There was an expected cloud of gloom hanging over the return of Designated Survivor as it time jumped 10 weeks into the future and followed President Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) coping with the loss of his wife Alex (Natasha McElhone). The big question was how Alex's death would affect him, and the answer was clearly very much.
Kirkman was at odds with his advisers over a crisis in Cuba which put the lives of Hannah (Maggie Q) and Aaron (Adan Canto) in danger. While others wanted military intervention, Tom was dead-set on making sure no lives were lost and wanted to use diplomacy despite the odds of it being effective. His reluctance to fight was a ripple effect of the loss he felt from Alex's death. Eventually, Tom was able to channel some of his old self and made the decision to send in troops and save the day, but his hesitancy brought up questions about his ability to act as president during this period of mourning.
The episode's title is "Grief," and we saw Tom go through some of those familiar stages related to grief, such as denial and anger. Is depression around the corner for the President?
Keith Eisner: I wouldn't say depression per se, but I would say the wrestling with how to connect with other people and how to make important decisions that are informed by the loss is something you'll absolutely see. And you'll also see consequences to the decisions he's actually made in the wake of his wife's death. And perhaps some of those decisions come into question by certain people he's worked with. What's interesting is the reality of making decisions in the wake of a terrible loss, and the perception of whether or not you're making those decisions in a way that is colored by that loss. That will be front and center in the back half of the season.
We saw him ultimately make a decision with the Cuban crisis that seemed more in line with the old Tom Kirkman. It seemed like he snapped out of his funk for a little bit. Is there going to be a lot of back and forth or is he back?
Eisner: I think what we're suggesting is that the recovery is a journey that can't be accomplished in a single episode. The recovery is manifested by his interactions with people in the White House and D.C. and his family, and it's not a straight line. You'll be very interested to see his behavior over the course of the next 10 or 11 episodes, and to question to what extent that behavior is informed by the loss of his wife. The answer will be it is affected, but how affected he actually is will be open for debate.
His last meeting with Evan Beeman, the man accused of killing his wife, was really intense. There was even a music cue that suggested something evil going on as he promised to make sure Beeman stayed in jail for the rest of his life. Is there a danger to Tom going too far down this road of anger if the pendulum swings too far the other way?
Eisner: Listen, I think for sure there will be consequences to the decision to confront his wife's killer. That decision is an unusual decision and a decision some would see as unpresidential. So in terms of fallout from his wife's death, I think you have your answer in the final scene. There will be some consequences to his having done this, how the consequences play out we're going to leave as vague as possible as a teaser, but for sure, there will be consequences.
Allow me to put my conspiracy hat on here, but there's still the question of whether or not Alex's death was actually an accident or not. Tom obviously has been told one story — that Beeman was texting and crashed into Alex's car, killing her — and he believes it's an accident. Can we definitely rule out anything other than accident?
Eisner: I'm going to say no comment to that. But the no comment shouldn't be taken to suggest one thing or another. It plays very much as an accident, but I'm not suggesting it wasn't an accident. I would like people to watch to figure out if that's all there is to it.
Timothy Busfield was great as Tom's therapist helping him through his loss. How much more will we see of him?
Eisner: You'll see a bit more of him. We're not turning this into The Sopranos where Tony is with Dr. Melfi every episode, this isn't that kind of a show. But I think there are consequences to the president being in therapy. And how those consequences are dramatized is something that I think you'll find very interesting.
I have to ask about Emily's (Italia Ricci) love life. She and Seth broke up this episode, and she was previously entangled with Aaron. What do you want to do with her love life?
Eisner: We love Emily (Italia Ricci) and Seth (Kal Penn), but I think the idea of having to date someone in the White House is a very complicated situation. So I think what we're trying to do is honor the difficulty of dating someone you work with, and the difficulty is that there is some back and forth in terms of one step forward and two steps back, that seems organic to dating someone you work with. We like them together but we're going to be having some fun with how they're dating and where it goes or doesn't go. I think there's a little more to see in that relationship.
I think I have a new favorite character in Tricia! A lot of Lyor's associates come in for an episode and then leave, but Tricia seems like she's sticking around. What kind of role will she have moving forward?
Eisner: So we love Tricia, and we're certainly going to be finding ways to use her. You'll see her as part of the show. We have such a large cast to service, it's difficult to promise too much screen time for new characters we introduce in the middle of the season. But we have no intention of not finding ways to use her, and you will see some stories where she figures more prominently.
I thought it was going to be a while until we saw Damian again, but BAM he pops up in Hannah's apartment at the end of the episode. Before he was floating down the river, the last time we saw him he was telling Hannah he could explain everything. What's next for them?
Eisner: They're thrust together necessarily to investigate something that they both have information about and need to be bonded in order to solve. There's a lot of inherent conflict there because Damian obviously betrayed Hannah in certain respects, and Hannah isn't quick to forget it. But there's an obvious chemistry there and a romance, so it's going to be very interesting to track the ongoing relationship between the two of them, and whether they can get back to where they were before his reveal as a double agent. That's a big part of the show going forward, the two of them investigating something together.
Chuck isn't going to be too happy about that.
Eisner: Listen, I don't think it's to anyone's surprise that Chuck (Jake Epstein) isn't a huge fan of Damian. I don't think he's going to become one. But there's going to be resolve to the Damian-Hannah story, and what happens will be unexpected. I think people will want to tune in for that.
Designated Survivor airs Wednesday nights at 10/9c on ABC.