Warning: This contains spoilers
After last episode’s surprise resurrection – nodded to in this episode’s title, Lazarus – Designated Survivor continues to raid the 24 book of TV cliches to drum up tension before its big finale. The problem? It isn’t really working.
ABC’s show has always fared better when being more Jack Bauer than Josiah Bartlet, but after tipping things smartly towards the conspiracy half of its story (after a lacklustre politics-heavy chapter), the worry now is that the thriller part of the narrative just isn’t very thrilling. We’ve had some great moments in the unfolding conspiracy, from the attack itself at Season 1’s cold open to the unexpected death of Peter Macbeth halfway through, but while there’s some ominous threat to be found in the discovery of those recent warheads, the video schematics of major US landmarks and that creepy cabal of villagers with their bonfires and helicopters, the more the show uncovers about its conspiracy, the less exciting it is.
That’s especially evident in Episode 17, as Wells and Atwood continue their investigation into the Capitol attack. The big cliffhanger we pick up from, of course, is that Lozano is still alive. Maggie Q gets to go all CSI on us, as she examines the body that they thought was Lozano, following Macbeth’s shoot-to-kill order, discovering that the corpse’s fingerprints and dental records have been faked. The body’s real name? Desmond Legarth, an US military veteran who was formerly employed by Browning Reed, that oh-so-friendly-sounding weapons company. There’s even some CCTV analysis, as Wells pieces together exactly how Lozano manages to swap with his double and trick everyone into thinking he was dead.
But watching people watch CCTV is as gripping as it sounds, and the more we see of Lozano, the more apparent it is that we don’t really know anything about him. Ok, he’s not dead – so what? Despite his threatening nickname “Catalan”, we’ve never seen him do more than hold a sniper rifle and aim it at Kirkman: he’s had no dramatic monologues, no heart-stopping fights or even some memorable sinister sneers or stares. It falls on the conspiracy’s ultimate Big Bad, then, to keep the suspense up, but Wells’ rabbit hole only takes us to another underwhelming bunny: Patrick Lloyd, a white rich guy who used to own Browning Reed before the company was suspiciously shut down. Lloyd, who feels betrayed by his government and definitely quotes bits of the Pax Americana manifesto in his alt-right dialogue, is a more compelling figure, but he’s far from a surprising or distinctive villain.
The politics strand suffers from a similar sense of whelming developments, as Kirkman decides to build on his bipartisan success with the gun control bill and appoint Hookstraten as his Vice President. The vetting begins immediately – almost as immediately as all the scandals start surfacing. It turns out, thanks to a news story in Politico, that Kimble went on a trip to Turkey where it looks like she took favours in exchange for altering policy, which prompts the House Ethics Committee to open up an examination into her activities.
Kirkman, of course, jumps at the chance to play the noble POTUS and stands by his pick for the job – a sweet conversation with his daugther, in which they agree that having a female in a position of power would be inspiring and cool, reminds us that Kiefer Sutherland can do twinkly-eyed dad as well as he does the earnest politician. And so Seth and Emily try to plant an editorial supporting Hookstraten into another newspaper to balance the media debate.
There’s something interesting in the notion that the Capitol is undergoing its own conflict, as Hookstraten (a member of the old guard) is being chased out by the new guard, who want to shake things up. But even here, there’s a bit of an anti-climax, as presumed villain Bowman is found out not to be behind the Kimble smear, but a former employee ofhers with a grudge. The chance to see Emily, Seth and Aaron together again is worth tuning in for, but the result feels like a half-boiled plot that, unfortunately, is being used to accompany another half-boiled plot.
And still tying the strands together is Abe Leonard, who starts to get fed more information about the political fall-out of the Capitol bombing. While Rob Morrow is making the most of his screentime with admirable gruffness and grim determination, though, we see that his source is coming from the wrong side of the moral fence, which is meant to thicken the plot, but mostly leaves him feeling like too much of a pawn to be a compelling story hook – now we just want to find out more about the people pulling his strings.
It’s a slight hiccup as Designated Survivor is clearly attempting to bring everything together into one dramatic, but digestible, conclusion – and so it’s equally intriguing and disappointing to see the show once again borrowing 24’s playbook come its cliffhanger. Just before the end credits, we watch Wells get kidnapped in the car park of her motel by Lozano’s men. A hostage situation usually promises classic thrills in 24 land, but after Designated Survivor’s shocking decision to bump off Peter Macbeth halfway through, the sight of seeing someone being drugged, rather than shot, is only a reminder that the programme needs to rediscover some of its earlier sense of peril.
Designated Survivor is available exclusively on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive every Thursday, within 24 hours of their US premiere.
Photo: ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg