Designated Survivor Provides Relief for Election-Weary Viewers

Written by Josh Sarnecky

Designated Survivor Poster

‘The Interrogation’ Plot Summary:

President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) invites the nation’s governors to the White House in an effort to rebuild Congress but soon finds himself answering questions about his legitimacy as president and forced to make a difficult compromise. Elsewhere, Agent Wells (Maggie Q) and Deputy Director Atwood (Malik Yoba) interrogate Majid Nassar (Nicholas Massouh), the leader of the terrorist organization supposedly responsible for Capitol bombing.

This week’s Designated Survivor may feel relatively uneventful compared to Tuesday’s presidential election, but there was still plenty of drama in the latest episode. As people around the country question the president-elect’s fitness to lead the United States, it seems oddly fitting that this episode saw Kirkman face some of the harshest questions about his qualifications.

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

While this plot certainly led to more exciting standoffs between the leader of the free world and the leaders of states, I’m somewhat worried that such conflicts may start to feel repetitive. Following his conflict with Governor Royce of Michigan, Kirkman appears unable to go a week without having to prove himself to someone (state officials, federal officials, members of the military, the media, etc.). This trend obviously serves as a natural plot point given Kirkman’s lack of experience and unusual rise to power, but such conflicts may feel redundant over time.

Thankfully, the governors’ figurative trial of Kirkman was not only an exciting conflict on its own but also resulted in some intriguing personal drama. Seeing Kirkman struggle with his own self-doubt after the governors interrogate him illustrates what makes him so endearing as a character: he sincerely hopes to rebuild the federal government and country for the better but honestly wonders if he’s the right man for the job. But even when he questions himself, he refuses to quit out of a sense of obligation and because the people closest to him truly believe in him. If those qualities don’t make for a likeable, compelling president, I don’t know what qualities do.

Kirkman’s conflict with the governors also forced him to make a compromise that put him at odds with his wife, Alex Kirkman (Natascha McElhone). So far we’ve primarily seen Alex in the role of supportive wife and protective mother, so it’s refreshing to witness her show her expertise as an immigration lawyer and act/think independently of her husband. After seeing all of President Kirkman’s problems originate in and largely remain in the political realm, the tension between Mr. and Mrs. Kirkman opens new dramatic opportunities. Placed in this impossible position where he is forced to weigh his (and his wife’s) values versus the nation’s legislative stability, Kirkman’s problems have never been so personal (and thus relatable).

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

Perhaps my favorite part of this episode, however, was seeing the juxtaposition between Wells and Atwood’s interrogation of Majid Nassar and the governors’ interrogation of Kirkman. Though fairly simple in concept, this combination was an incredibly effective method of solidifying the episode’s conflicts and connecting two storylines that were largely unrelated. Furthermore, jumping between the two conflicts elevated the governors’ doubts about Kirkman into a flat-out political interrogation, lifting an uncomfortable moment to new levels of tension and entertainment.

Such intelligent writing and editing are just two of the many reasons why Designated Survivor is one of the most promising dramas currently on network television. Regardless which side of the aisle you come from, we can all agree that this series continues to impress on technical and narrative bases. Even those most exasperated by the current state of politics in our country can find something to enjoy in this political drama.


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