“West Wing: right or left?”
Those are the first words we hear from the newly sworn-in President Kirkman on the first morning of his tenure. The question at first glance seems simple — this dummy literally doesn’t know where the West Wing is!
But if you choose to read way too much into it (and I do), it also serves as the bigger, more searing philosophical question Kirkman must grapple with in tonight’s episode (and probably the rest of season): In which direction should an unelected, unprepared president guide the country after a devastating terrorist attack? Should he take an ask-questions-later strongman approach by raining bombs on the rest of the world, reviving “enhanced interrogation,” and curtailing the rights of American citizens on the basis of their race or creed? Or should he, well…not do that?
As we know from last week, Kirkman favors a measured approach to life — he used to be a professor, after all. But you know who else was once a professor only to find himself occupying the White House? No, not him — I’m talking about The West Wing’s Jed Bartlet. I mention this because the best moments of Designated Survivor’s second outing often resemble that show: Here is a good, decent, moral man forced to make unpopular but necessary decisions. Despite the advice of everyone around him, he challenges the country to live up to its ideals.
But Designated Survivor is a lot of shows at once, and “The First Day” manages to cram all of them into one episode, so let’s organize this recap by the major storylines — as well as the night’s last-minute twist.
Who’s in charge of stuff now?
There are a lot of job openings in Washington right now: Supreme Court justice(s), the entire presidential Cabinet, both houses of Congress, and so on. Kirkman doesn’t even have a chief of staff yet, so he asks the two most beautiful people near him — Aaron and Emily — to split the job between them. Aaron and Emily have either had sex before or will have sex soon (it’s hard to tell at the moment), so it only makes sense they should get locked together in rooms where they’ll have to argue about who should be secretary of state, which is how people flirt in D.C.
They don’t get very far in this regard. They disagree about pretty much every name that comes up for each post, including attorney general — which becomes relevant later.
But there’s a curveball thrown into all this: Kirkman wasn’t the only designated survivor! Someone named Congresswoman Kimble (played by Virginia Madsen) pops up out of nowhere and alleges she was the Republican Party’s designated survivor. What does that mean exactly? Is any decision made by Kirkman (including declarations of war) subject to a vote by this one member of Congress? Does she get to pass all sorts of legislation willy-nilly? It’s not entirely clear yet. So far, she just gives Kirkman a pep talk about how party affiliation doesn’t matter anymore: “We’re all Americans now.”
RELATED: Breaking down episode 2 of Designated Survivor
Kimball’s presence could lead to some interesting scenarios. She could somehow challenge Kirkman’s status as president. Maybe she’s lurking around to gather intel to use against Kirkman and weaken his role. Or maybe the two of them could team up to form a TV-fantasy bipartisan administration.
For now, the closest hint we get is at the episode’s end, when Kimball googles “Tom Kirkman” and gazes pensively at the results on her screen. She’s probably up to no good, right?
NEXT: General Angryman gives Kirkman someone to blame