Designated Survivor’s Protagonist Continues to Evolve

Written by Josh Sarnecky

Designated Survivor Poster

‘The Enemy’ Plot Summary:

When Governor Royce (Michael Gaston) threatens the civil rights of Muslim citizens for a second time, President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) sends Senior Advisor Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci) to Michigan. While the domestic situation worsens, Kirkman must also decide how to apprehend a terrorist potentially involved with the attack. Elsewhere, Agent Wells (Maggie Q) questions the sole survivor of the bombing, and Seth (Kal Penn) is offered a new position.

In the course of four episodes, President Kirkman has experienced a rather dramatic character arc. Following numerous political power plays from opponents and colleagues, Kirkman finally appears ready to play ball, and the transformation is rather shocking. There is occasionally a fine line between character growth and acting out of character, and this episode certainly draws attention to that line; thankfully, due to the progression we’ve seen in the last two episodes, I’m more inclined to say that we’re seeing a different side of Kirkman rather than a Bizarro version of his character.

Photo Credit: ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg
Photo Credit: ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg

What’s more, Kirkman’s bold behavior electrifies the plot and raises some intriguing questions about the show’s narrative going forward. Has the power of the presidency permanently altered who Kirkman is? Is this version of Kirkman here to stay? How will his decisions impact his relationships with his family and allies? Going forward, these questions have the potential to explore the concept of political power’s influence on elected and non-elected officials in some truly interesting ways. Anyone worried that a show based primarily on the idea of a designated survivor couldn’t sustain a twenty-two-episode season should thus be relieved by these recent developments.

Meanwhile, the standoffs in Michigan and the White House further justify the presence of the show’s more morally bankrupt characters. Two weeks ago, I discussed and was somewhat critical of the show’s one-sided portrayals of General Cochrane (Kevin R. McNally) and Governor Royce; while I would have liked to see them presented in more nuanced manners, they undoubtedly were fulfilling their roles as foils to and adversaries for Kirkman. This episode takes that dynamic a step further, though, and makes the general and governor major catalysts in Kirkman’s development. They may be closer to plot devices than fully developed characters, but it’s impossible not to say that they’re being put to good use and leading to some of the show’s best drama so far.

Photo Credit: ABC/Sven Frenzel
Photo Credit: ABC/Sven Frenzel

Following an engaging premise, the show needed to prove it could maintain its momentum by utilizing the dramatic potential of its foundation. And while Kirkman’s actions have certainly demonstrated Designated Survivor’s success in accomplishing this goal, I would be remiss if I forgot to mention FBI Agent Hannah Wells and her investigation. Wells’ mission to discover the truth about the bombing during the State of Union has unquestionably been the B plot of the show from the beginning, but her story has gotten progressively more engaging with each episode. The more clues she discovers regarding the attack, the stronger her storyline becomes; in time, her plot may even have the potential to receive just as much attention and narrative strength as the main White House storyline. My only concern is that Wells has been somewhat underwritten so far. While her resolve and intuition make her an active character, she occasionally feels one-dimensional since all of her material can be placed into two categories: (1) thinking about her dead boyfriend and (2) sudden insights into the attack that only she can recognize. I’m hopefully, though, that she will continue to grow as she delves deeper into the conspiracy.

Designated Survivor continues to be full of surprises four episodes in. More so than ever, Kirkman and his administration are going into unpredictable territory that could significantly impact the direction of the show. As the show takes a two-week break so that ABC can air next week’s presidential debate, there has never been a better time for interested viewers to catch up with this compelling show.


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