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Designated Survivor: The Terrorists Elude America, and the Drama Eludes Us

Episode 3 spent more time on daddy issues and speeches than finding the bad guys

Tim Surette

After its third episode, it's abundantly clear that Designated Survivor has several stories to tell. But are they the stories we want to hear?

"The Confession" was, like the second episode, a bit slow considering that a few minutes into the pilot the Capitol building blew up with 99 percent of the government inside of it. Tom's (Kiefer Sutherland) sudden ascension to president has been a fascinating journey as he navigates the murky waters of an over-politicized Washington D.C. with his everyman morals, but there's been little headway made on the bombing that put him there.

It's Designated Survivor's prerogative to tell its story how it wants, but while a criminal runs free after committing one of the most heinous attacks on American soil, we were treated to eulogy jockeying and minor characters with daddy issues. Given that ABC is usually a network known to shove things down viewers' throats, there's a surprising amount of restraint on display here as Designated Survivor continues to explore baby president Tom Kirkman's character.

Let's run down the big takeaways from "The Confession" and think about where things can go from there.

Kiefer Sutherland, Natascha McElhone; Designated Survivor

Kiefer Sutherland, Natascha McElhone; Designated Survivor

ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg

1. When is a confession not a confession?

A hack on the White House network didn't steal anything, but instead put something in. A video file of one of Al-Sakar's chiefs, Majid Nassar, taking credit for the attack, to be exact. Normally this would be enough for a president to press the "Nuke the Middle East" button, but not old Tom. Tom still wants definitive proof that Al-Sakar is responsible for the attack, and apparently a video confession isn't enough. It was enough for Tom to order the military to find these guys, however, so he's not all peace signs and daisies.

But if that's not enough, what's it going to take to convince Tom who the enemy is? What proof does he want that Al-Sakar was behind the bombing? Obviously Al-Sakar isn't responsible, otherwise our star TV character Tom wouldn't be acting this way and Hannah (Maggie Q) wouldn't be getting shot down by her superiors. But without knowing that this was a TV show, it seemed pretty cut and dry to me.

2. The confession video turned out to be a confession for someone else

Despite not being deemed fit for the public's eyeballs, the confession video found its way to the media after Tom ordered it to stay within his inner circle until more evidence was found. Tom eventually pieced together that it was Aaron (Adan Canto) who leaked the video, and Aaron did it with the intent of taking some of the pressure off Tom after another leak to the media revealed that Tom had been fired -- or transferred, as Tom would say -- by the president.

Aaron's clearly a guy willing to bend the rules and make executive decisions based on what he thinks is right, even if they disobey orders, as long as it gets him ahead. In other words, he's a true politician. Tom realizes this, and despite being upset with Aaron about it, he offers Aaron the Chief of Staff job that Aaron so highly covets. Tom openly says to a P.O.'d Emily (Italia Ricci), who wanted the job for herself, that he needs someone who thinks differently from him in the position. But there's probably a little "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" logic to the decision, don't you think?

Designated Survivor: Tom's not interested in America's blame game

3. Kimble makes her move, still has a silly name

The goofy-named congresswoman Kimble Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen) found a way to use some intel against Tom for her own benefit. Tom was to speak at the president's memorial, until the news that Tom had been fired by the president made its way to Elizabeth Vargas, who was interviewing him for a "get to know your president" bit for ABC News (network synergy!). With that detail out in the open, the president's son Tyler forbade Tom from speaking at his dad's funeral, since he believed that someone his dad didn't want on his Cabinet shouldn't be speaking at his funeral.

Instead, Kimble got the opportunity to spout clichés in a favorable PR moment and improve her chances to move into the Oval Office. The public seemed to be okay with it, too, trending the hashtag #BOGUSPOTUS and questioning Tom's qualifications and right to be president. But what is Kimble's next move, impeach Tom? Or does she wait two and a half years to be run in an actual election, as she implied? If she's actually that patient and that's where the show is headed, it kind of kills the stakes, doesn't it? That would mean Tom has almost 900 days to win the public over. Not exactly the ticking clock that network dramas thrive on. Designated Survivor has already given her a ridiculous name, why not give her a little more drive?

4. Leo is still a putz

On the family side of things, which is by far the least interesting part of the show, Alex (Natascha McElhone) found a bag of ecstasy and a wad of 20s -- well, technically Penny found them -- in Leo's (Tanner Buchanan) desk drawer. She gave him a talking to, and then later sort of forgave him after he decided to not sleep over at a friend's house and have dinner with the family instead? I get the idea of not wanting to tell Tom about what she found since he has enough on his plate already, but the kid was SELLING DRUGS. Smack him upside the head or at least make him cut that hair as punishment (and relief for us all). If there aren't serious repercussions for Leo in the next episode, I'll jump through the television screen and ground him myself.

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

5. The survivor is a regular Houdini

The survivor from last week's cliffhanger wasn't Hannah's boyfriend, as we suspected, but Peter MacLeish (Ashley Zukerman), a congressman from Oregon and war hero. He claimed to not know what happened during the attack, but Hannah snooped around and her tech found something awfully shady: moments before the explosion, Peter disappeared from his seat inside the Capitol building. Did he run at light speed to the bathroom (those presidential talks can go very long)? Did aliens zap him into another plane of existence? Or is he part of the conspiracy?

It's awfully hard to tell what he's up to right now, but it's a tantalizing part of Designated Survivor that we need more of. Tom's personal stakes are interesting, but when put side-by-side with the stakes of the terrorist attack and the possibility of more, it's hard not to be as impatient as General Cochrane. Designated Survivor instead wants to press Tom's issues more, and I get it, that's where we'll get the most Kiefer. But we're juxtaposing two politicians jockeying for who gets to say a speech at a funeral with mystery terrorists, and sorry, but my attention moves toward the terrorists. The good news about all this is that Designated Survivor has this storyline in its back pocket to unleash, so things will definitely pick up.

6. Tom said "Dammit" again!

When Tom missed the scheduled family dinner because he was, you know, being the president, he muttered another "Dammit." That's two D-bombs from the man formerly known as Jack "Dammit!" Bauer. I really hope this continues.

7. Can we trust Aaron?

We all had out doubts about Aaron -- he just looks the part of untrustworthy, doesn't he? -- and we had our "AHA!" moment at the end of the episode when he met with a mystery lady at the end of a dock to exchange a manila folder with Tom's name on it. Nothing good ever comes from having your name on a manila folder. What were the contents of said folder? My guess is it's dirt on Tom, if there's any. Aaron asked, "Anything good?" The reply was, "Depends whose side you're on," and then she walked away. DANG!

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