If this is the show Designated Survivor is going to be, then sign me up! After an impressive spring premiere, The Accidental President followed that up with an eye-popper of an hour, culminating in a shocking chapter-closing decision that shut the door on one of the first half's biggest threads.
Creator David Guggenheim promised me that these first episodes of the second half of Season 1 were the best the show has done, and so far he's right. Designated Survivor has used the assassination attempt on Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) to really tighten the screws and put the pressure on the conspirators, sending them into action.
It's greatly changed the dynamic of the show for the better; Kirkman is clued in, the conspiracy -- once so massive, mysterious and omnipotent -- now looks human and the speed at which the show operates is faster than ever. Can Designated Survivor keep this pacing up? Probably not, but moving forward like this is better than the stretch-it-out-over-a-full-season alternative. I, for one, approve.
But it wasn't! Designated Survivor has somehow made a middle-aged man recovering from surgery exciting, actually, as Kirkman conducted presidential business while supine in his hospital room. Things started with the big conspiracy download/"Previously on Season 1 of Designated Survivor" speech from Hannah Wells (Maggie Q), letting Kirkman into the loop, a HUGE step for the series in getting Kirkman up to speed with what we knew. The other big detail: Keep all this on the DL, prez, even from your wife. (That'll come into play later.)
2. Dammit Watch 2017
Okay, Kirkman didn't say "Dammit"! But upon hearing that Peter MacLeish (Ashley Zukerman) was a little weasel involved in the conspiracy, Kirkman said, "Son of a bitch is gonna pay!" I love President Tom Curse-man! Keep the expletives coming, show.
3. MacLeish Hunt
Hannah went to her superior Forstell (Reed Diamond) to nail MacLeish on all his shadiness, but Forstell countered with -- to quote Spaceballs -- "Man, we ain't found s***" on account of not having evidence of him in the act. Knowing that she could hopefully link mysterious conspirator Ms. X to MacLeish if she could talk to Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba), who previously had contact with Ms. X, Hannah was granted an audience with Jason. That could clear up a few of Jason's lies and get him out of jail, right? Freedom for Jason!!!
4. Freedom for Jason comes at a price
Hannah met with Jason, who wasn't looking too good in prison. Orange isn't his color, but he had more than fashion on his mind and wasn't eager to help out Hannah since the bad guys still had his son Luke. So now Hannah's people had to go find Luke -- and they did, face down in a forest. *sad face* Jason cried and he almost made me cry, too. The very, very dim bright side: With his son dead, Jason didn't have to stick with his bogus confession and could get out of jail with a little help from Kirkman. And from the looks of it, he won't stop until he's personally ripped the heads off of everyone who was involved in his son's murder. Go get 'em, J!
5. President Choker wants to choke
Okay this isn't essential to the recap, but you should know that MacLeish stopped by Kirkman's hospital room/office to update him on things (among others, "I hope it was cool I gave the order to kill the shooter"). Kirkman put on a good face, but as soon as MacLeish left he confided to Mike (LaMonica Garrett) that he never wanted to strangle someone so badly. There's something funny and amazing about listening to the President of the United States talk about how badly he wanted to choke someone! However, I bet Donald Trump does that about four times before he's even eaten his Quaker Oats and fired off his daily on-the-potty tweet storm.
6. Emily is great at the piano... and holding a grudge
Turns out Emily (Italia Ricci) can tickle the ivories like a pro, as we saw her play on the White House piano. She says she does it to relieve stress, and trust me, girl is stressed. The fallout from learning about Aaron's (Adan Canto) phone call and that he may be a traitor hangs around her, especially after she licked his tonsils not that long ago. There was a brief but oh-so telling exchange between the two in which they agreed to move beyond this mess (Kirkman told Emily he doesn't think Aaron is a bad guy, despite the evidence of the phone call), but the looks they gave each other told us that things will never be the same between them. Have I done a 180 and am I now rooting for them to be together? I just want what I can't have, apparently. And if Aaron's face is any indication, he's the same way.
7. Sethily? Emeth?
Again, another not essential part of the recap, but a great scene that has to be mentioned. Stressed-out Emily went to see Seth (Kal Penn) to complain about how lame Washington is, basically, and the two shared thoughts over some Macallan 18. It was a sweet chat, with Seth helping Emily out by reminding her that Kirkman is the person they hoped and dreamed to work for in this position, and that he's above all the Washington muck. Okay, maybe I want these two to get together, can that happen? Seth is the best, and was cracking wise all episode long. He even pounded the rest of Emily's scotch after she left because he's not dumb.
8. WHAT THE *%&$!?!?!?
That ending! Hoo boy! MacLeish got wind that one of his old soldiers got spooked by a visit from Hannah, so they met in a cemetery which in hindsight was blatant symbolism that we all should have picked up on. The man was worried that their lies about what really happened back in war would come to the surface, and MacLeish had to calm him down. But here's where it got really interesting: MacLeish told his soldier that what happened to them was the government's fault, that the government lied and sent them into a "slaughterhouse." That changes the perspective about what really happened -- and may give us some reason to feel a tiny bit of compassion for MacLeish as he may just be a pawn in a greater conspiracy that he can't control (which has been looking that way more and more).
A nearby Hannah ran out to arrest MacLeish, and the soldier, ever loyal to his cap, rushed Hannah to let MacLeish run for it. Hannah smacked the soldier down and shot at MacLeish and he stopped. Hooray, we finally pegged that rat! Except MacLeish's wife Beth snuck up behind Hannah and shot... MacLeish!!! Beth, who clearly wore the pants, is insane. So insane that she turned the gun on herself immediately after shooting her husband! So there was Hannah, in a cemetery surrounded by two above-ground corpses (and one unconscious soldier) wondering what the heck just happened. And we were with her wondering the same thing.
The murders of the MacLeishes may have been literal overkill for the show, but like killing off Catalan, closes the door on potential storytelling problems by getting rid of more people who may be able to tell us about the conspiracy. As shocking as this was -- and honestly, I enjoyed it -- it does smack of helping out the writers more than the story in order to keep the mystery of the conspiracy going. Designated Survivor can't just kill people off when the good guys get too close to the truth, but Guggenheim promised that the conspiracy would be solved this season, so maybe this is the last of it.
The final image is brutal. As Kirkman is leaving his hospital room with Alex, the secret service approaches to presumably inform Kirkman about what happened to the MacLeishes, and Kirkman immediately turns around to go off in the other direction while Alex (Natascha McElhone) looks on as hospital doors close between them. The message is clear: Kirkman's job is about to tear them apart. It's sad, but it also fulfills the show's promise of how the presidency takes its toll on families. And has anyone looked more sad to have doors close on them than Natascha McElhone?
Designated Survivor airs Wednesday nights at 10/9c on ABC.