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'Designated Survivor' recap: 'The Enemy'

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ABC/Sven Frenzel

Designated Survivor

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
seasons:
1
run date:
09/21/16
performer:
Kiefer Sutherland, Natascha McElhone, Adan Canto, Italia Ricci, Kal Penn, Maggie Q
broadcaster:
ABC
genre:
Drama

Michigan! Algeria! Michigan again! This week’s Designated Survivor takes us all over the map and crams in an intense amount of plot into one 40-minute episode. It looks like this will be the show’s general strategy going forward, so let’s once again break it down by story line—starting with my favorite one.

The West Wing Stuff

The press is getting antsy. It’s been seven days since the Middle Eastern terrorist group (supposedly) took credit for the attack on Washington. Why hasn’t the U.S. bombed anything yet? The journalists want to know.

This prompts the Kirkman Administration to do what they should have done on Day One: assign someone to be press secretary.

They choose some generic white guy named Carter — I guess because he just happened to be in the room at the time. Bad idea, though: Carter is pretty bad at press secretary-ing. He stammers, he sweats, and he generally fails to project the kind of confidence that the White House needs to right now.

Sensing all this, speechwriter Kal Penn/Seth Wright gives Carter some tips. Mainly, he just tells Carter to stop sucking.

At first, it works. With Kal Penn looking on proudly, Carter handles his next presser with the slick confidence of a man who has earned Kal Penn’s approval. But then he messes up by violating the first rule of being press secretary: being honest. He tells the reporter-filled room that America’s brand new president wants to remove Royce, the elected governor of Michigan, from office. (We’ll get to the Royce story later.)

The bloodthirsty journos jump on this bizarre misstep, and Carter panics. A lot: Instead of, say, clarifying his remarks or deflecting questions, our boy simply runs out of the room, forcing Kal Penn to quickly step up to the lectern and handle it himself.

Kal Penn, it turns out, happens to be a natural at the position. Although his first question on the job was a bit of a softball: “Who are you?” I guess all the good journalists died in the explosion and were replaced by their unpaid interns, because you’d have to think that these White House press corp journalists would know very well who he is. The man wrote huge speeches for two presidents — the previous one’s final SOTU address and the new one’s very first address to a terror-shaken nation — in one day!  

Soon, however, everyone will know who is. Kirkman officially hires him as Press Secretary, setting up a music-swelling and, yes, West Wing-worthy ending (or at least pre-twist ending) in when Kal Penn delivers a lofty, idealistic monologue in the White House press briefing room, all while the camera treats us to handsome shots of key Kirkman allies looking noble. C.J. Cregg would be proud.

NEXT: Kirkman v. Michigan[pagebreak]​

The Michigan Muslims, Part Two

Remember that Royce, that Michigan governor who just hated Muslims so much? Surprise: He still does! Ever since the revelations/conspiracies about Kirkman’s less-than-firm claim to the Oval Office hit the media last week, Royce has decided that Kirkman isn’t the real president and has no jurisdiction over Michigan. So, Royce can go back to treating Muslims poorly, which he does.  

Upset by this development, Team Kirkman comes up with a bulletproof strategy: Send someone to Michigan to observe. “Straight out of the Kennedy playbook,” Emily says, referring to JFK’s battles with the Deep South over desegregation.

Hmm. So they jet Emily to Michigan to do some observing, but Royce meets her at the plane with a bunch of cops and starts quoting Reagan, which is immediately a bad sign. Then he holds a press conference and calls Kirkman a fraudulent president and declares to the country that the current government in place is illegitmate. Emily observes it all.

Pressed to come up with a Plan B, the First Lady (who the show reminds us is also a lawyer) informs POTUS he has the authority to activate the National Guard and have them fix the Michigan situation. It’s weird no one has thought about this yet. Anyone in a high-school American Studies class (and not even an AP one!) could’ve pointed that out to Kirkman.

The plan doesn’t work, though — terrible optics — so Emily comes up with one last play: fly Royce to D.C. for an in-person chat/dad fight with Kirkman.

On the plane ride to Washington, Emily and Royce have an in-depth discussion about the morality of oppressing people based on their religion, one that resembles the thoughtful, soul-searching discourse happening in America right now:

Him: Muslims, amirite?

Her: #NotAllMuslims.

Him: What about radical Islamic terrorism?

Her: Nope, shut up.

Ken Bone: Sup guys!

But the joke’s on Royce. The moment he steps off the plane in D.C., Kirkman gives him a taste of his own medicine—and orders him to be arrested. Boom! Royce just got Kiefer’d.

FLOTUS Has Problems, Too

The First Lady, who we are once again reminded is a lawyer, has a client who needs help with not getting deported to Honduras. The First Lady promises to help. That’s about the extent of it.

Kimble’s True Colors

For the first time in American history, the U.S. Congress is a full 50 percent female. Unfortunately, that female is Kimble.

For a while there, it was hard to read her. What does Kimble want out of all this? Is she helping Kirkman by Team of Rivals-ing him, or is she trying to snake his job?

But now it looks like she’s going to be an outright political adversary. She’s displeased with the way Kirkman is handling… well, everything. Kimble pulls Cheif of Staff Aaron aside to talk to him, political operator to political operator. Kirkman is a bad president who’ll never last, she says — Aaron has “hitched his wagon to a footnote.” I suspect that metaphor got away from her as she was saying it, but nonetheless, her message is clear: Aaron would do better if he teamed up with a real politician like herself.

And, later, Kimble coldheartedly decides to help the First Lady with her soon-to-be-deported client — but only so that the First Lady feels indebted to her.

The takeaway from all this: It looks like Kimble is going to play Kirkman’s calculating, Machiavellian enemy on a weekly basis. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this setup. As we’ve mentioned many times, Designated Survivor’s elevator pitch is more or less “The West Wing meets Homeland/Quantico.” That’s already a lot for one show, but doable. But when someone adds “oh, plus House of Cards too!” to the pitch, you have to wonder if things will just get too out of hand and end up satisfying none of those requirements.

NEXT: Kirkman v. Angryman[pagebreak]​

Bombs Over Algeria

In the Situation Room, things are as they always are — General Angryman wants to bomb the s— out of Al-Siqar and is getting super aggressive about it. Again. This time, Kirkman is sort of into the idea, but there’s a considerable hurdle: An undercover American agent would be a likely casualty of any planned strike.

General Angryman wants to go through with it anyway, which isn’t suspicious at all, because clearly he has no ulterior motives. Meanwhile, everyone else in the room silently looks at Kirkman for approval. And as usual, Kirkman decides to not bomb anything. They should know this by now. He always decides to not bomb anything. This show should be called Designated Guy Who Doesn’t Bomb Anything.

Yet it’s not that simple this time — Kirkman would pull the trigger if it weren’t for that American in harm’s way. Later, while getting a breath of fresh air with his wife on the White House portico, the gravity of all this starts to hit the former HUD Secretary. “I never thought I’d be in a position to decide who lives or dies.” I think it would’ve been cooler if he said “I went from deciding WHERE people should live to WHETHER they should live.” But maybe that’s why I’m not president.

Another person who is also not president is General Angryman, though he’s starting to act like he is. Angryman has taken it upon himself to order American forces to fly into Algerian airspace, despite not having gotten authorization from the Commander-in-Chief (or from Algeria). Kirkman finds out and is livid. “One day when you become president, you can make that call,” Kirkman says. Angryman responds with a metaphor that normal people employ in their everyday lives all the time: “When a snake’s in your kitchen, you don’t invite it to dinner — you cut off its head!”

But Kirkman didn’t grow up in a house with a bunch of dead snake heads in it, so he does what he should’ve done two or three episodes ago. “General, you are fired!” Kirkman barks. I think it would’ve been cooler if he said “General, you’ve been Kiefer’d!” But, again, I’m not the president.

Still, in the end, Kirkman caves anyway. He goes back to the Situation Room and, after promoting some random Admiral in the room to General, orders him to gear up for an attack on Algeria. “General,” Kirkman says with the solemnity of a thousand Jack Bauers, “Prepare us for war.”  

The FBI Stuff

Maggie Q, equipped with photographic evidence of Congressperson MacLeish leaving his seat at the SOTU address, is trying to prove that the guy had something to do with the attack on D.C., or at least that he’s a bad person. So she goes to his family’s house to show him and his wife her smoking-gun evidence.

MacLiesh’s wife sees Maggie Q’s card and hits her with a better one: A sob story about how she called her husband that night about the kind of relatable, all-American family situation that any devoted husband would step out of the president’s State of the Union address to talk about.

Whether or not any of this is true, Maggie Q falls for it and feels terrible about accusing a seemingly decent public servant of treason. The source of her anguish, she determines, is the fact that her secret Congress lover died in the explosion. It’s messing up her head. She tries to work out these complex emotions first by hitting a punching bag in a dark room, then by telling her boss she wants to be reassigned to Michigan.   

But of course, according to law, all Designated Survivor episodes must end with a Maggie Q-related twist. This week’s comes in the form of a phone call: “Find Room 105,” the anonymous female on the other end of the line tells Q. What’s in Room 105? Something implicating MacLiesh. But what?

One Last Thought

With the administration still figuring out with cabinet appointments, I wonder: Who will they pick as HUD Secretary? No one on the show seems to care about that at all. But I do. You could milk an entire episode with that kind of delicious irony!

Grade: B–

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