic story. The structure of this episode paired with the underlying themes and emotional character development made this week’s installment the new high bar for what this show can bring to the table.

Photo Credit: ABC
Photo Credit: ABC

Picking up right where it left off last week, the two biggest brains of this series finally got the chance to meet face to face, and this long-awaited meeting truly fired on all cylinders. Right out of the gate, Agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) made it very apparent to President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) that his entire outlook on the world needed to drastically change. This shift in Kirkman’s character was properly book-ended by the two instances in which First Lady Alex Kirkman (Natascha McElhone) was excluded from the bigger picture.

In the episode’s first few minutes, the President objects to Agent Wells’ unwillingness to share classified information in front of his wife, and Secret Service Agent Mike Ritter (LaMonica Garret) takes it upon himself to tell Kirkman that he is wrong. After Mike firmly tells the President that he desperately needs to narrow his circle, the viewers see this instance come full circle in the final minutes of the episode. With a piece of cinematography that had the guts to mimic the ending of The Godfather, the President left his First Lady behind closed doors as he was whisked away to deal with the latest crisis in a forever changing world.

Focusing now on minor characters (before getting to the epic climax), it was great to once again see how Designated Survivor successfully juggles all its moving pieces. Speaker Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen) was as intimidating as ever, seeking information on the chaotic events of the previous episode by any means necessary. Chief of Staff Aaron Shore (Adan Canto) found himself bearing not only Hookstraten’s wrath, but the continued investigation into his political history as well. Incarcerated FBI Director Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba) made his tragic return this week, as the search for his missing son reached a devastating conclusion, leaving the once strong man broken. While Atwood and his son were always minor characters, the loss here served as a somber reminder of the stakes at play for these characters as they move forward on their search for answers.

The true centerpieces of this episode were, unsurprisingly, President Kirkman, Agent Wells, and Vice President MacLeish (Ashley Zuckerman). For us viewers who see this show through the eyes of our protagonist, Kirkman, it is a true testament to the writers’ skills as to how they’ve managed to keep him center-stage while confined to a hospital bed. The way the show has worked thus far is that whenever Kirkman’s world changes, so too does the world of the viewers. And there was perhaps no greater shock to the system than there was this week as we watched the humble, kind-hearted President turn bloodthirsty. The scenes between MacLeish and Kirkman have always been chilling, but now, with Kirkman wise to MacLeish’s deception, the President and Vice President devolved into dogs waiting to pounce. Given what was in store for MacLeish later in this episode, it is invaluable that viewers got to see this kind of interaction.

The Vice President and Lady MacLeish got their fair share of the spotlight this week, as it became clearer than ever that, despicable as he is, Peter still has a semblance of a heart whereas his wife certainly does not. It was almost comforting to see Peter caring about his old army colleague, and it continued the idea that he is but a pawn in a game being played by people far more gruesome and unforgiving than he. This idea was finally cemented by two bullets at the episode’s climax. As Lady MacLeish saw it fit to execute her husband and then turn the gun on herself, Designated Survivor raised an incredible slew of questions. By cutting the MacLeish’s plotline off at the head, it is almost frightening to think of who or what must have been pulling their strings. For two people as devoted to this twisted cause as Beth and Peter to choose death over capture, it is all but impossible for one to fathom what the bigger picture must be.

Adan Canto and Virginia Madsen in 'Designated Survivor'. Photo Credit: ABC.
Adan Canto and Virginia Madsen in ‘Designated Survivor’. Photo Credit: ABC.

In the middle of all this chaos was Agent Wells – a character who constantly has the world collapsing around her. After everything she has been put through in this series thus far, plus this episode’s added heartbreak over her inability to save Luke Atwood, it seemed as though she was finally about to make the progress she so desperately deserved. To see her at the end of that episode, alone in a graveyard accompanied by the two fresh corpses of her prime suspects, it appeared to be a classic case of one step forward and two steps back.

When all was said and done in this installment of Designated Survivor, one thing was certain: the world has forever been changed. For viewers looking to pinpoint an episode as a point of no return, then this surely is it. As the series barrels head-on into the final half of its first season, it mercilessly puts each character through the ringer, and they’ve made it clear to the viewers that our heroes have a lot of work to do before they can be ready to take on what awaits. After all, for an episode so properly named “The End of the Beginning”, only one thing can logically follow: the beginning of the end.  

Episode Grade: A+                                     

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