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Designated Survivor: The Conspiracy Has a (Familiar) Face

Things are shaping up for a big finale

Tim Surette

If we're learning something about Designated Survivor, it's that it's juggling a lot of storylines at once. We're constantly checking in on fledgling president Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) and his growing pains in Washington, we're following the political rivals looking to unseat him or gain their own foothold in this muddy new government, Kirkman's staff gets their time in the spotlight every now and then, there's a vast conspiracy that provides the paranoid thrills and, time permitting, we get updates on how things are going with Penny and Leo.

That's a lot of show to try to squeeze into an hour every week, which means the finished product isn't always going to overlap with what you like about Designated Survivor. Take last week, for example, when a gun control bill was front and center and we watched politics in action as votes were swayed and cast while everything else was mostly shelved. Not my idea of a good time.

The pendulum swung the other way in "The Ninth Seat," with not only some grand reveals on the conspiracy side of things, but also another story splintering off the conspiracy branch in whiskey-soaked Abe Leonard's (Rob Morrow) quest to uncover the truth about what really happened and what Kirkman's administration was covering up.

It added up to an episode that was immensely more entertaining than last week's episode -- unless C-SPAN is your thing -- and set up solid ground for the show to end its first season on a high note. Like I said last week, the gun control bill matter may have been a tad boring, but it also set up the politics well. And this week, the conspiracy took shape thanks to government-hating weirdoes who confab in the boonies of North Dakota. We're really getting somewhere, folks!

Now let's recap what happened in "The Ninth Seat."

Maggie Q, Designated Survivor

Maggie Q, Designated Survivor

ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg

1. Ne-POTUS-m

That's supposed to be a play on nepotism, if it ain't clear. Kirkman has no shame in handing out jobs to people he knows well, and after the search for a ninth Supreme Court justice is stonewalled by bickering Republicans and Democrats, Kirkman throws out the name of his former boss Julia (Linda Purl), who has been helping him with things around the White House, including gathering up candidates for the Supreme Court. She's shocked and surprised, but must decline because she has early onset Alzheimer's. It's a humanizing for Kirkman as he's downtrodden by the news, but Julia picks his spirits up by suggesting an alternative to getting the Supreme Court up and running, which is one of Kirkman's big promises in rebuilding the government. Just go with eight judges! It works, and now Kirkman's America is chugging along... that is, until there's a tie in a Supreme Court case. We'll just worry about that later... like maybe when the gun control issue goes there. Oh great, now I'm thinking the Season 1 finale cliffhanger will be a Supreme Court tie.

2. Hookstraten wants her rewards

It's now becoming clear that Aaron (Adan Canto) and Emily (Italia Ricci) are meant for each other, because they already have something that long-term couples have mastered: terrible communication! When Aaron offered up Kimble Hookstraten's (Virginia Madsen) help to get the gun control bill passed last week, Emily figured that she was after the vice presidency for her efforts. But Emily only promised that Kirkman would hold her efforts in mind and get back to her. In "The Ninth Seat," Aaron was all, "Where's her vice presidency, girl?" and Emily was all, "'Xcuse me? I don't know what you're talking about." What will Kirkman give her instead, and how will Hookstraten react to what he offers?

3. The scene transition dialogue to make characters look busy is hilarious and amazing

There's a concerted effort to make the employees at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue look constantly busy, and it's most apparent when Designated Survivor cuts to a new scene. If someone is about to approach Emily in a scene, we have to see Emily busy doing other things, first. Here are a few choice lines of "I'm busy!" dialogue they're muttering to extras before they actually get to the point of the scene:

Emily: "Tell the Secretary of Commerce we need more diversity for the Young Entrepreneurs presser next month."
Seth: "Joy, get me actual numbers on the families who are impacted by the proposed state tax changes, I want something more than estimates."
Seth again: "Let's get a better answer for Gary on the tax policy question, something we can email him by the end of the day..."

Can't leave Gary hanging, Seth.

Designated Survivor: Adan Canto on Aaron's big decision

4. Abe is chasing the conspiracy now

Abe Leonard is a fantastic addition to the show, because the press is always a great third-party to add to any drama. They just seek the truth! And they'll do anything to get it! Abe went all the way to Iraq in the cold open, getting confirmation from terrorist leaders that Al-Sakar wasn't responsible for the Capitol bombing. He also learned that Hannah (Maggie Q) held up the confirmation of Peter MacLeish, and by the end of the episode was getting mysterious packages on his sweet car and phone calls from mysterious entities looking into the same things he's looking into. It's another conspiracy hunt, which is kind of redundant since we already went through this with Hannah, but is also fitting as it turns up the pressure on Hannah's investigation. If Leonard smells something he likes and writes a story about it, it could potentially derail everything the FBI has done so far and alert the conspirators to danger.

5. Dammit Watch 2017

Not only did Kirkman stand up and scream "I said take your seats now!" at assembled senators while trying to confirm the Supreme Court, but he snuck in a "son of a bitch" in reference to Senator Jack Bowman.

6. Don't ever go to North Dakota

Hannah and Jason (Malik Yoba) were still looking under rocks in North Dakota, and things got a little Twilight Zone there. They discovered that a nearby small town was flooded with out-of-state vacationers who camped out in a nearby field and did who knows what. Was it a cult? A Burning Man knock-off? A much lamer Lilith Fair? Nope, it was a separatist movement of wackos looking to dismantle the government! And to be honest, their manifesto didn't sound too crazy since it was talk of dismantling a corrupt government and getting power back to the people, it's just that their methods -- vaporizing government officials -- are a tad bit extreme.

Hannah and Jason would later spy on these weirdoes, and they timed it perfectly for a helicopter arrival. And who should step out of the chopper? Nestor Alonzo! You know, the guy who tried to kill Kirkman and was supposedly shot to smithereens when MacLeish ordered his death! Now he's walking around and a big wig in North Dakota? Someone has successfully covered up the cover up! Just how far does this conspiracy go, and what does Designated Survivor have against the great states of the midwest plains? They're all painted as gun-toting lunatics!

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