It's been two weeks since we last visited the set of The White House in ABC's Designated Survivor, and jumping right back into the political thrill ride after a fortnight off reminded me of one big problem the show has. President Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) is looking like a fool.
I know he hasn't been in the Oval Office long enough to forward his issues of Urban Development Monthly there yet, but Designated Survivor is going out of its way to keep him out of the loop about the show's most intriguing aspects. Aside from being the anchor to the series' self-contained plots-o-the-week, it's astonishing to think how much of the show could survive without him -- he's barely involved in any of the season-long plots. Which is insane since his character is the title of the show and all.
He's literally shaking hands with people involved in the conspiracy, and we know it. But it's the fact that he doesn't that hurts the show. Designated Survivor can do all it wants to build up his moral foundation and present him as a great man with self-contained plots about rogue governors put in their place, double-agent Olympians and uncooperative Algerians, but when we know so much about the conspiracy and the president is none the wiser, it's not a good look on him.
Fortunately, this means that Season 1 may just be growing pains for a series that otherwise has solid core aspects that can be massaged into a really good show. When Tom finds out about the conspiracy -- and hopefully that's sooner than later -- Designated Survivor will turn into a much different series, and will probably look more like the show we all envisioned it to be after the pilot. Cross your fingers.
Let's see what we learned from "The Results."
1. People have accepted that Tom Kirkman is president and are inspired by him
The flop-flopping on Tom's presidential cred continued in this episode. Last week he was a president people could take advantage of, this week he was a president who inspired people to risk death! The standalone plot was surprisingly topical. With elections in progress to vote in a new House of Representatives, the stability of the country was at stake. So of course some dope from Kansas City went ahead and put the deadly and barely detectable poison ricin all over voting machines to deter people from voting. (Did he look like this guy?)
This caused a dilemma for Tom: proceed with Election Day and risk the lives of voters or postpone it and interrupt the steam engine that is our democracy. Tom initially sided with the second option after one voting poll volunteer died from the ricin, but became inspired by her commitment to the election process despite the danger of another terrorist attack following the exploding Capitol building. And so Tom said, "We're voting, y'all" and went to vote himself not knowing if citizens would risk their lives over the rampant reports of poisoned voting levers and such.
Of course, when Tom went to vote no one else was there and the election seemed doomed. I get it, who wants to vote for a local representative when death is on the line? But later that day, the polls were more crowded than a K-Mart at 6 a.m. on Black Friday, because people were "inspired" by seeing Tom vote earlier that day. Woo hoo, USA! USA! USA!
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2. Sometimes the real world can make Designated Survivor look like a fairy tale
Everyone showing up to vote was obviously the flag-waving TV ending to this story, rather than the depressing reality we just witnessed when voter turnout was low enough for what happened to happen. Designated Survivor is in a great position to tie itself into real-world events, but it can also backfire when the sorry state of our own politics doesn't match the rose-colored hope of Hollywood's take on politics. Seeing all those people in line eager to cast their votes -- not even for president, in this case -- on a TV show made me want to go jump in a lake after the 20-year low in voter turnout earlier this month. He even threw out a possible number of 146 million voters -- about 20 million more than the turnout of our most important presidential election EVER. Forget moving to Canada, teleport me into Designated Survivor!
3. Tom almost said "Dammit!"
"Dammit Watch 2016!!!" is still the thing I look forward to most when watching Designated Survivor, and we got oh-so close tonight. It wasn't a full Jack Bauer DAMMIT! But we did get a "Damn right!" If you tilt your ears at just the right angle, you may hear it as "Dammit!"
4. Tom Kirkman, you ARE the father!
Tom gave us our Maury moment when he had DNA testing done to reveal who Leo's father really was. He offered the envelope to Leo (Tanner Buchanan) to find out for himself, but after a sweet talk with Mike (LaMonica Garrett) about how the secret service agent was raised by his stepdad, Leo decided he didn't need to know and gave the envelope back to Tom. Shortly after, Tom opened the envelope and found out the truth: He was Leo's dad! Well, 99.99999999999999-percent sure. So Tom did the first thing I would have done and rubbed the truth into the face of the meddling reporter who dug up this dirt in the first place. If the show spent any meaningful time on their relationship, this could have had more of an impact. I didn't even have time to come up with a ship name for them. Liseth? Dang, that's a solid name wasted.
5. Lisa the journalist got smacked down... twice
After Tom shoved the results of the DNA test in her face (he actually did it much more civilly, but we all know the intent behind it), Lisa (Melanie Scrofano) barely got to pick herself up before Seth (Kal Penn) knocked her down again. Following revelations that Lisa handed off the Leo story to another reporter at her newspaper after Seth had her promise to drop the story altogether, Seth dumped her! Right there on the spot! Kapow! Take that to your editor, Lisa. But they can still be friends. Yeah, right. Too bad this rung emotionally hollow since we had no reason to care about their relationship in the first place.
6. Jason Atwood is the conspiracy's puppet
As we (and everyone) predicted, Jason (Malik Yoba) was forced by the conspirators to falsely confess to the murder of Majid Nassar to protect his son, using the excuse that he couldn't let Nassar go unpunished for all the deaths Nassar caused. Everyone accepted the confession, which may be understandable on some levels. But again, the way with which the show handles what we know (Jason didn't do it) with what happens on screen (Jason confesses to it, even though we know he didn't do it) weakens the story and our investment in it. From Tom's clueless perspective, this is a pretty darned good TV show. But from our perspective, it isn't managing threads as well as it could, and the hooks aren't sinking in.
7. Peter vs. Kimble, Round 1
Kimble Hookstraten (ha ha, what a name; Virginia Madsen) wanted to launch an investigation into Jason's confession, something Peter MacLeish (Ashley Zukerman) was vehemently against because he's one of the rat finks who is in on the conspiracy. A late-episode confrontation showed a little too much; Kimble even pieced together Peter's ambition to hop into the vacant presidency -- again, as we predicted -- when Tom inevitably failed to hold on to his job and Peter didn't try to deny it. Why would Peter brazenly threaten Kimble about the investigation when his cover as an innocent veep candidate is the most important part of the conspiracy? He's putting his neck out there when he shouldn't. A decapitated horse head or a box of bloody knives should be enough to get the message across to Kimble that she shouldn't stick her nose into that business, and that can be done by any of the conspiracy's cronies. Don't get sloppy this soon, Peter.
8. Maybe Peter isn't so bad after all?
The final scene of the episode showed Peter meeting with Mrs. X (Mariana Klaveno) -- finishing off any doubts of his involvement in the grand scheme -- but it wasn't all Peter twirling his mustache and muahahaha-ing. In fact, Peter asked Mrs. X, "How many more good people need to be destroyed" before their plan is finished, indicating that while he was on board with the evil plan, he didn't want to hurt people to go through with it. It adds an interesting layer to Peter. Now there's a possibility that he could have a crisis of conscience and back out. It's the first time we've seen him this way, and there's no way that's an accident or just thrown in there so Mrs. X could reply with, "Just one more." (Tom, of course.)
9. Hannah gets closer to the conspiracy... again
Hannah's (Maggie Q) drive to uncover the conspiracy reached four-alarm levels now that Jason is a murder suspect, and her digging turned up the phone number of the mysterious caller who has been feeding her tips (thanks nerdy tech guy!). So she called the number -- looking fabulous in the rain with an umbrella, by the way -- and got two things: a promise that they'd never actually meet in person and a new clue. "11:14 p.m." What does it mean!?!? And who is this person? It's one of the show's secrets that I have no theories on, so let's dig it up together.
What did you think of "The Results?"
Designated Survivor airs Wednesday nights at 10/9c on ABC.