I'm sure you've fantasized about it too: If you could somehow be president for three hours, how badly could you screw the country up? Probably not as much as Peter MacLeish (Ashley Zukerman) did in the spring premiere of Designated Survivor, which returned to Wednesday nights after months off. So hats off to that guy!
After several episodes of inching painstakingly closer to the conspiracy at the show's heart and watching Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) get used to being called "Mr. President," Designated Survivor has launched into a new chapter with its midseason finale and tonight's return.
It sure helps that "Warriors" was 100-percent conspiracy based and a satisfying conclusion to the midseason cliffhanger, and the final seconds changed the series forever and for the better. Sure, we'll probably go back to the standalone stories of political conundrums as soon as next week, but watching "Warriors" power through with so much forward momentum showed us how entertaining the show can be.
Let's recap what we saw in "Warriors," shall we?
1. Alright. Who got shot?
When we last left Designated Survivor, a sniper's bullet had a one-way ticket for Kirkmantown until superagent Hannah (Maggie Q) intervened and thwarted the shooter's aim. So where did the bullet land? Turns out Catalan is a VERY GOOD sniper, because that bullet still hit Kirkman! Shady mastermind pulling the strings on this super conspiracy, give that man a raise! But the bullet hit Kirkman in the left shoulder and went straight through, saving us from another Oliver Stone movie full of conspiracies. Kirkman even did that Hollywood thing where he initially didn't even realize he had been shot, which shows just how much of a badass he is.
Oh, Catalan got shot, too. A lot! More on that in a bit.
2. They don't make bullets like they used to
Even though the bullet went through, it left behind fragments that a nice doctor warned Kirkman could rupture arteries and cause him to blow up like a blood balloon. That's not healthy, so Kirkman was ordered to undergo surgery to remove the bullet remnants and the episode's score and worried looks on everyone's faces told us that it was very serious surgery and that he could die ay any moment. Look, just as we all knew that the sniper wouldn't kill Kirkman, we knew that Kirkman would survive the surgery. This isn't Game of Thrones, this is President Kiefer Sutherland. He's not dying.
But "Warriors" used the surgery brilliantly and mined the Constitution for some crafty storytelling, delivering one of the series' best twists. While Kirkman was in an anesthesia-induced dreamland, someone had to be acting president, and — under the 25th Amendment — that someone was
Mrs. vice president Peter MacLeish. You know, the guy who was just sworn in like five minutes ago.
3. President for an afternoon
We're on Episode 11 of this series, and we've now had THREE Presidents of the United States of America! That may seem silly, but this is exactly the kind of television I want. To be honest, I wanted MacLeish to slip on a banana peel and hit his head on a bust of MLK so that Kimble Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen), as Speaker of the House, would assume the presidency and become the fourth POTUS of the series and third in the episode. I want as many presidents as possible.
Still, MacLeish as prez made for some chilling scenes and conveniently helped mop up some loose threads both for the conspirators and the Designated Survivor writers room. Most notably, when Catalan was surrounded by feds and advisers told MacLeish they could go in and capture him alive to get intel (standard procedure), MacLeish said, "Nah, kill him." Obviously that covers his ass, but it also covers the show's ass as Catalan becomes a dead end. The conspiracy lives on!
Also, MacLeish decided to keep the stock markets open — again, despite his advisers telling him to do the opposite — and set the world up for a financial free fall from frightened investors who were scared that a dead president would mean stocks would go kaplooey. You can kill our elected representatives, but mess with out 401ks!?!? You terrorists have gone too far!
Kirkman didn't utter a Jack Bauer-esque "dammit," not even when he got shot. It may, sadly, be time to put Dammit Watch to rest. (But I will hold out hope.)
5. Hannah's no good day
Apparently fleeing the scene of a hit and run in the middle of D.C., killing a man in the Virginia woods, firing a gun at the scene of an attempted presidential assassination and holding onto the keycard of the building that the shooter used makes you looks a little suspicious. Hannah was cuffed and in custody but never spoke to the feds about what she knew, because she is tougher than you or me.
Kirkman sent Mike (LaMonica Garrett) to find out what she knew, but not wanting to let old noseypants behind the two-way mirror in the interrogation room hear her, Hannah devised a plan to give Mike a clue without anyone hearing. By kicking his ass! Well, sort of. She jumped on Mike's back to "attack" him, and whispered some clues to him so only he could hear. That Hannah is S-M-A-R-T.
A quick meeting with Chuck (Jake Epstein) later, and Mike had the info and proof he needed to let the president know.
6. Trouble in paradise for the White House's cutest couple
Emily (Italia Ricci) spent two-thirds of the episode avoiding eye contact with Aaron (Adan Canto) since she believed he was the White House traitor (remember, she found out that his office made the call to leak the top-secret document on how to blow up the Capitol). Eventually this irked Aaron — who was minutes away from holding a closed-door session with her in the midseason finale — and they had it out, with Emily saying that she couldn't tell him anything because it was between her and the president and Aaron correctly assuming whatever she was nervous about involved him.
Surprisingly, Aaron seemed genuinely unnerved about this, but not exposed about it. In other words, it's quite possible that Aaron wasn't responsible for the leak, and that his office was used to frame him. I'm just spitballing here. I'm going more back and forth on Aaron than kittens watching table tennis.
The writers are having a ton of fun with Aaron, screwing with our perceptions of him by dangling doubts in front of us. As a game, it's something I enjoy. However, I don't have a handle on Aaron at all and I wonder if that diminishes the character. On the other hand, figuring out Aaron's motivations is half the fun of watching, isn't it? This is a device that can't go on for too much longer, can it? As often as I said I didn't trust Aaron in the first half of Season 1, I'm starting to lean the other way and realize that my mistrust of him is just because he's a politician. Unless the series wants to write Canto out soon, I don't think Aaron can be in cahoots with the terrorists.
Spoiler alert: Kirkman didn't die in surgery! And upon waking up, he reassumed his role as leader of the free world. Also upon waking up, he found out that MacLeish crashed the markets, so it was up to him to put some juice into Wall Street and throw megacorporations and hedge funds a bone by letting everyone know he wasn't dead.
This was great: Kirkman actually went to his hospital room window and waved out of it, sending the assembled throng into a frenzy of applause and the markets skyrocketing up. It was like he was the Young Pope up there waving from the balcony of The Vatican! The symbolism wasn't lost, that's for sure.
8. The meeting we've been waiting for
When I interviewed series creator David Guggenheim and new showrunner Jeff Melvoin about the return of Designated Survivor, they teased Hannah and Kirkman finally meeting, and said that once they're together the show becomes much, much better. I asked them if that would happen in the second half of the season, and they said, "Yes." I didn't expect it to happen this soon.
In the final moments, Mike showed up at Kirkman's hospital room and Hannah strolled in, ready to tell Kirkman everything she knew! One of the toughest parts of the first half of Season 1 was knowing so much more about what was going on than the show's star, but Hannah arriving in Kirkman's room changes all of that and sends things into a new orbit.
The question is how will Designated Survivor handle this moving forward? Will Kirkman send Hannah on her own to investigate the conspiracy, since there's no one else to trust? Does he go full bore into the investigation himself, and risk letting the rats scurry away? I'd bet that it will be more of the former than the latter, which would allow the show to follow the formula it's been running on so far — Kirkman dealing with presidential issues while Hannah handles the spy stuff. And that's good! Both newbie president and conspiracy chaser can support solid storylines, but now Kirkman will be more involved with the latter. That's what the show always should have been, if you ask me. Things are looking good for Designated Survivor.
Designated Survivor airs Wednesday nights at 10/9c on ABC.