‘Designated Survivor’ 2×16 Review: A Step in the Right Direction

I’ve been critical of Designated Survivor the past few episodes – a big change for me, after praising this show for it’s entire first season and most of season 2. Today, however, I’m feeling somewhat optimistic, because the show just took a huge step in the right direction.


Look, the show is still criminally slow at times – what was up with those first twenty minutes and why did it take so long to pick up the pace? – but if the last half of this episode showed, they can still bring it when they have to.

This show as it’s best is not The West Wing 2.0. It could be, but it’s not, because it just hasn’t managed to develop interesting enough characters. So, if the show is to prosper, it needs to go back to political thriller.  Think more 24 than any actual political drama, except with Maggie Q providing the muscle instead of Mr. Kiefer Sutherland.

But even that would not be enough to right this ship, if the show hadn’t also shown signs of something else I’ve been asking for a very long time.

Morally complex characters.

Yes, it’s amazing and wholesome and good to root for Tom Kirkman and to imagine him as the President we want, in real life. But Kiefer Sutherland is not running for office, and this is a TV show, and perfection is boring – especially continued perfection. This show needed to give Kirkman an edge, put him in a position where he would make a mistake, or at least, a rash decision – especially considering that Alex’s death should have left him in a completely different mental state than he was in Season 1.

“Fallout” delivers in that respect, and in a way that sets up many consequences to come, to which I can only say: Hallelujah. But the episode delivers in another, even more surprising way – it makes Emily the kind of character I thought Aaron had the potential the be in Season 1.

Yes, for a man like Tom Kirkman we sort of expected a Chief of Staff who’d be, well, like Tom Kirkman, and we’ve gotten that in Emily. But the way the show is written sometimes glosses over the power she has and the kind of decisions she has to make every day. What’s more important? Is protecting the President above everything else?  What would Emily do to protect Tom Kirkman? We hadn’t really seen her pushed to the edge before, and now, this might not be the edge, not really, but Emily’s showing a darker side and I, for one, could not be happier.

Bye, perfection. I don’t really need you in fictional characters. I need this. And not just in tiny doses, I need much more if it, I need it to have consequences, I need to actually worry about what’s coming without trusting that Kirkman and his people have it all under control.

Otherwise, why am I watching?

Other things to note:

  • Ah, Director Forstell, we hardly knew you. You won’t really be missed. But your death sure ups the stakes.
  • The real government of the US has a very high turnover rate, but at least there people quit/are fired and not die.
  • Adan Canto is criminally underused.
  • Plus, Aaron still insists on doing that thing with the hair gel.
  • He might be trying to save us from the curls – no woman can resist them, but I’ve been very bored by the show lately, so the curls would have been a good incentive to keep watching.
  • What’s going on in Emily/Seth land? Still undetermined. BECAUSE YEAH, WHAT IS CONTINUITY?
  • Maggie Q is my aesthetic. Always.

Designated Survivor airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on ABC.

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