‘Designated Survivor” Review/Recap: “The First Day”

Michael Simon ‘19/TV Staff Writer

Coming off of a thrilling season premiere, Designated Survivor continues to hit the ground running this week, as the focus shifts from the terrorist attack itself to President Tom Kirkman’s first day on the job. As expected, Kirkman’s first 24 hours as the sitting President are met with chaos, uproar, and tension from all angles.

As the attack on the United States Capitol is seen and digested by the remainder of the country, the show focuses on how different people are reacting. Whether there are riots grounded in racial profiling, disrespectful state governors, or a hot-headed Attorney General, the President wakes up to plenty on his plate. It’s a testament to the ambiance of the show as well as Kiefer Sutherland’s performance thus far that the audience experiences such tension along with him. The weight of the show and the events unfolding in it are felt by the viewers. While the show has its issues, pacing and realism are not among them.

(Photo Credit: ABC)
(Photo Credit: ABC)

The morning after begins with a chaotic staff meeting in the Oval Office – a short lived exchange that eventually dissolves into a heated (if not comical) screaming match. Once the President opts to excuse himself, he is left with his ordinary assistant and the former President’s chief of staff. One thing is certain; Kirkman cannot act alone, and he needs to form a Cabinet.

As his day continues, the news keeps piling on. The press looks discouragingly on his first speech in the aftermath of the attacks, the people around Kirkman are eager to get a photo-op of him at the scene of the attack. Kirkman, the show’s moral center, declares that it is purely out of respect. Before departing for this event, the show introduces two key players in this episode – Governor John Royce (Michael Gaston), and Congressional-Designated-Survivor Kimble Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen). Royce represents a leader hell-bent on reacting forcefully, reasoning that everything he does is meant to keep his citizens safe – even if that means his state’s officers are enacting sanctions against Muslims under his watch. As the President demands he put an end to it, Royce has the gall to hang up on him, refusing to accept him as a leader. Kirkman’s exchange with Kimble is far more pleasant, as the two bond over their mutual shock and loss.

(Photo Credit: ABC)
(Photo Credit: ABC)

As the President embarks to the new Ground-Zero with Kimble, his First Lady, advisors, and security detail, things quickly escalate from bad to worse. Yet another humble attempt at a speech by Kirkman gets overshadowed, this time by a video spreading of an officer attacking a Muslim teenager in Michigan. The crowd erupts in chaos, and with the Secret Service believing the area is a threat to the Commander in Chief, Kirkman is whisked away.

Within the White House, the Attorney General attempts to make amends with the President after seeing how he handled the Iran problem the previous day. However, after the President refuses to act on the FBI’s suspected terrorist, tensions rise again. When news comes in that the Muslim boy from the video has died, Kirkman reaches the end of his chain. Through a bit of a white lie to Governor Royce, he manages to gain control of the descent in Michigan. Offering comfort to the boy’s parents as well as to the victims of racial profiling in his own advisor circle, Kirkman truly seems to become a leader. While the press is still not behind him, it’s the little actions that help the audience to gain his trust – the image of him in a baseball cap, shaking hands with first responders, is a comforting one.

(Photo Credit: ABC)

As stated earlier, Sutherland’s Kirkman is easily the best thing about this show. Whether it is the leadership he exhibits by removing his bullet proof vest (it doesn’t “instill confidence”) or the force he exhumes when he spits that the FBI’s 75% certainty of a suspect isn’t enough for him (how much more is needed? “25 Damnit!”), Sutherland is a powerhouse. Although the show has its campy moments and an overly-political agenda, it stays at the right pace in order to not get ahead of itself. With Sutherland at the head, Designated Survivor remains on a steady, if not somewhat uncertain path – not unlike the country within the show itself.

Episode Grade: A-


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