[Spoilers for Wednesday's episode of Designated Survivorahead.]
Wednesday's episode of Designated Survivor was a whopper that moved the story forward about four Washington Monuments lined up end to end, a stark contrast from much of the slow burn of the first half of the season, and a welcome continuation from the thrilling spring premiere that saw Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) survive an assassination attempt and finally meet Hannah Wells (Maggie Q). In short, the show is on fire right now.
Just as quickly as Kirkman found out that Peter MacLeish (Ashley Zukerman) really was a bad guy and working with the conspirators, MacLeish was shot dead... by his own wife, who then turned the gun on herself!
To hear show creator David Guggenheim and Sutherland talk about it — the two hosted a special screening of the episode with journalists this week — it sure sounds like MacLeish is dead. And that he was just a pawn in something much, much bigger.
"It was a choice made by the writers that [MacLeish] was just the tip of the iceberg," Sutherland said of the decision to kill off the villain. "If he were the end all be all and there was only two other people involved, then they would have had to string that out. But he was really just a [puzzle piece]."
A dead vice president isn't an everyday occurrence, either, so Kirkman will have to figure out how to explain the fact that three dead bodies, including MacLeish's wife, ended up in a cemetery — and that comes in direct conflict with his personal ideals.
"It puts the president in an interesting situation as to how much to share with the public," Guggenheim said. "Because he's not a president who likes to mislead the public. He's all about truth, and he's all about full disclosure and transparency. So it's a tricky situation and some of it does fall under national security, so it's a debate that he has to have."
"And it might come back to haunt him because he is not forthcoming," added Sutherland. "It is part of an investigation and he can't even tell his wife the circumstances of what happened. And so, they actually try to spin the story that there was serious emotional problems with [MacLeish's] wife and that it was more of a family tragedy than that they were part of this major conspiracy, because you don't want everybody else that was involved running for the dark. So, basically he's put in a position where he really makes a choice to lie to the American people because he believes it's protecting something greater and bigger and stronger. What is the great adage in Washington? It's usually not the crime, but the cover-up that'll get you."
However, there's a decent chance that the conspiracy portion of Designated Survivor may come to an end and the show will pivot into being much more about the politics of governing, specifically about acting as president with no political experience, as is the case with Tom. Guggenheim said that the conspiracy will be solved this season and we'll see more Tom Kirkman, President of the United States moving forward.
"With a lot of political storylines, it's really important for us to come up with stories that are very specific to our show," Guggenheim explained. "What are stories that only our show can tell? And one of them is ... the rebuilding of the Supreme Court. That's something that no other political show can do, because they don't have our concept. So for us, it's exciting to come up with those specific ideas."
Kirkman will also take positions on topics such as gun control, foreign policy and the economy, and because Kirkman is an independent, we'll see him compromise and make decisions that don't align with his personal beliefs. It will also allow the show to become a place where reasonable discussion on sensitive political issues can take place, something Sutherland thinks is very important given the current political divide in real life.
"[Politics has] gotten to a place where the vitriol is so great that I think, in the context of our show, we're trying to really reduce that," Sutherland said. "And still discuss the issues. And if the show is successful and starts to break that up a little bit, I would be incredibly proud of having been a part of it."
"This show was written long before Trump announced his candidacy, let alone became president," he continued. "Who would have thought that we would be doing a show that was not only the absolute deconstruction of government followed by the reconstruction of government, then elect a guy whose main partner is known for saying, 'I want to tear the government down'? Couldn't have predicted that in a million years. So it is kind of odd. But I think if we can actually take the ideology out of the discussion and actually have the discussion with common sense, [that] is what will win the day. That's a really interesting alternative point of view. And we will be using real facts."
Designated Survivor airs Wednesday nights at 10/9c on ABC.