Designated Survivor recap: 'Commander-in-Chief'
As the title indicates, this week’s episode is all about Kirkman. What kind of leader is he? Why was he even put in this position? And how will he handle what comes next?
All those questions and more are answered in tonight’s plot-heavy, action-light episode. But first, let’s begin where the last episode left off.
THE LANGDON AFFAIR
The episode picks up with Aaron and Charles Langdon meeting in the dead of night. “I thought you were dead,” Aaron says. He thought wrong!
Confused, he follows Langdon as they duck into a nearby church. But they’ve got company — Agent Wells and her crew are tailing them. She busts into the church, but alas, Langdon manages to disappear in the nick of time. Aaron still looks massively confused.
Skeptical of Aaron’s innocence, Wells brings him in to find out what Langdon wants. Turns out, what he wants is simple: immunity in exchange for information. Kirkman is against the idea, but Wells convinces him — this could be their only shot to learn more about whatever it is that’s happening.
So just like that, Wells brings Langdon in. His explanation is a bit messy: He fell in love with a woman at a party who purportedly worked for a big contracting firm. She gamed him into giving her small morsels of inside information about highway contracts and renovations and such. Langdon assumed it was all just boring, small-time corruption. He had no idea that his actions — treason, really! — would result in a terrorist attack and a dead president. The guilt, he says, has been weighing on him immensely, which is why he wants to come clean.
So, who is this woman he met? Well, all we know is that she claimed her name was Claudine, and, creepily, Langdon has pictures of her sleeping on his phone. And guess what? It’s the woman we meet all those episodes ago, the one who met with Jason Atwood and organized the kidnapping of his now-dead child.
Kirkman comes in to chat face to face with Langdon and demands he reveal everything he knows about that fateful day at the Capitol. Langdon complies: On the day the bomb went off, his paramour called him and, under the threat of blackmail, ordered him to name Kirkman the designated survivor for the night’s State of the Union address.
Apparently the woman threatened to even kill Langdon himself if he didn’t comply. And to let him know she wasn’t messing around, she told him she knew the color of the tie he was wearing. Clearly, she had someone on the inside.
Frightened, Langdon says he jumped in his car and booked it to Alexandria to tell the FBI director what was happening. En route, however, his car got hacked and veered off a bridge into a muddy riverbed. By the time he came to, it was too late; an orange mushroom cloud was already hovering about the U.S. Capitol Building.
It’s a compelling story. But Kirkman wants to know one more thing — who wanted him to be the designated survivor, and why. Langdon says he doesn’t know for sure, but he points to the harshest but most obvious conclusion there is — Kirkman was seen as the weakest cabinet secretary. Thus, him becoming president would present the smallest obstacle for the bad guys.
Which leads to the night’s other big story line…
THE OTHER PRESIDENT
Look who’s coming to dinner! Why, it’s former President Moss, swooping in to help the current president figure some stuff out.
So, what’s Moss’ honest assessment of his successor’s performance so far? Not good: Kirkman sorta sucks at this. “You’re reacting,” Moss informs POTUS. “Not leading.”
As it happens, a situation is developing, and it requires some strong leadership. Kirkman reviews a file on the made-up African nation of Naruba, where a nasty civil war (and potential genocide) is raging. He brings in Emily and tells her the State Department needs to do something to help the nation’s victims.
When Kirkman meets with his top security advisors, he learns the situation is trickier than it appears — one of the reasons the slaughter in Naruba isn’t being dealt with is because Russia vetoed the UN Security Council’s decision to get involved and stop the killing, so America’s hands are tied behind its back for the moment. Still, Kirkman wants to set up his unmanned planes for a potential drone strike on the militants.
Amid all this, Moss continues to remind Kirkman the stakes: “Commander in Chief, it’s an awesome responsibility,” he says solemnly. “It’s the loneliest job in the world.”
Literally seconds later, Kirkman gets an update on the Naruba situation: A group of American volunteers has been kidnapped by the same militants Kirkman had been targeting for a drone strike. In other words, he’s backed into a corner. Should he go ahead with the strike and sacrifice the 15 Americans for the greater good of Naruba, particularly the 100,000 citizens who face genocide? Or make the Americans’ safety his top priority and worry about the rest later? Moss advises the latter — it may result in more loss of life, but his job is to worry about his own citizens.
Yet Kirkman, former HUD secretary that he is, comes up with a sneaky third plan, one that relies on his urban-planning background: After retrieving the American volunteers, he orders his forces to attack the city’s infrastructure, prevent the militants from advancing into Naruba’s capital. That will buy him a few days until the genocide begins. And to prevent it from happening outright, he taps Moss to negotiate with the Russians — as Kirkman’s new Secretary of State. Moss accepts.
The lesson? Despite popular opinion, maybe Kirkman’s not so weak after all. Hooray!
ODDS, ENDS, THOUGHTS, PRAYERS
— Aaron Shore tells Kirkman he’d like to step down, much to Kirkman’s chagrin. Why? He knows there’s a negative perception surrounding him not only within the West Wing but also in the press. There are too many question marks around him, so he thinks it’d be in the best interest of the president if he exited the picture.
Kirkman all but begs him to stay, but Aaron insists this is the right way to go. Besides, he says, Emily is more than capable of taking over as chief of staff. Kirkman finally accepts his resignation, and Aaron exits the building and walks into the night.
Will this be the last we see of him? Obviously not. It’ll be an interesting plot to keep an eye on.
— During a random conversation between Kirkman and his wife, we learn that FLOTUS’ mother is Russian — and she’s never really liked Kirkman. Hmm… could there be a larger Russian plot? After all, the Russians were one of the main sources of conflict in the Naruba incident…
— At the very end of the episode, Kirkman authorizes Agent Wells to officially be the lead investigator to find out who’s behind the conspiracy. Things are about to get real!