‘Designated Survivor’ Review: “Party Lines”

Michael Simon ‘19/ Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

This week’s installment of Designated Survivor showcased some truly fantastic advancements in the dramatic political elements of the show, while the overall conspiracy took a bit of a backseat as it continued to spin off in its own direction. For characters like President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland), Speaker Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen), and Secretary Moss (Geoff Pierson), this episode was a fantastic vehicle for personality development. After spending so much time with these individuals over the course of the season, it is pure fun to watch them all exhibit their distinct character traits and personality. On the other end of the spectrum, this episode was a bit of a dud for Agent Wells (Maggie Q) and Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba), who are so far removed from the crux of the show at this point that it is easy to forget about them altogether – a problem that gets more and more dangerous the longer the show keeps it up.

This episode saw the continuation of what may be the best political subplot the show has offered to date: the Congressional debate over gun control. It is with a plot like this that Designated Survivor does its best work, as it has so many different pieces in play and knows how to expertly use each one. Hookstraten, for example, is a character with so many different facets that she can seem like a totally different person from scene to scene; one minute she appears to be Kirkman’s biggest supporter, the next she coldly refers to him as nothing more than a lame duck. She had some great moments this week, exercising political power in order to amass favors and gratitude down the line. Whatever it is she’s planning, it ought to be big – she’s the one to watch over these next few weeks.

The true highlight of the episode came about when it came time for the group to watch as the Senate vote played out live on television. As mentioned earlier, this episode really showcased the greatness of each character’s individual personality, and this scene was certainly the epitome of that concept. These characters are so well established that as soon as they walk into the room, they are simultaneously embodying their own unique character as well as contributing greatly to the group as a whole. Emily (Italia Ricci) was the slightly on-edge Chief of Staff, watching to see if her efforts paid off. Seth Wright (Kal Penn) remained cool, calm, and collected as always, ready to respond to any outcome. Kirkman stood there with the weight of the world on his shoulders as his wife looked up to him and offered any sort of comfort she could. Moss was simply laid back and relaxed, enjoying the vote as though it were a sport game, even bringing along a pizza. Watching all of them play off of each other so well made this simple scene a joy, showing that Designated Survivor is truly great as an ensemble piece.

Additionally, this episode posed some of the series’ best thoughts to date on how to handle a volatile, polarizing political climate. While the situations presented in Designated Survivor cannot really be applied to our real world, it is still fascinating to see what the show presents. The ideas behind “Party Lines” were driven by the need to bring political parties together for the good of the country on an issue where agreement is usually impossible. The presence of the first President who identifies as an Independent as well as the discussions about reelections, personal beliefs, and “political suicide” really make one think of the damage political parties are capable of. First Lady Alex Kirkman (Natascha McElhone) said it best: it shouldn’t take luck to pass a decision that is good for the country as a whole. Regardless of where one might come down on this issue personally, it was still great food for thought.

Now, with all of these other elements in play, it is almost easy to forget that Designated Survivor is still a show about a massive conspiracy that carried out one of the deadliest attacks in history that is still working to usurp the power of the American government. And the fact that a plotline and premise so major has become relatively forgettable is this show’s greatest issue moving forward. At this point in the game, Atwood and Wells are so far removed that they may as well be a part of a totally different television show.

Looking back, the start of this problem may have actually been the death of Peter MacLeish, for it eliminated the only conspirator presence in D.C. On top of that, we never really got to see the fallout reaction from MacLesish’s death; the country we see currently in Designated Survivor does not seem like one reeling from the untimely death of a Vice President. The root of this issue is that the conspiracy has not yet even come close to being resolved, and yet it has been eliminated as a focal point of the show. Designated Survivor has proven that it is capable of great things without the conspiracy subplot, but sooner or later, they must bring that back into the game – and when they do, it needs to be handled with the utmost attention. If the show isn’t capable of carefully handling the problem that fueled its premise in the first place, they will quickly find themselves in a very unfortunate situation.

Overall Grade: A-

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