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Designated Survivor: The Conspiracy Is Right Under Tom's Nose

Family drama is also headed Tom's way

Tim Surette

Designated Survivor turned in one of its better episodes of its young season with "The Mission," a tense hour that punctuated the cost of waging war. It was somehow able to play both sides of the argument delicately by letting it be known that no one really wants to go to war, but at times it's necessary to stop evils that threaten peace. (Ironic, right?)

There was also a major sense of "now we're getting somewhere" with the terror plot and Hannah's (Maggie Q) attempts to uncover the conspiracy behind it, and a really, really, mouth-watering juicy tidbit about the Kirkman family that's about to blow up in Tom's (Kiefer Sutherland) face. Good luck with that, Tom, add it to the list of things that suck about being president.

It's obvious we're out of the introductory phase and Designated Survivor can give us the show we all expected it to be: a series about a man making tough decisions while circumstances threaten to undermine him from every angle, and a conspiracy thriller that's convoluted even by ABC's lofty standards. Add in some family problems and tension in the workplace, and you're looking at a series that has plenty of room to move and swerve.

So what happened in "The Mission"?Let's take a look at what we learned in this episode.

Kiefer Sutherland, Designated Survivor

Kiefer Sutherland, Designated Survivor

ABC/Sven Frenzel

1. People don't really seem to mind that Tom is president now!

We'll always start with this topic until it gets old, since it's the foundation of the show. But unlike past episodes, there was almost zero talk about Tom undeservedly falling into the presidency because he was the only one in the line of succession who isn't in a Ziploc bag now. It came at a great time, too, since having incredibly stubborn and racist governors and power-thirsty congresspeople trying to undermine Tom was starting to get tired and, in a sense, holding the show back by keeping Tom and his interactions with others in a loop. "You shouldn't be president." "I know, but I'm president." "You shouldn't be president." Repeat. Not so in "The Mission." He was president, and he was doing presidential things without worrying about crying over the fact that we wasn't voted in. It felt refreshing and like the show made a huge leap past its first chapter, don't you think?

2. Tom struggles to make a tough decision, makes a tough decision, then struggles with the outcome of his tough decision

Yeah, being president SUCKS. Once you get tired of being able to get any food you want 24/7 or throwing out first pitches at baseball games, the real pressures of the job weigh on you hard. Tom made the decision to drop an air strike on Algeria, only to find out that supposed evildoer Majid Nassar had left the targeted building. Because his new hideout was a hospital full of kids, doctors and innocent people who didn't blow up the Capitol, the only option was to put boots on the ground and haul Majid out by hand in order to retain any intelligence he may have on Al-Sakar.

But lib-leaning Tom couldn't go full-on war without digressing over the potential costs, and we endured something like a dozen self-reflective speeches where he worried about the safety of the SEALs he was sending into enemy territory while everyone else essentially said, "This is what these guys do." One of those men was SEAL team leader Max Clarkson, who sacrificed his life in the operation to save children and allowed Majid to be taken alive. A true hero, but Tom was really bummed about losing him and felt responsible for his death. This whole storyline hit the big points really well, I thought. It was suspenseful (finally, some action!), it personalized the soldiers going in so we could empathize with Tom and it never took the gravity of the situation lightly as channeled by Tom's concern.

3. Tom said, "DAMMIT" again!

Waiting for Tom to channel Jack Bauer and belt out the 24 character's infamous exclamation is by far my favorite part of the show. Right now, we're on an every-other-episode track, so everyone get ready on odd-numbered episodes! The running count by my memory is three D-bombs so far. Tom also threw in a "Sonuvabitch!" for good measure.

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4. Well, THAT explains why Leo Kirkman is such a jerk

As we hinted at earlier this week, one of the Kirkmans has a big, big secret. Aaron did some digging, and learned that Alex (Natascha McElhone) had an old boyfriend who is now in jail, and according to him, he's the father of Leo, not Tom. OH SNAP. According to Alex, Tom knows all about it. Well at least the boyfriend and jail part. It's unclear if Tom knows Leo isn't his son, but it's definite that Leo doesn't know that Tom isn't his father. So you're telling me that Leo did all that drug dealing, clubbing and sexual experimentation without having real daddy issues? Yikes. There's one vote for nature over nurture. This juicy tidbit came out at the end of the episode to jumpstart what I'm sure will be a major multi-episode story arc, and it gives Designated Survivor's family storyline the jolt that it needs.

5. Hannah gets closer to the conspiracy... again

Hannah's FBI hunt for the real terrorists has been dragged out over these early episodes, but she made a huge discovery in "The Mission." In order to figure out the clues about the mysterious Room 105 -- who called her and told her about it, btw? -- Hannah tracked down the architect of the Capitol building renovations and discovered it was a hideaway office for secret activities. You know, like palm greasing and intern humping, I'm sure. Then she tracked down the contractors who worked on it and found out that they were all dead from suspicious accidents. By now, there should be a blinking neon sign screaming "CONSPIRACY."

Look, we all know there's one, Hannah seems to think there is and finally Jason (Malik Yoba) is in on it, too. But what does this mean for the rest of the show? Should we still be so invested in Majid Nassar if he wasn't actually involved? Or was he involved through a third and more responsible party that's heading this conspiracy? Designated Survivor will need to tie these two stories together somehow in a satisfactory way, and Majid not having any connection to the conspiracy is the wrong way. I'm really looking forward to seeing what they drag out of Majid through torture interrogation.

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6. MacLeish is a MacLiar

Hannah's work uncovered a shocking truth: MacLeish (Ashley Zukerman) was probably (he was) in Room 105 when the Capitol building bomb went off, and he survived because Room 105 was turned into a makeshift bomb shelter. "He's in on it," Hannah says of MacLeish.

Or should I say Nicholas Brody? Designated Survivor is taking a page out of Homeland's script with a former war hero weaseling his way into government as part of a conspiracy, it seems. And because Hannah was told by Jason to not tell anyone about what they learned (how far does this conspiracy go?) Tom is none the wiser. Tom wanted to offer MacLeish the position of Speaker of the House, which he refused, so Tom is thinking about offering MacLeish the position of Vice President. WHOA WHOA WHOA, Tom, put on the brakes. MacLeish is a baby by D.C. standards; certainly there's another option?

And wouldn't this fit right into the conspirators' plans? Maybe MacLeish was turned during war, was positioned to be the only one who survived the attack and then fast-tracked to be veep. You know what the next step would be then, right? Assassinate the president to make MacLeish POTUS. Bam. We figured the show out!

What did you think of "The Mission"?

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