This week's episode of Designated Survivor showed just how tiring and relentless a job in Washington D.C. is, so can we please give our politicians a little break? If Donny T. wants to play a few rounds of golf every other day, let him! Working for the government is exhausting work, both mentally and physically, and we really saw that with the amount of characters in "Backfire" who were sleeping on couches. I mean, people were just passing out where they sat down, basically.
"Backfire" was a particularly grueling episode for the characters because it dealt with the aftermath of Vice President Peter MacLeish's (Ashley Zukerman) murder at the hands of his wife. Was he a traitor? Sure! But to the American people, he was the handsome war hero Veep, so the tone of the episode was somber. Even the people who knew he was a dirty rat were bummed, maybe because the loss of anyone in office is tragic, or maybe because now they had to go through the whole exhausting job process of find another vice president. Sheesh.
While not as thrilling as the previous two hours of Designated Survivor, "Backfire" was the final transition from the meat of the first of the season and first real page of the second half. And it also set up some great stories to come. Let's review what happened!
The episode opened with a telling shot that I loved. It was late at night, maybe early morning, and news had just broken about the double homicide in the cemetery. We saw Emily (Italia Ricci) passed out on her living room couch with the TV blasting. Then Seth (Kal Penn) snoring on his office couch with the radio blaring. And finally Aaron (Adan Canto), still in his work clothes, unconscious on top of the covers on his bed. It was like the morning after a Sigma Alpha Epsilon rager.
Later, President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) would ask Aaron when the last time was he got more than three hours of sleep, and Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba) was also seen sawing logs on his couch. PEOPLE WERE REALLY TIRED. And we saw them sleep. I hate shows that don't show people sleeping, and the compact timeline of Designated Survivor needed it.
2. The American people can't handle the truth
Kirkman decided that telling his citizens that the vice president was part of a vast conspiracy that tried to kill him and that they still don't know what the conspiracy is or who blew up the Capitol Building was a bad idea, so instead he decided to make up the lie that Peter and Beth MacLeish were having marriage problems that ended in her killing them both. Could you imagine that? The President of the United States lying? Wow, I hope we never get to that in real life!
When I become president, I can absolutely tell you one thing that I will never do: make a promise to my kid. I'm too busy trying to run the free world to worry about my kid! Can't the Secretary of Energy watch my daughter for a while? But Kirkman isn't me, so he made the mistake of promising little Penny that he'd help her draw a horse, because she couldn't. That would come back to bite him in the ass, obviously, because when the vice president was just murdered by his wife and you've just gotten released from the hospital after someone tried to kill you, drawing a horse is about the 200 billionth thing on your list of priorities. Leo, step up and take care of your sister and let dad wipe terrorists off the face of the Earth.
This would become part of the show's new direction with the family storyline -- which is send them away, basically, just as showrunner Jeff Melvoin and creator David Guggenheim told me a few weeks ago. Alex (Natascha McElhone) was the biggest proponent of this, as she noticed her kids' lives were being ruined by heightened security and the snipers and mobile surface-to-air-missile pods set up outside their bedroom windows. (Random thought: The rich ladies of Big Little Lies can keep their Monterey oceanside views, give me a view of grade-A military equipment!)
4. Dammit Watch 2017
Sadly, no President Curse-man this week, but he did sigh an awful lot.
5. Jason is about to open a can
When we first see Jason, it's at Luke's funeral and he's rightfully sad. The next time we see Jason, he's a sobbing mess on his couch, blaming himself for his son's death with the thinking that he folded in following his job's duties and it got Luke killed. That's not exactly logical since they obviously would have killed him anyway, but what it does do is something great for the show: it makes Jason so P.O.'d that he's going to kick some butt soon. The only problem is that he's in the early stages of grieving that involve wiping snot off your face with your silk tie and not the later stages which involve getting strapped with a gun and hunting down the people who killed his kid. That's coming soon, though, but he'll have to make it happen as a private citizen since the bureau fired him and took his badge and gun. Hannah's (Maggie Q) will be with him, telling him, "Let's make them pay!" but Jason isn't quite ready yet.
The awesome new character that the EPs have been teasing made his debut in the episode. Abe Leonard (a very well-cast Rob Morrow) is a newshound from the old days. He's a hard drinkin', notepad writin', top button unbuttonin' bulldog eager to chase a story, and he's got his suspicions about MacLeish and his connections to Catalan. He's also hounding Seth for answers, leading the Press Secretary to roll in the mud and discredit him. The two have some good jawing at each other, and it's clear this is just the first round of a heavyweight match between the two.
7. Aaron, take a "vacation"
After Leonard got leaked inside information about MacLeish's kill order on Catalan, Aaron admitted to the president that he was accidentally the leak when he told Kimble Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen) the info in last week's episode. Kirkman, slightly concerned about the rumors surrounding Aaron, told him to take a week off. This came after Aaron's security clearance was lowered, meaning Aaron was not happy about things. But what else could he do? He begrudgingly agreed. In his stead, Emily will take over as acting Chief of Staff.
8. Kirkman family, take a vacation
Kirkman finally realizes that Alex might be on to something by getting the kids out of there, so he agrees to try out her plan -- send her and the kids to Camp David -- for a month. Could you imagine a First Lady and president's child not living at the White House!?!? That would be insane! And it would cost the taxpayers millions of dollars in extra security. Alex, why do you want to raise my taxes and cut the Meals on Wheels program? I hope that never happens in real life.
But seriously, folks, moving the family out of the White House is a great move for the show. Neither kid ever got the time to properly develop -- as evidenced by Leo's transformation into a well-behaved child after hooking up with guys while selling MDMA in clubs in the pilot -- and the only real effectiveness of the Kirkman family drama was how it effected Tom. This way, Tom can still be effected by the absence of his family without having to bog down screentime with the actual family. Alex will probably be back, but for now, the kids can stay away. Until one of them gets kidnapped, because that's definitely going to happen one of these days.
We're starting to see some real conflict with how Kirkman handles what he knows, a byproduct of the great decision to let him in on the conspiracy through Hannah. And it culminates in the final minutes when Kirkman decides to address the country and tell them what he knows about MacLeish's kill order, since Leonard's question was out in the open and causing speculation.
"Without truth there can be no trust," he said. "As your president I assure you that I and my administration will be honest and open on all matters, regardless of how the truth reflects upon me." He then goes on to admit that MacLeish gave the kill order on Catalan, but also says he trusted MacLeish's decision.
But rewind for a bit, and go back to the part where Kirkman is telling everyone he will be honest and open on all matters. He is, in fact, totally lying when he says this, since he's not telling America how MacLeish really died, or his involvement in the conspiracy. Obviously, something like that would send the country into a panic. But at the same time, he's blatantly lying to the country and you can see it eat him up inside as soon as the cameras go off. This is how Designated Survivor should operate, trudging through the difficult decisions presidents have to make and how the affect them as a human being. You should be feeling really bad for Kirkman right now. This job sucks, even with the free bowling in the White House basement.
In the final scene of the episode, Aaron is returning to his apartment to start his staycation when a hooded figure whispers to him. It's Charles Langford, the previous administration's Chief of Staff! He asks Aaron to come with him... while the feds watch him on camera. What does Aaron know? Who is he really working for? Did he have a job as a lobbyist in Russia in 2006? I have a feeling we're going to learn a lot about Aaron in the next few episodes...