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Designated Survivor Boss Says Tragedy May Compromise Tom Kirkman

Plus: Details on Kim Raver's character and more from Season 2

Tim Surette

When Designated Survivor returns for the back half of its second season, President Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) may not seem much like himself. That's understandable since the last time we saw him, he was falling to his knees after learning that his wife Alex (Natascha McElhone) was killed in a car accident.

But Tom doesn't exactly have the job where his employers (i.e. the American people) can just let him take a few weeks off to process the tragedy and return to leading the free world once his head's on straight. Or can he? Designated Survivor is now entering new dramatic territory where there are no precedents, meaning just about anything can happen next.

And that's exactly where the show wants to be as it continues to look at the life of the president, the life of the man who is president, and the difficult area where those two conflict. With Season 2 returning Wednesday, we chatted with Designated Survivor showrunner Keith Eisner to talk about Tom's state of mind and what else to expect in the back half of Season 2.

Let's start with the obvious. How is Tom coping with Alex's death?
Keith Eisner: The answer to that is with difficulty. One of the things that we're going to see is the consequences of the fallout of losing your wife and being a widower in the White House, and the consequences of being in therapy, which I think [the midseason premiere] touches on a little bit. And [we'll look at] what that means for the president and his ability to govern and the way people view him going forward, as a widower. It's terra nova for us, because it hasn't happened where the president finds himself alone, at least in the last 100 years. We'll certainly be playing with that.

Without getting too specific, we have the United States at war in the back half [of Season 2]. What is it like to be a wartime president when you're alone in the White House? Does solitude affect your decision making process, not necessarily with war, but with everything? We have a lot of big episodes coming, but we filter them all through the prism of the new world order of the president, the new emotional order of the president.

Designated Survivor: Tom Kirkman Will Declare War This Season

After a devastating loss like this, it's hard to think straight and your perspective on things might shift. Will we see some of that with Tom?
Eisner: Absolutely. There are two issues, the first issue is you're in a position where you have to be the straightest thinker in the world. To what extent does the tragedy compromise your ability to be a straight thinker? The second is to what extent to other people think your ability to be a straight thinker has been compromised? There are two issues, the reality of it and the perception of that. We play both of those in the back half.

The episode is called "Grief." People don't get through grief alone. Who will be helping Tom through these tough times?
Eisner: We're going to introduce a therapist, and it's the excellent Tim Busfield, who also directed the episode. We're going to see him try and get Tom to wrestle with some of these issues. That episode picks up 10 weeks after the loss of the president's wife. So you see what some of the fallout for the president has been.

We're going to be introducing some characters in the back half as well. We're going to introduce Tom's brother, who will be played by Breckin Meyer, who will be someone he can lean on. And we're going to introduce [a character played by] Kim Raver, who will be a friend and someone who will be, I will call her an emotional intimate friend over the course of the back half of the season.

You know they had a thing on 24, right?
Eisner: I want to be clear, this is not 24. I don't want to get too specific on that relationship, but it really is a friendship, but a friendship with some interesting aspects to it.

Michael J. Fox is also joining the show! I understand his character is going to ruffle some feathers.
Eisner: I'm so excited. Michael J. Fox will definitely ruffle some feathers. He's got a five-episode arc toward the end of the season. He's going to play one of the more powerful and brilliant lawyers in D.C., and he's going to be in conflict with the White House over a few different issues. Seeing Michael J. Fox as this great, powerful lawyer in these scenes with the president and not necessarily being an ally is going to be very interesting for us.

Designated Survivor returns Feb. 28 at 10/9c on ABC.