Written by Josh Sarnecky

Designated Survivor Poster

‘The Oath’ Plot Summary:

President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) and Agent Wells (Maggie Q) rush to discover the truth about the Capitol bombing before Peter MacLeish (Ashley Zukerman) is sworn in as the next Vice President.  Unsure who to trust, Kirkman asks Special Advisor Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci) to investigate several White House staff members, including Chief of Staff Aaron Shore (Adan Canto).  Unable to rely on the FBI and out of leads, Wells must confront the mysterious individual that has been tipping her off.

Take note, other primetime dramas:  that is how you do a mid-season finale.  Before I go into what the episode does so well, though, let’s talk about this hiatus.  Winter breaks have (unfortunately) become the norm for most shows with fall premieres, but typically see these hiatuses (hiati? hiatodes?) last a month or two max.  But Designated Survivor won’t return with new episodes until early March!  That’s nearly three months (for those of who didn’t feel like doing the math)!  Call me old fashioned, but three months is an exceptionally long time to wait for a show to come back from hiatus.  Now there are a number of reasons why the show could be taking such a long break, but the most plausible (and concerning) explanation is that the show just changed showrunners for the third time since ABC picked up the show in May.  Hopefully this latest behind-the-scenes change won’t dramatically impact the trajectory of the show, but the shakeup combined with the long hiatus may be a cause for alarm for fans.

Photo Credit: ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg

Despite these production developments, however, Designated Survivor delivers a tremendous finale with a powerful cliffhanger (that will make that wait even more difficult).  Following last week’s episode, both Kirkman and Wells are closer than ever to making real breakthroughs in the conspiracy behind the Capitol attack, but the stakes are now higher than ever.  As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, Designated Survivor clearly falls under the thriller genre, but it has been conspicuously missing one key element most thrillers share:  a sense of urgency.  In weeks past, the show has seemed content to go through its formula (as outlined in my last review) without providing much of a clock to race against.  This week, however, Designated Survivor throws its blueprint to the side and lets the overall plot shine, and the result is expectedly… well, thrilling.

Wells and Kirkman may not be on the same page yet, but they know that they need each other to unravel this mystery.  Instead of having these characters separated simply by the fact that they have different jobs across town, the show gives actual plot-based reasons for why Kirkman and Wells can’t collaborate.  The result is an enjoyably unnerving tension since the viewers know what both characters are aware of and wish the two could finally work together.  Likewise, Kirkman and Wells are in real danger throughout the episode, have reached a point where they don’t know who they can trust, and are in a race to find out the truth about MacLeish before he is sworn in as Vice President.  Time is finally of the essence, and it seems that the further the two go down the rabbit hole, the more treacherous and violent the rabbits become.  Regardless of what else happens in the episode, such circumstances set this episode apart and are the foundation of its success.

Photo Credit: ABC/John Medland

Elsewhere, we get some romantic drama as the will-they/won’t they relationship between Emily and Aaron heats up… only for Emily to discover that Aaron may know something about the attack.  Emily’s sudden hesitancy to trust Aaron is not one of the episode’s stronger elements, but the conspiracy certainly makes their relationship more interesting.  These characters have been more utilitarian than well rounded the last few weeks, yet this latest development has the potential to finally make their dynamic truly dramatic.

Of course, the one moment fans will be talking about the most during the hiatus is the cliffhanger.  Ending a mid-season finale on such a potentially game-changing moment can occasionally feel gimmicky or cheap, but this cliffhanger feels appropriate given the buildup throughout the episode.  And given how long the hiatus is, the show needed to end on a shocking note that would ensure current viewers would return in March and encourage individuals interested in the show to catch up while they can.

Time will tell if these goals are accomplished and if the cliffhanger’s outcome can live up to its execution, but this episode has given me hope that the best episodes of Designated Survivor are yet to come.

RATING: 9 OUT OF 10

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