"May you live in interesting times" — a slight saying that things are most prosperous and peaceful when things are boring — is a classic Chinese backhanded compliment, and we certainly are living under an interesting administration at the moment. But most of the time, government isn't only uninteresting, it's downright boring.
Designated Survivor is in its "uninteresting times" phase with the conspiracy in a bit of a dead end and president Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) wrasslin' with governing the country, and "Party Lines" dove deep into politics, specifically the issue of gun control. We knew this version of Designated Survivor was coming, and I've been wondering how viewers would react to the tonal shift. And from what I can tell, if you get thrills from watching C-SPAN, then "Party Lines" was probably an edge-of-your-seat thriller.
That's not to say "Party Lines" wasn't important. In fact, it was more of a setup episode (I hope) which will prove to be a pivotal moment for the characters moving forward, because it's the fallout from the gun control vote that should deliver the dramatic goods, not the vote itself. I hope. Because I never want to sit through another hour of convincing politicians to vote one way or another.
Let's take a vote: Shall we review what happened in "Party Lines"? Tim? "Aye." The ayes have it, 1-0!
1. We have ourselves a villain!
Kimble Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen) may have been pitched as Kirman's rival early in the series, but we've seen that she's much more multi-faceted as she has more use as a wild-card third party than a straight bad gal. Thank god for slimeball senator Jack Bowman (R-Mont.) (Mark Deklin)! Bowman carried over from last week's episode to continue his gun control battle with Kirkman, baiting the president into supporting a flawed bill which would consume most of the episode. This guy is real sleaze! And by that, I mean he's a real politician! I can't wait for Chuck to dig up some dirt on this scum bucket.
2. Vote wrangling!
The situation with the bill — which strengthened background checks for people who purchase guns — was that Kirkman needed 51 votes to pass it but he only had 46 Democrats in the Senate, meaning he needed five Republicans to go against party lines — and stand up to Jack Bowman — in order to get the bill passed (a bill that admittedly still needed a lot of work). And thus began the push to sway moderate Republicans to really upset Charleton Heston and pass it. The problem was that we never met most of these senators before, so they were just cartoons who needed the right thing said to them, and we watched as Kirkman and others tried to find that right thing. Yep, this is what Designated Survivor is now, buckle up and get ready for the wheelin', dealin' and compromisin' on the Hill!
3. Emily has seen Dirty Dancing, thank you very much
I don't know why I found this interesting, but Emily (Italia Ricci) quoted the famous 1987 hip-grinding film Dirty Dancing ("Nobody puts baby in a corner") and Kirkman was shocked that she was familiar with the film. I'm pretty sure every tween girl is required by law to own a VHS copy of that movie! What's next, Kirkman will be surprised Seth (Kal Penn) says, "Schwing!"?
4. More vote wrangling!
There were many more conversations with senators regarding their vote on the bill. Hey, isn't there a conspiracy to blow up America going on also?
5. The Speaker has spoken
Hookstraten got a visit from Bowman, and basically, he was a total jerk to her when she told him to get in line and form a united Republican front to get things done. He wasn't having it and told her, "Get on board or step aside." Oh snap. You don't want to make an enemy out of Kimble, bro. Following that meeting, Hookstraten came up with a new plan: work with Tom to flip Republicans in exchange for considerations down the line. Vice president, maybe?
Yep, more vote wrangling.
7. Dammit Watch 2017 returns!
Not a full "dammit!" but we did get Kirkman to say, "Son of a bitch." I can only theorize that the writers read these stories I write and have thrown me a bone, because he didn't have to say it, it was just thrown in as he muttered it under his breath. And I couldn't be more happy. President Curse-man! My man!
8. The vote!!!
It was finally vote time, and Kirkman had 50 votes going in... but needed one undecided Republican to flip and vote to pass the bill to get things done. Honestly, TV votes are about the most boring, anticlimactic form of scripted drama there is, and this wasn't much different. But the episode tried to spice it up with a late defector to the "nay" side, an unexpected defector to the "aye" side to bring it back to even, and then a surprising unknown who voted "aye" late in the game to make it pass. Look, I'm not saying I know of a more interesting way to make TV votes compelling and exciting, because I don't. And frankly, I don't think they exist. But this was the climax of "Party Lines," so that's what we got. People staring at a TV to see how a vote went, a vote that we were all pretty sure would pass. So yeah, it passed and everyone celebrated by getting blotto on scotch.
9. Emily can't resist pizza
I really enjoy seeing what people in D.C. eat, and former president Cornelius "Corny" Moss waltzed into the voting watch party with a pizza. Emily grabbed a slice and said, "This job is going to make me fat." We've also seen her eating Mexican food. Can someone start a tumblr to keep track of what everyone eats and drinks?
10. Oh right, the conspiracy!
With Claudine/Brooke dead of ingesting too many bullets last week, it was starting over time for Hannah (Maggie Q) and Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba). New clues sent them out to North Dakota, where a building that private military group Browning Reed was still paying property taxes on was. Turns out it was an underground missile silo full of bombs! And "Party Lines" spread out their trip to North Dakota across the episode for that one detail.
Was "Party Lines" mostly filler? Yep. But if you look at the potential aftermath of what happened in the episode — Senators pissed off at Hookstraten, party lines blurred — then you have a great stepping stone to some high drama down the line. Let's hope so. And please, no more votes.
Designated Survivor airs Wednesday nights at 10/9c on ABC.