Designated Survivor: Cliffhangers Abound

Written by Josh Sarnecky

Designated Survivor Poster

‘The Blueprint’ Plot Summary:

The White House is thrown another curveball when an NSA employee leaks government secrets onto the Internet, forcing Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) to defend Special Advisor Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci) from a senator with a vendetta against her. On Capitol Hill, the newly formed Congress holds a hearing to confirm Peter MacLeish (Ashley Zukerman) as the next Vice President, making Agent Wells’ (Maggie Q) efforts to implicate MacLeish in the Capitol bombing even more pressing.

Another week, another solid episode of Designated Survivor. That being said, some of the show’s weaknesses are starting to become more apparent as we progress into the season. As such, I’d like to use this review to highlight some of my concerns. Anyone who’s been following my reviews for this series knows that I’m a fan of the slow burn approach to providing information about the conspiracy behind the Capitol bombing, but the show is slowly reaching the point where certain developments need to happen sooner rather than later.

Photo Credit: ABC/Ian Watson

Specifically, the show needs to delve deeper into MacLeish’s role in the attack and bring Kirkman and his staff up to speed with what the audience has already known for weeks. Giving viewers knowledge of events and circumstances that certain characters aren’t currently privy to is one of the oldest dramatic devices in the history of storytelling, but at some point it becomes frustrating when the protagonist has been left in the dark for so long. Designated Survivor hasn’t reached that point yet and is clearly making progress in enlightening Kirkman, but we may soon find spoon-feeding information to key players feeling too slow. Hopefully Kirkman’s discovery at the end of this week’s episode will give the show a greater sense of urgency and finally connect Kirkman and Wells more explicitly.

The other issue the show is running into is that it’s becoming a bit too formulaic. While the episodic plotlines remain entertaining, the recurring structure is become more and more apparent: (1) Kirkman deals with an issue ripped from the headlines, (2) Wells hits a roadblock in her investigation, (3) someone challenges Kirkman’s authority and/or complicates his personal life, (4) Wells receives help a coworker and/or mysterious source, (5) Kirkman’s team has a “jinkies” moment and discovers how to solve the aforementioned issue, (6) Wells finds another clue to the conspiracy, (7) Kiefer Sutherland dramatically whips off his glasses several times, (8) rinse and repeat. This formula has led to some truly enjoyable and exciting developments thus far, but any formula is prone to become stale eventually. This problem hasn’t truly occurred yet, so hopefully the writers and showrunners will quickly find a way to avoid this pitfall. In the meantime, the content within this formula shines.

Photo Credit: ABC/John Medland

“The Blueprint” truly embraces the political thriller genre to great effect. The race against the clock gives Wells’ plot a sense of urgency and excitement that is rarely experienced. Likewise, having an NSA whistleblower orchestrate a leak to get the President’s attention is a pretty ingenious way to finally make Kirkman aware of the conspiracy. And I’ll never get tired of seeing Kirkman put unethical politicians who challenge his authority in their place. Next week’s winter finale will hopefully build off the momentum from this episode’s two big cliffhangers and give fans some more answers before the show returns in the spring.


Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.