The Designated Survivor Season 1 Finale Brings Things Full Circle

Photo Credit: ABC

Designated Survivor Season 1 Finale Plot Summary:

Agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) must save FBI headquarters and stop the conspirators from escaping capture. Meanwhile, President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) meets with journalist Abe Leonard (Rob Morrow) and tries to prevent the news of the cover up from sinking his administration.

One key way to measure the success of a season finale is to ask the following question: where are the characters and their world now in relation to the premiere? Typically, if the protagonists have grown in exciting ways or admirably stayed true to themselves despite tremendous odds, then the season finale will be a winner. Take a show like Game of Thrones (SPOILERS!): Ned Stark sacrificing the truth and his honor for the sake of his family is a perfect example of a compelling development for a major character and a fitting end to a strong season. In the same way, Designated Survivor delivers a successful finale punctuated by the evolution of its protagonists.

One of the smartest moves the writers take in the finale is placing the characters in situations that directly call to mind the pilot episode. Remember what happened the last time the show’s President addressed a joint session of Congress? Not only does having Kirkman speak to his colleagues in the House and Senate bookend the season, his decision highlights how much stronger and more confident Kirkman has become. After his predecessor’s death during the State of the Union and his swearing in, Kirkman couldn’t muster up the courage to get a room’s attention and ran to the bathroom to vomit. Now Kirkman, understanding that holding a joint session of Congress paints a major target on his back, picks his own designated survivor and delivers an impassioned speech to the nation.

Even before his address, Kirkman’s ability to confront and attempt to convince someone as stubborn and outspoken as Abe Leonard is a testament to his growth. But, through it all, the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development is still the same academically inclined, soft-spoken family man with a steadfast moral compass that viewers fell in love with months ago. That mixture of adapting to his new role and staying true to himself is what makes Kirkman a strong character and his arc captivating.

Similarly, the writers capitalize on the sticky predicament Hannah was placed in and her reaction to Jason Atwood’s (Malik Yoba) death. The show previously attempted to give Hannah a personal stake in the conspiracy and Capitol bombing by revealing that she’d been in a relationship with one of the senators killed in the attack, but that connection rang a tad hollow and failed to gather much traction. Conversely, having Hannah be driven to avenge Jason is much more compelling, since viewers actually got to see her friendship with Jason. Hannah’s flashback to her first encounter with Jason is undoubtedly the most emotional moment she’s experienced all season and finally adds some much needed dimensions to her character.

Likewise, we finally get the closest thing to a Jack Bauer moment from Hannah since she went rogue earlier in the season. Punching the hood of a car and uttering a choice curse word? Classic Jack Bauer! I’m still disappointed by Hannah’s escapades on the cargo ship the last two weeks, but she shows some impressive moves and quick thinking in “Brace for Impact” that prove she has become one of the premier federal agents on network television. After watching Nestor “Catalan” Lozano (George Tchortov) escape so many times before, Hannah’s pursuit of and fistfight with the mercenary is nothing short of thrilling. Combined with the revelation that Lozano killed Jason (though I’m still not convinced he’s truly dead), this battle and the email waiting in Hannah’s inbox are incredibly fulfilling victories.

Of course, now that we know ABC renewed Designated Survivor for a second season, not everything could be resolved. The finale’s greatest weakness is one we’ve seen before this season: the series tends to find somewhat contrived ways to keep the conspiracy going and prevent those involved from revealing what they know. I wouldn’t say that the conspiracy has been dragged out longer than deserved, but some revelations and developments could have occurred earlier. Meanwhile, as pleased as I am that we finally know who orchestrated the Capitol bombing, Patrick Lloyd (Terry Serpico) remains an underdeveloped villain. After keeping the conspirators veiled for so long, the show needed to produce a worthy mastermind, but I’m still not convinced Lloyd has proven himself. Of all the tasks next season will have to accomplish, developing Lloyd is perhaps the most important if the conspiracy is to remain exciting.

Following a satisfying finale and enjoyable season overall, Designated Survivor has earned a second season. With all of the controversy and turmoil in real-life politics, the show has been a welcome relief and provided the audience with a President that all viewers can get behind. As developments in the federal government become more divisive, Designated Survivor will remain a show to rally behind and look forward to next season.


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