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Designated Survivor: Tom's Not Interested in America's Blame Game

With no suspects, the country is divided after the attack.

Tim Surette

And you thought Tom Kirkman's (Kiefer Sutherland) first night on the job was a tough one? His first full day as El Presidente was even worse.

Designated Survivor's second episode had some heavy laboring to do as it spun several stories -- maybe too many -- to get them all going, all while taking the time to honor those fallen in the deadly attack on the nation's capital. Like Tom's day, it was awfully busy in its attempt to balance Tom's challenges as president and accurately capture the mood of a country that just saw its government evaporate on television and under attack.

Designated Survivor boss explains why the show's president is what america needs

But I don't really see how the show could have depicted things differently, and while some of the scenes of vigils and sooty firefighters rummaging through rubble could be seen as hokey, it was necessary to correctly gauge the temperature of a country in mourning. This was the episode that had to get some of this stuff out of the way, so though I didn't like "The First Day" as much as the pilot, I get that from a storytelling standpoint this episode had to do what it did and I'm ready for Episode 3.

Let's run down the big takeaways from "The First Day" and discuss where things can go from here.

1. People still don't think Tom can do the job, except for Tom... sometimes

Kiefer Sutherland, Designated Survivor

Kiefer Sutherland, Designated Survivor

Yep, this is going to be a weekly item for the show, I presume. Tom's speech was not well received by the media, which dismissed it and Tom because Americans were still shaken by the terrorist attack. Well, no duh! You think a president can say a few words and make a national tragedy just disappear? I felt worse about things when George W. Bush spoke after 9/11, not better.

The more interesting angle to this idea are Tom's doubts about himself. We see a man who is utterly confident in his new position at times, like when he confronted General Cochrane (Kevin R. McNally) about naming a suspect in the bombing before they had enough evidence. But when Tom was alone with his wife (and a handful of secret-service agents) he expressed doubt about being able to do the job well. It brings to light what the job of president really is about, which is instilling confidence in the American people while advisers do most of the work with policies. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration. The POTUS is the most important man in the free world, but he is also at times more important for being a figurehead for people to syphon patriotism from than he is the guy who makes the final decision. That might be the hardest part of the job for Tom to get used to.

2. President Tom Kirkman says, "Dammit!"

HECK. YEAH. We've been waiting for a little Jack Bauer to bleed through into Tom, and in a shouting match with General Cochrane, Tom explains that he doesn't want to put blame on and bomb to smithereens a suspected Al-Qaeda boss for the attack without knowing it was definitely him. The FBI is "75-percent sure" that he's the guy, but it's that lingering doubt that gives Tom pause. "Come back to me with more than 75 percent and I'll launch the missiles myself," Tom says. "How much more?" asks the General. Tom's reply: "25, Dammit!" This made me extremely happy.

3. Michigan puts the "jerks" in knee-jerk reactions

Not even 24 hours after the Capital Building was destroyed and more than 800 people were killed, including the president, vice president, and Congress, a rogue governor from Michigan orders his police force to enforce a mandatory curfew for Muslims in the city of Dearborn. Argh! When Tom tells Governor Royce to chill out, Royce basically invokes the "you're not my president" defense and continues to order hostile action against a whole group of people just because of their religious affiliation.

Later, a Muslim teen is beaten to death by police, forcing Tom to step up his game and really tear into Royce with threats and a white lie about undercover operatives who were mistakenly rounded up and detained by Royce's cops. Royce pulls back, and it's Tom's first lie as president. Congrats, you're a real politician now!

4. Seth feels the stings of WWDS (walking while dark-skinned)

Kal Penn, Designated Survivor

Kal Penn, Designated Survivor

Seth Wright (Kal Penn), Tom's speechwriter, was harassed by cops for having a backpack and not needing sunscreen, basically. The post-attack atmosphere of the country boiled over in Michigan, but by showing Seth feeling it in D.C., the problem of intolerance and conclusion-jumping as a reaction to tragedy is more palpable. But it wasn't all terrible; at the end of the episode, Seth attends a candlelit vigil where he is approached sympathetically by some white people, including a cop! See, things don't have to be all bad. While Designated Survivor showed us the ugly side of human behavior, it left us on a promising note of what we can be: united, unbiased and compassionate. Humans, basically.

5. A new character with a fantastic name arrives to comfort Tom... and I'm sure tear him apart later

The big addition to the series in this episode is Virginia Madsen's Congresswoman Kimble Hookstraten, the Republican Party's version of the designated survivor. Kimble Hookstraten! That's like a name made up by a random name generator for Dungeons & Dragons. Hookstraten is all compassion and understanding toward Tom, but as someone more qualified and driven and Tom, it's only a matter of time before we discover she's conspiring against him, right? And even though Emily (Italia Ricci) says that Hookstraten knows everyone in politics, we see her Googling Tom Kirkman toward the end. What was that about? I don't trust her one bit, and neither should Tom.

6. FBI agent Hannah Wells is right, obviously

Maggie Q, Malik Yoba; Designated Survivor

Maggie Q, Malik Yoba; Designated Survivor

One thing Designated Survivor hasn't really been able to pull off yet is the mystery behind the bombing, which it better get cracking on because it could be the most interesting part of the show. Look, we all know that Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) is on to something with her theory that a major terrorist organization isn't responsible for the attack. But in this second episode, we just rehash what we covered in the pilot: Hannah is clearly right, but people won't listen to her and would rather peg the attack on people who dress differently than we do. The only addition to her story here is that her boss Jason (Malik Yoba), the Deputy Director of the FBI, may be a company man who doesn't want to ruffle feathers by telling her theory to big wigs like Tom, even though he believes her. Still, he needs proof from Hannah. Commence the independent late-night investigation with Hannah!

7. Leo kind of sucks (surprise)

Tom's teenage son and drug dealer Leo (Tanner Buchanan) is given one simple job: to make sure his younger sister Penny (Mckenna Grace) doesn't watch TV and see all the horrible stuff that is happening and the problems her dad has to deal with. Well, guess what? Leo gets a phone call and takes off, leaving Penny to watch as her dad's visit to the attack site goes terribly wrong, with secret-service men hustling him away while a presumed attacker lurches forward and citizens get all over Tom's case about the beatings in Michigan before Tom even knows they happened. And how did Leo respond? Like a petulant, annoying teenager, of course. If he needs a prom date, he should give Homeland's Dana Brody a call.

8. The show has designated that someone is a survivor!

In the final seconds of the episode, Hannah is thumbing through the "missing" pile of photos of people presumed dead in the attack and comes across a pic of her main squeeze. Then there's a shout from the responders looking through the rubble that there's a survivor! Could it be Hannah's boyfriend? That's the implication, but what if it's someone who is above Tom in the line of succession and the next few episodes involve the person fighting for life -- and the chance to become president -- while Tom continues to serve not knowing if he'll remain in office? There are lots of ways to go from here, and hopefully whoever is still kicking under those rocks can shed a little light into what happened.

Designated Survivor airs Wednesday nights at 10/9c on ABC.