Welcome back to my review coverage of ABC’s Designated Survivor. I apologize for not getting my thoughts out in due time for these three episodes, but I finally had enough time to watch them all this past weekend so below are my collected feelings on the first few episodes back from the mid-season break.
So President Kirkman was the one hit by that bullet after all. Que rolling my eyes again. This is the same issue that happened with The Walking Dead last year between the season 6 finale and the season 7 premiere, only in this instance it is much less discussed. The use of the cliffhanger at the end of the mid-season premiere had me eye rolling already, and this outcome not only confirms why I was eye rolling, but makes it worse by sweeping the entire consequence of the event under the rug and out of the way by having Kirkman essentially have his full recovery in less than two episodes. The sole purpose for the cliffhanger then was to try and dupe the audience on what was going to happen, and as an audience member I am beyond disappointed.
I was hearing the same sentiment echoed with the Walking Dead, the cliffhanger was used in the same way and the show received a lot of backlash for that choice. Now, Designated Survivor is no where near the level of high profile show that The Walking Dead is, but there should be a precedent now for how not to tease an audience. When I first saw the mid-season finale, my speculative brain had me thinking that newly minted Vice-President MacLeish would be the one shot to give the show a dose of irony. Looking back on that now, I realize that wouldn’t work too well either because then our show’s villains would look like amateur hour, no-named Batman thugs and this show works because of all the intrigue surrounding the still unknown intentions of those villains.
Moving on though, regardless of how I felt about the shot, there were natural repercussions to Kirkman being shot, most notable being that MacLeish had to become the acting President. He immediately started making some controversial orders; orders that came against the advice of both the FBI, and Aaron Shore. The big call that MacLeish made was to take control of the manhunt for the shooter, whom we know is Catalan, and MacLeish’s former Army mate. The FBI supposedly tracks down Catalan, corners him, and is ready to take him into custody. MacLeish then orders them to shoot to kill, rather than take him in alive for questioning. MacLeish was tying off loose ends, because while Catalan was trained extremely well, having him in custody could lead him to spilling the beans on their plan. Saying all of that, I am not convinced that Catalan is truly dead. That whole sequence was rather weird because we never actually saw FBI agents come into contact with Catalan, there was no standoff, or shot cutaway to that scene in any form. So the modern TV rule still applies, if we didn’t see it happen, it probably didn’t. Basically, things don’t add up here. I can buy that they didn’t show the actual death of Catalan in order to make it more of an impact that MacLeish gave the shoot to kill order, but then why would the writers have MacLeish get killed himself in the very next episode?
Yeah, Peter MacLeish is dead after being killed by his wife, who then shot herself immediately after. Hannah Wells is back on the case after finally having her meeting with Kirkman about MacLeish’s involvement. On record, she is still under arrest for what happened the day of the shooting, but off record she is the lead investigator for MacLeish’s involvement and for the Capitol bombing as a whole. It’s a good role for Maggie Q to work through as I think it is what she is most comfortable with after playing Nikita. I’m also impressed with her brief chemistry with Kiefer Sutherland, who continues to be the background of this show. I still can’t say that Kiefer has completely done away with his Jack Bauer persona, but Kirkman is becoming a character on his own slowly but surely. Anyway, Hannah Wells and her team and set up a trap for MacLeish using a member of his unit that was involved in what happened the Middle East. This guy has some drug issues and was shook by Hannah’s brief appearance to question him again. So, he requested to see MacLeish for reassurance and they met at Arlington cemetery. Hannah and her team were there waiting for MacLeish to say something they could arrest him on, which he did, but Hannah was not prepared to have someone behind her kill MacLeish in front of her.
I’ll admit that was a big twist, but after some reflection I’m confused now in the direction of this show. There were two big scenes between MacLeish and his wife that emphasized how integral their involvement was to their group’s overall goal. Naturally, MacLeish’s wife felt that their deaths would serve the plan better than being caught, but doesn’t their deaths also greatly disrupt what was planned anyway? Everything seems kind of off plot wise. Like who is our main villain for the whole season now? Back in December I thought it was going to be Catalan, in the first episode back I then thought it would be MacLeish, but now that he and his wife are gone, the only face we have for the bad guys is that woman who kidnapped, and as we learned this past week, killed Jason Atwood’s son. Are there going to be new characters added to the conspiracy? Are ones we already know in on the whole thing as well like Aaron? I can’t say that I buy the whole Aaron is in on the conspiracy idea, I’m in the camp that says he helped the plan in very indirect and unknowable ways. But we’ll see this week with Aaron getting approached by his former boss Charles Langdon.
Overall, these episodes were still exciting to watch, but ultimately they all feel inconsequential when the plot has been rushed to the max. Kirkman healed from a bullet to his chest in two episodes, and MacLeish died in the second episode back. There are probably answers to the latter event, but unfortunately some TV cliches are working their way into Designated Survivor and it is hurting the overall product.
“Warriors” – 6.5/10
“The End of the Beginning” – 7.5/10
“Backfire” – 7/10