Designated Survivor turned in what was probably its best episode of the season with "The Oath," the freshman show's winter finale. Jam-packed with cliffhangers, revelations and a bleeding Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) shooting her way through the D.C. area, "The Oath" felt like the hour of sudsy political drama that we've all been waiting for from ABC.
I mean, sure, it still had its silly parts — why were people so stoked to go to the inauguration so soon after the terrorist attack? — but no other episode moved with the pace and fury like "The Oath" did, and it provided the perfect accompaniment to a bucket of popcorn and a couch for a Wednesday night. This is the kind of Designated Survivor that works for me!
Let's get right to it and discuss what happened in "The Oath":
1. People are no longer wondering if Tom is fit to be president, they're just wondering if he's gonna make it out of this alive!
I usually start these weekly recaps off with the collective attitude of the nation and government toward Kirkman's (Kiefer Sutherland) legitimacy as president, but not today. We begin with the end, with Tom Kirkman leading the vice-presidential inauguration of Peter MacLeish (Ashley Zukerman) in front of an under-reconstruction Capitol and standing out in the open as an easy target for assassination. So guess what? That's exactly what was attempted!
Catalan found a sniping spot and took a shot at Kirkman shortly after MacLeish was sworn in, but not before Hannah took a shot at bad guy Catalan. Immediately after Catalan pulled the trigger, the screen went black and now we're left wondering what happened until Designated Survivor returns in the spring.
Yes, that's a whopper of a cliffhanger, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Kirkman didn't take the bullet, at least fatally. Why? Well, Kiefer Sutherland for one. And he's the designated survivor, not designated guy who gets killed at the first opportunity. Mark my words, that bullet didn't take out Kirkman, and no, that's not a brag, that's just common sense.
2. Well then who did get hit?
Even the most unflinching pro snipers would find their aim accidentally adjusted after being shot at, so it's almost a guarantee that Hannah's shot at Catalan disrupted his aim. Assuming the bullet didn't hit Kirkman at all, Alex (Natascha McElhone) was the closest to him, meaning she would be in danger of accidentally taking lead. But given the distance of the attempted snipe, even the slightest move by Catalan would send the bullet off in a wide new swath. That means everyone is danger!
3. Dammit Watch 2016
To be honest, I didn't even notice if Kirkman cursed once because I was too involved with the plot! But I didn't hear a "Dammit!" so I'm adding another zero to the column and we've now stalled.
4. OK, Hannah's really close to the conspiracy now
Without a case of the week to bottleneck the overall story from moving forward, "The Oath" broke the dam on the conspiracy and flooded us with new details. Following the attempt on her life in the previous episode, Hannah hobbled all over D.C. and Virginia — with a hole in her guts from her car crash — to learn more about the secret consortium pulling the strings to put MacLeish in the Oval Office.
Her investigation — aided by the ever important Chuck (Jake Epstein), of course — led her to the person who was giving her the big tips: one Charles Langdon, former White House Chief of Staff to President Exploded! But wasn't he supposed to be dead, along with everyone else in the Capitol when it blew up? YES!!! Now Langdon is living like a loony out in the wilderness and spouting conspiracy theorist gobbledygook like, "It's bigger than you think, don't trust anyone!" Following Hannah's run-in with a conspiracy henchman, Langdon disappeared into the woods while an elderly witness called in Hannah as a rogue on a shooting spree.
5. Lisa gets the job done
Lisa Jordan (Melanie Scrofano) pushed Kirkman's people on the Nassar murder and landed the exclusive on breaking the "Jason Atwood did it" story. I still don't know if this is really relevant or Lisa will become a major player in the series, but congrats Lisa!
6. Aaron and Emily express their love by slurping face
The will-they, won't-they, how-long-until-they relationship between Emily (Italia Ricci) and Aaron (Adan Canto) is definitely in yes-they-will territory after the two made out in the White House following the minutes of sexual tension between them throughout the season so far. The seeds for their tryst were planted long ago and heated up in recent episodes, so it was only a matter of time before Emily granted Aaron security clearance to her top-secret documents. I hope these two have a long, happy loving life together!
7. Aaaaaand Aaron and Emily are already doomed!
Okay, maybe these two — Aarily, Emiron — are actually screwed. You know how I've been saying there's something fishy about Aaron all season long? And not just because of his hair. (But totally his hair, a slicked-back 'do on a White House staffer? That's a double red flag!) Well, Aaron's name was on a list of people who had access to the file for the "How to Blow Up the Capitol" blueprint and therefore a list of possible traitors, and Kirkman asked Emily to investigate since he could trust her. That's not the kind of post-kiss news you want, and Emily was so nervous about the situation that she canceled a date with Aaron to go see an Elvis impersonator. That's how you know things are beyond couples therapy.
Well, what she dug up was huge. The person who leaked the file? Aaron, of course! I guess we all saw that coming given Aaron's multiple shady dealings throughout the first episodes.
8. So, what's next?
This whole first half of the season was just set up for the conspiracy's failure at planting MacLeish in the White House, it would seem. And while it was at it, letting Kirkman know full well that his death — which means MacLeish's promotion — is all part of the conspiracy's plan. Hopefully this changes Kirkman from passive observer — how many times did characters retell Kirkman things we already knew? — into badass conspiracy-hunting ass kicker when the show returns.
What may be more interesting is seeing how Aaron's role shakes out. Is he just a pawn in the conspiracy's game, or is he one of the organizers of it? And does Emily's knowledge of Aaron put her life in danger? And will they ever go see an Elvis impersonator? Did they ever get that dinner? Will he still get her coffee? These are the must-ask questions.
The bullseye on Kirkman should also temper any of that family drama we were expecting — sorry, Leo — until the conspiracy dies down, because who is going to care that the teenage son didn't help his younger sister with her homework when people are actively trying to kill the president?
All in all, these first 10 episodes of the series felt like a prologue. The series is also on its third showrunner already, which is a sign that the series could be retooling itself. There are lots of directions Designated Survivor can take, but if any of them stray from the conspiracy, they'll be wasted space. Don't downplay this, Designated Survivor.
Designated Survivor returns this spring on ABC.