New Characters Shine in Designated Survivor, ‘The Ninth Seat’

Photo Credit: ABC

“The Ninth Seat” Plot Summary:

President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) faces opposition as he and his staff attempt to fill the Supreme Court, while Agent Wells (Maggie Q) and Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba) find themselves in a mysterious town linked to the conspiracy. Elsewhere, journalist Abe Leonard (Rob Morrow) takes drastic measures to discover the truth about the attack on the Capitol.

Another week, another topic ripped straight from the headlines. One of the benefits of setting a series in the White House is that you’ll never run out of current events to draw from, and “The Ninth Seat” certainly makes good use of its inspiration. Some viewers may look for parallels between this episode and the “nuclear option” used to bring Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, but this week’s drama is actually much more reminiscent of President Obama’s blocked nominee, Merrick Garland. While I have some reservations about Designated Survivor falling into a “political issue of the week” formula, the dramatic potential of the President facing off against obstructive members of Congress is admittedly enormous.

Even in the episode’s earliest moments, “The Ninth Seat” proves that the battle for the Supreme Court will be full of fireworks, in no small part thanks to Senator Jack Bowman (Mark Deklin). He may have only been introduced two weeks ago, but Bowman has established himself as a solid rival to both Kirkman and Speaker Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen); as disappointed as I still am that we lost the MacLeish family, Designated Survivor continues to introduce strong antagonists who aren’t linked to the conspiracy. Seeing Kirkman lose his cool is always a treat, so I certainly consider Bowman (with Deklin’s amazingly slimy smugness) a welcome addition to the show’s cast.

This week also marks the introduction of one of Kirkman’s former university colleagues, Julia Rombauer (Linda Purl). Julia experiences a strong arc in this episode, but her progression is still not as powerful as it could have been simply because the audience hasn’t had time to connect with her. The fact that her admission to Kirkman is as emotional as it is stands as a testament to the chemistry Sutherland and Purl share and their ability to give these characters a sense of history. While Julia may not be set to appear again anytime soon, I wouldn’t mind seeing more time devoted to this friendship in future episodes.

Meanwhile, Wells and Atwood are having a rather eventful road trip, but I am somewhat torn about the speed and delivery of the answers they’re uncovering. After the great lengths Peter and Beth MacLeish took to protect their associates, the conspirators in North Dakota are acting rather sloppy. Having no cameras in its secret armory, failing to recognize the FBI agent leading the investigation into the organization, and carrying its manifesto out in public are all huge oversights for a group that has been so meticulous leading up to this episode. I have to admit, though, that some of the tricks Wells and Atwood pull are pretty smooth. Following the narrative brick wall the conspiracy storyline hit a few weeks ago, the investigation is back on track.

Of course, the conspiracy is suddenly being explored on another end as well. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Abe Leonard when he was originally introduced, but he is shaping up to be the show’s wild card. If he continues on his current trajectory, he has the potential to both uncover answers and be a major nuisance to the White House. The questions for the moment are whether or not he’s being used as pawn and, if so, by who. Suddenly, Leonard has become a much more interesting, important character than I anticipated.

“The Ninth Seat” is a rather packed but enjoyable episode. With only five episodes left, Designated Survivor is still finding plenty of time to introduce and explore new characters, even as Kirkman and Wells remain the stars. Even as our trip down the rabbit hole continues, I appreciate the new faces making their mark on the show.

RATING: 8.5 OUT OF 10

Josh Sarnecky is one of Pop Break's staff writers and covers Designated Survivor, Volton: Legendary Defender, and Stranger Things. His brother, Aaron, is the site’s TV Editor, but Josh is the family’s reigning Trivial Pursuit: Star Wars champion.