When I spoke to Designated Survivor creator David Guggenheim and showrunner Jeff Melvoin about the second half of the first season, one thing they stressed is that the show would begin to move toward the show's basic core: what it's like to be President of the United States when you have zero experience. That's obviously a move away from the conspiracy that's provided the show's most interesting developments, and left me wondering, "Are you sure you want to do that, guys?"
Don't get me wrong; they're the television professionals and I'm just some schlub writing things on the internet. But when you have one storyline that's about finding a shadowy organization that's responsible for blowing up almost all of the nation's government and another storyline that's about pushing a bill through Congress... well, on paper, the conspiracy sounds a wee bit more fun.
"One Hundred Days" was the first episode of this second half to really push the angle of Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) governing as the core concept of the show, so obviously I was bored to death, right? Wrong-o. The episode proved that Designated Survivor can exist beyond its conspiracy theories and FBI shootouts, focusing on what a terrible job POTUS is and how one idealistic man can suck it up and be the hero we need. That's exactly what the series needed to show potential longevity, and so far so good. I'm not positive that it can survive without the conspiracy aspect, but if both sides of the show get working, we could be looking at a solid series for seasons to come.
Now that that's out of the way, let's recap what happened in "One Hundred Days."
1. The President calls for a do-over
I can't stress this enough — being president is the worst. Sure, you get to meet the New England Patriots every year and your airplane doesn't charge you to check your bags, but the day-to-day is awful. The most worrying part? Polls. Unscientific numbers that rate your job based on a small sample size of people saying whether they like you or not. And nothing gets judged like the first 100 days of a presidency.
Kirkman asked America for a 100 days do-over since most of his early days have dealt with identifying body parts in the rubble of the terrorist attack, nearly getting assassinated, seeing his traitorous vice president get murdered and dealing with that one time Leo didn't watch his sister (OMG the worst!). It's a fair request, I'd say. America agreed, and Kirkman set about establishing his platform and immediate needs on several topics — but purposefully stayed clear of "hot-button issues" in order to keep his favorable rating intact. That's politics for ya!
2. A Prez among the people
To better help establish the plan for his first 100 days, Kirkman held a town hall to talk to regular Joe the Plumbers about issues. It's a solid idea — credit goes to Emily (Italia Ricci) — since Kirkman didn't go through the campaign process and was a president by attrition rather than a president of the people. Because Kirkman would be judged in the town hall, he was coached by Seth (Kal Penn) and Emily on how to talk to regulars. Kirkman started off too "professorial" instead of regular dude, which his advisers corrected by telling him to be more personal. It worked, as Tom killed it at the town hall and even hugged a lady!
This is what I mean by making the governing side of things interesting. We don't often get to see the work that goes into making a president truly great. You think Abraham Lincoln walked out on a podium and said "Four score..." off the top of his head? Nah, he was coached, and this behind-the-scenes process is fascinating to watch, especially when we compare it to our current seat-of-their-pants administration. I don't think anyone expects Designated Survivor to be The West Wing, but it certainly can aim to idolize it.
3. Tom KirkMAN vs. Tom KirkPRESIDENT
Another aspect of the town hall that was effective happened when Kirkman was pressed on his stance on gun control. A little background for context: The administration decided it was in the country's best interest to put divisive issues on the backburner while the U.S. heals. They wanted the country galvanized, not screaming at each other. Unfortunately, Alex (Natascha McElhone), speaking at a women's conference, laid out her very liberal feelings on gun control leading many to believe that she was speaking for Kirkman.
At the town hall, Kirkman was forced to answer the question about gun control and he was instantly conflicted. He knew that coming out too strong against gun control would anger half the country, while supporting it would anger the other half. Instead, he managed an entirely reasonable answer that came from his heart and was positively received. Seeing Kirkman find a personal compromise will be a key to the show going forward. How often can he be truly independent when he has his own opinions? How will Tom Kirkman the man conflict with the Tom Kirkman the president?
4. Montanans, you got smeared
Designated Survivor may be one of the biggest new hits of the season in the country, but it may lose viewership in Montana after this episode. When Montana's senator, Jack Bowman, spoke out against Alex's comments on gun control as undermining Kirkman, Kirkman asked about the senator's stance on gun control. Emily's answer? "Well, he's from Montana." Yikes, Emily! That's like saying all Californians eat guacamole for breakfast. (OK, they do. But still, generalize much?)
Bowman would later meet with Kirkman and agree to compromise on gun control. Sort of. He told the press he would reintroduce a really shoddy bill that strengthened gun control, which he did not entirely agree with. Seth and Emily sniffed it out as a ploy to make Kirkman look bad. If Kirkman opposed the bill, he would look like a hypocrite who only said those things at the town hall for political favor; if he supported the bill, he'd be criticized for its lazy writing and terrible loopholes. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Bowman may be more of a challenge than we thought.
5. Aaron let his hair down, then put it back up
I don't want to alarm any of you who didn't watch the episode and are just reading this to catch up, but OMG Aaron (Adan Canto) didn't have his hair all gooped back! Free from the office dress code, Aaron was in workout gear and sporting wavy bangs that hung over his forehead. I'm not even sure it was the same guy. Just goes to show how much of a front you have to put on when you work in Washington politics, and that outside of it, you can be an actual human being with a real beating heart.
But come on, Aaron can't stay out of politics for long, and after a pep talk from his visiting cousin, he decided to get back into the game. But it's who he went to that was the shocker. A quick chat with Kimble Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen) eventually led to a job offer, which Aaron accepted. WHAT!? Aaron went from Kirkman to Hookstraten? Democrat to Republican? Working for Kirkman to working with someone who may want to see Kirkman fail? That's a HUGE shift for the show, and though the reasons for taking Hookstraten's job may be wonky — is his political stink that he feared would harm Kirkman not going to follow him to Hookstraten? — what it does for the dynamics of the show is fantastic. It used to be just Team Kirkman versus the "bad guys," but now we'll get a look at the other team with Aaron in there. That's going to lead to some good stories.
6. The conspirators messed with the wrong man
Before this episode, I merely disliked the conspirators. But after what they did in "One Hundred Days," I hope they each get stuck in a diving bell full of angry wasps. What did they do? They went after Chuck (Jake Epstein)! As Hannah (Maggie Q) got closer to Claudine's (Mariana Klaveno) real identity thanks to Chuck using some absurd TV-level enhancing of a photo of a wine glass to get fingerprints (yes, that actually happened), the terrorists rigged his house to explode from a fake gas leak. Hannah suspected something was amiss after Chuck said a guy from D.C. United told him they were checking gas lines and to ignore the smell, because D.C. United doesn't check gas lines. Also, isn't D.C. United a soccer team?
Anyway, they got out of there just in time, but Chuck is going to be on the phone with State Farm for a long time. However, I'm glossing over the most important part of the episode! Hannah was staying over at Chuck's! And Chuck was going to buy her a new futon! And then Hannah said she was staying there because she wanted to be somewhere no one would think to find her, and Chuck was absolutely crestfallen at the accidental slight to his manhood. Chuck is in love with Hannah (can you blame him?), and it's my favorite ongoing storyline in the show. Poor Chuck.
7. Hannah gets so close to the conspirators she can shoot 'em
Hannah didn't have her best episode this week, doing a few silly things that could have gotten her killed. First, she decided to go after Claudine and asked Jason (Malik Yoba) to back her up. I repeat: Jason. The man whose son was killed by Claudine, basically. Yeah, that's a real smart move. He's not going to go crazy or anything. But he did go guano on a guy who blew a stop sign, which finally gave Hannah a little perspective on what a horrible idea this was. (Though to be fair, people who run stop signs should be sent to the electric chair.)
Then she went after Claudine in a deserted and dark alley all by herself. Hannah, come on, girl. Luckily it was a dead end for her, but later she found another lead and went to another building where she suspected Claudine might be. That building also happened to be the spitting image of a house that belongs to a witch who eats children who climb her fence to get balls that land in her yard. Gotta give it up to the conspirators, they sure know how to pick creepy headquarters.
Hannah is braver than me, so she went in with Jason, who had been following her. Again, bad idea, but they did it anyway. Hannah found Claudine inside, a great girlfight ensued, and Jason saved Hannah's life by putting a gun to Claudine's head. Fortunately, he kept his cool and didn't shoot her... until she went for a gun in her boot. Hannah and Jason filled her so full of lead you could sharpen her and use her as a pencil. Another conspirator lead killed off, and we're back to square one. Let's try and keep 'em alive next time, guys.
8. Independence Day but for real
Snooping around the bad guys' HQ, Hannah looked at some computer files and saw some bad news. More schematics on how to blow up things, just like the one we saw of the Capitol Building. This time? The Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam and Statue of Liberty! These terrorists hate landmarks! And why does the government have files of how to perfectly blow landmarks up, anyway?
What did you think of the episode?
Designated Survivor airs Wednesday nights at 10/9c on ABC.