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‘Designated Survivor’ Review/Recap: “The Traitor”

Michael Simon ’19 / Emertainment Monthly TV Staff Writer

Now that the news cycle has had a chance to calm down a bit, Designated Survivor has fallen back into a fairly regular schedule, delivering a steady stream of new episodes every week. After last week’s thrilling installment, this latest episode served to further some plotlines in very important ways, but also started to do what many viewers feared it would – dedicating more time to the illegitimate son plotline. While that was certainly not as bad as it could have been, it certainly was not a highlight, but more thoughts on that will follow. What this episode did best was its presentation of a new view of President Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland), as the various plotlines involved here delivered no silver lining. And while it may have been a very rough time for the President, it added a great sense of realism to the show, as it established the sad fact that sometimes, everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

Photo Credit: ABC
Photo Credit: ABC

This installment also presented a great balance of both temporary and permanent problems. For instance, as the aftermath of the murder of Majid Nassar spiraled into a new hunt for the criminal mercenary known as Catalan (George Tchortov), it was very clear that this development will have a serious lasting impact on the season. On the other hand, the debacle with the Russian Ambassador and the United States Coach created a problem that was interesting, but ultimately temporary. This plot could be equated to the issues seen earlier in the season with the uproar in the Michigan government; a conflict that will impact how Kirkman carries himself, but will itself remain self-contained.

Seeing Kirkman and the FBI getting put through the ringer here took some truly fantastic writing and execution. The scene between Kirkman, Congressman MacLeish (Ashley Zuckerman – who is quickly becoming the most intimidating character on this show), and Director Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba) was one of the most intense moments presented this far.  Atwood truly proved his loyalty in this episode (something that was questionable last week) and quickly saw himself at the forefront of the danger as his son was held captive. As Agent Wells (Maggie Q) was making progress towards catching their mastermind, Atwood was forced to become their pawn. A classic case of one step forward, and two steps back.

Photo Credit: ABC
Photo Credit: ABC

Going back to the President himself, watching his reaction as nearly every decision he made in this episode wound up to be the wrong one was very impactful. The viewers want him to succeed, but seeing him falter so much here was a very important step for the show to take. For every moment of success, there was a bigger failure around the corner. The editing of the scene between Kirkman and the two ambassadors showed the President at his best; the ensuing reveal that he had been outsmarted by a double agent and had carried out a disastrous spy exchange showed the President at his worst.

Now, usually the illegitimate son plotline is given such little attention that it is easy enough to simply tack on a mention to it at the end of these reviews. That is not the case this time. For the first time since the issue was brought up, it was given major attention, with a decent chunk of the episode’s runtime being dedicated to it. Now, giving credit where credit is due, it was certainly executed more organically here than it has been in past episodes. Instead of feeling like cheesy, soap-opera drama, it was presented fairly well. While that does not excuse its unnecessary presence in this series in the first place, it did help to make it more tolerable. The fact that Kirkman was well aware of the situation was certainly an interesting reveal, and the conversation between the First Lady (Natascha McElhone) and the blackmailing ex-boyfriend felt natural enough.

Photo Credit: ABC
Photo Credit: ABC

Shockingly, the only scene in this whole plotline that felt out of place was the actual conversation between the President and his son. Rather than being the heart-warming moment the show was hoping for, it instead only served as a rather jarring reminder that, despite the show dedicating so much time to the controversy around the President’s children, they have not been seen in quite some time. Between all of the political drama and the multiple two-week long hiatuses, it is not an exaggeration to say that these kids have not been on screen in at least a month. That is a big problem considering that these are characters that the audience is meant to care about. The show has worked itself into a bit of a corner here, as the President’s family has quickly become this show’s weakest link. Damage control needs to be done, the first of which ought to be the end of the illegitimate son plot. At the end of the episode, Press Secretary Seth Wright (Kal Penn) traded a reporter the more interesting story of the botched spy exchange in return for her silence on the President’s family. The show would be wise to take a page from his book; let this be the end of it, and take this opportunity to refocus their interests on far more interesting and appropriate things.

Overall Episode Grade: B

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