Designated Survivor: Zero Dark Thirty Revisited

Written by Josh Sarnecky

Designated Survivor Poster

‘The Mission’ Plot Summary:

President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) decides to take military action against the terrorists that supposedly orchestrated the attack on the Capitol. Meanwhile, Agent Wells (Maggie Q) makes a shocking discovery about Congressman Peter MacLeish’s (Ashley Zukerman) survival.

Following Kirkman’s rather decisive actions in the previous episode, I’m glad to see that everyone’s favorite Secretary of Housing and Urban Development is still uncomfortable in his new job. Character development and character consistency can be a difficult balance at times for writers to maintain, but the scriptwriters behind Designated Survivor have mastered the act. For every indication that Kirkman is getting accustomed to the Oval Office or that the position is altering him, there are several moments that reveal he’s just as mild mannered as he was in the premiere. And that part of Kirkman’s nature is on full display and used to full effect in his struggle sending soldiers into the field.

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

When displayed in films and television, military operations can sometimes feel divorced from the politics that go into their planning. Designated Survivor succeeds not only at showing the inherent link between the two but also at making one of the season’s most action-packed moments incredibly personal as well. Seeing the anguish that Kirkman goes through as he plans the operation with his advisors, waits for the mission to conclude, and learns of the results makes it clear that every decision weighs heavily on his mind and conscience. The operation itself may be exciting, but Kirkman’s reactions are what elevate the episode’s last ten minutes to edge-of-your-seat entertainment.

Of course, the sequence in Algeria is also heightened because of its juxtaposition with Agent Wells’s discovery. Her investigation may still be moving rather slowly compared to Kirkman’s plotline, but the conspiracy is finally bearing fruit and proving to be a worthy companion to the scenes in the White House. And perhaps most importantly, the two major plots are beginning to converge. My hope is that we’ll soon see a 24-esque connection between the politics and the investigation, such that the two storylines are explicitly linked and actively inform one another. If we’re lucky, we may see President Kirkman and Agent Wells mirror the relationship between President David Palmer and Jack Bauer (the fun twist, of course, being that Kiefer Sutherland would be switching roles).

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

The show is firing on all cylinders at this point, so it’s unfortunate to think that the show’s biggest hurdle to overcome right now is scheduling. After taking a break last week because of the third presidential debate, the show is taking yet another short hiatus. When a series is running hot, the last thing a network should do is allow scheduling to stall the show’s momentum. Designated Survivor drew in approximately a million fewer viewers following the last break, so my biggest fear is that further breaks will continue drops in viewership.

In the end, President Kirkman’s greatest enemy may not be shady politicians or terrorists but the calendar.


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