Michael Simon ‘19/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Much of the plot of “One Hundred Days” revolved around President Kirkman’s (Kiefer Sutherland) desire to turn over a new leaf in his term as President, and likewise, the episode served as a major tonal shift for the series as a whole as well. More so than ever before, Designated Survivor has begun to feel like two very different shows, and this installment may be an unfortunate sign that this split may not be the best way forward.
As the two main plotlines begin to diverge, it is best to first look at the half of the show that is truly working well, and that is the politics. Though Secretary of State Cornelius Moss was absent in this episode, his lingering presence was certainly felt as Kirkman exhumed a new aura of Presidential stamina. Moss’ main critique of Kirkman had been that he was too reactionary and not proactive enough, and now a discernible change can be clearly seen. For the first time in the series’ run, the President is handling matters of public policy and juggling multiple political agendas – an area that has been shockingly unexplored up until this point.
Certainly, matters have strung up before, but those matters were either solved by stern talking-downs or large-scale political spectacles. Here, the only option forward is diplomacy. As the episode came to a close, it was comforting to hear Kirkman say “we’re in for a fight”, and know that it was referring not to matters of terrorism or national security, but rather to a matter of Congressional debate. Kirkman’s town hall specifically struck this reviewer as a moment so expertly crafted and executed that it would be worthy of political dramas like The West Wing. For the first time, viewers saw how Designated Survivor may one day be able to hold itself together as a long-running show once the conspiracy plot is done away with.
Another episode highlight was the developing plotline of Aaron Shore (Adan Canto) as he continued to try and make his life work without his job at the White House. Having his cousin here during this episode was nice, if not somewhat forgettable; it is doubtful that she’ll serve as a huge contributor to the series other than to simply motivate Aaron to get back in the game. The far more interesting development here was Aaron’s decision to accept a job offer from Speaker Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen). She had taken more of a backseat since the midseason premiere, so it is a welcome reminder to see just how many aces she may still have up her sleeve.
As for where this episode took a bit of a tumble, one must look to the adventures of Agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) and Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba). What was once this show’s driving force took a major misstep this week, heading in a direction that strikes the viewer as far too deviant from what the series has done thus far. A major problem here was that this plotline felt far too detached from the rest of the episode, as if these are the only two characters who still care about uncovering the conspiracy. The decision to have Hannah operate alone was meant to make her come off as single-handed savior, but has instead made this whole plotline seem inconsequential compared to the bulk of the show.
Beyond that, the way in which the events on this half of the episode unfolded felt far too familiar and overall, quite pointless. First and foremost was the rushed way in which Jason was brought back into the fold, only to be kicked out when Hannah deemed him unfit. For her to spend so much time bringing her grieving, secluded friend back into action and then cut him off at the first sign of trouble was quite disrespectful to Jason as a character. Follow that up with Jason’s return to the action minutes later, and it just felt like filler drama with no real meaning.
In addition to this, Designated Survivor is getting into the habit of killing off its antagonists a little too quickly. This episode was the first time any real light was shed on the identity of the mysterious puppet master of this conspiracy, and yet she was dead before the hour was up. The shocking death of an antagonist worked for the MacLeishes because they were strong, well-developed characters who were given ample screen time so that the viewers truly understood them. In this case, this woman has operated behind the scenes for so long and yet could not survive once the curtain was pulled back. One can’t help but wonder if Designated Survivor overplayed it’s hand just a bit here, for it seems as though they are quick to sacrifice authentic plot development for mere shock value.
Combine the elements mentioned above, and what we are left with is a very problematic episode of Designated Survivor. There was a lot to like about this episode, and yet none of it was related to the overarching conspiracy plot that drove the show’s premise. Instead, anything tied to that original premise was severely mishandled, creating an episode that felt like two different shows altogether. Earlier in this review, I stated that the political portions of this episode showed that Designated Survivor could survive as a political drama once the conspiracy plotline was wrapped up. I stand by that claim. The problem is, the show is not at that point yet, despite acting as though it is, and when two very important plotlines appear to be on two very different timelines, there is bound to be trouble. Designated Survivor may be moving too fast for its own good; one can only hope that it manages to get off of this collision course.