Hey, look — things are happening! Well, sort of… We’re getting closer to figuring out if MacLeish is good or bad (probably bad!), who blew up the Capitol (probably someone on the inside!), and who Leo’s real dad is (probably a scumbag!). Plus, there’s a good old-fashioned Designated Survivor-ian twist at the end. Let’s get to it, starting with this week’s Russian plot.
We first see Kirkman as he’s giving a speech about the Yankees playing baseball after 9/11. That, he says, serves as an example of how sports can help heal a nation, which is why he has decided to send the USA Track & Field team to Moscow for an international competition. There shouldn’t be any potential problems there, right?
After the presser, Kirkman shares a private moment with Coach Weston. The two bond over their shared leadership and general handsomeness. But, of course, it doesn’t take long for things to go awry: Weston is arrested pretty much the moment he steps foot in Moscow. Why? A potential doping scandal — Russian authorities have apparently found 20+ vials of HGH. The whole team, they allege, is implicated.
Kirkman is livid and in disbelief: “Coach Weston is a national hero!” He orders the State Department to look into the situation, but he later gets some surprising news: Coach Weston is actually working on behalf of the CIA. He’s a freelance spy, more or less, and it looks like the Russians are on to him. The doping drugs were planted to give them an excuse to detain and scrutinize him more easily.
In other words, it’s a tricky situation. Kirkman decides to meet with the Russian ambassador to try and find a solution. The ambassador says they’re willing to let Weston go if the United States basically disarms one of their bases near the Russian border in Turkey. Kirkman declines, at the risk of Weston standing trial in Moscow.
It gets worse: The Russians force Weston to confess to his fake crimes on television. It’s a play to get Kirkman to budge, which he does by coordinating a “three-way trade” of sorts. Kirkman stages a meeting with both the Russian diplomat and a Saudi Arabian representative and proposes something that would make everyone happy: “a transnational three-way spy trade.” Nutty! But effective.
The plan works…almost. Everything falls apart when they’re thrown another curveball: Weston is a double agent working on behalf of the Russians. National hero, schmational schmero!
Kirkman meets with the Russian ambassador again to congratulate him on his trickery — and to put him on notice with a chess metaphor: “There’s nothing more than a dangerous pawn that thinks it’s a queen.”
NEXT: Kirkman’s VP selection hits a snag
While all of this is happening, Seth is still dealing with the reporter asking whether Leo is Kirkman’s real child. Kirkman confirms the story — when he and Alex started dating, she was already pregnant with some dude who went to prison. Now the dude is threatening to leak the story to the press. The problem? Leo himself doesn’t know about any of this.
This leads to some tension between Kirkman and Alex regarding how to get ahead of the story. Fed up, Alex pays a visit to the guy in prison to find out what he wants. And what he wants is pretty basic — for the president to release him from jail. I guess that was pretty obvious…
Fortunately, Seth is able to fix the dilemma on his own: He offers his reporter-crush exclusive access to the president in exchange for her spiking the jail-dad story. Plus, he throws in a flirty smile. She’s sold.
Meanwhile, Kirkman and his wife have an intimate dinner with Peter MacLeish and his wife to get a better feel for their potential vice president. They seem to be getting along well, but the dinner is cut short when Kirkman is privately informed by his team about Nassar’s death. Sensing something is afoot, MacLeish suspiciously pulls Kirkman aside to let him know he’s willing to help in any way, though the look in his eye suggest he’s more interested in covering his tracks. I, for one, don’t trust him.
Neither does Maggie Q. “Whoever blew up the Capitol must have murdered him,” she declares. After pointing out MacLeish is more closely linked to the attack than Nassar was, she tells FBI Deputy Director Jason Atwood he should inform POTUS about their MacLeish theory.
Atwood walks into the Oval Office to tell Kirkman just that, but there’s a snag — MacLeish is in the room. Kirkman, the innocent schmuck, wants MacLeish’s expertise on the matter. Atwood changes course and offers nothing of consequence, just a vague “Still looking into it” response, which leaves an odd taste in Kirkman’s mouth. He can tell something’s up… But what?
Elsewhere, Maggie Q meets up with a CIA source to get some more answers. She finds the man at a tavern playing pinball, as CIA sources are wont to do. She runs the name “Catalan” by him and he freaks out immediately, even going so far as to abandon his ping-pong game. “Stay out of it,” the guy tells Maggie Q. Catalan is bad news — and an American traitor. Maggie Q is intrigued.
She goes back to HQ to tell Atwood the news, but guess who drops by unannounced? MacLeish! He sits down one-on-one with Atwood to offer him his own documents as way of the aiding the FBI in its vetting. Highly unusual stuff. Some might say suspicious? I would!
Also suspicious: Atwood gets a frantic call from his wife. His son never made it home from school. Could MacLeish be involved? Probably. Fortunately, Kirkman decides to hold off on his VP selection, letting the drama hang in the air for at least another episode.
In the episode’s final moments, Agent Maggie Q finds an envelope in her car revealing the identity of the notorious Catalan figure — his name is Nestor Lozano, and she recalls seeing him back at the fort when Nassar was being held.
She calls Atwood to tell him the news, but he runs into a twist of his own. A mysterious woman tells him she’s holding Luke captive. She’ll let him go under a few conditions: First, don’t tell anyone about any of this. Second, make an appointment with the president and do whatever it is she instructs him to do.
If not? Luke dies.
Episode grade: B