Netflix UK TV review: Designated Survivor: Episode 14
James R | On 06, Apr 2017
Warning: This contains spoilers
Ever since its debut, Designated Survivor has intrigued with its playful proximity to real life – an unqualified man unexpectedly elected to the White House? What a fun alternate reality to imagine. But the first season’s second half continues to show an appetite for sinking its teeth further into those parallels – after last episode’s focus on spin and truth, Episode 15 (“Commander-in-Chief”) zooms in on Kirkman himself.
“Nobody learns on the job” is the wisdom dispensed by the experts around Kiefer Sutherland’s would-be POTUS – and it certainly seems to be the case, when you consider the way the Russians played him a few episodes ago, not to mention the fact that his own Vice President was plotting to kill him right under his own nose. And so Kirkman turns to an old hand at this politics game for some guidance: former President Cornelius Moss.
We said in our last review that anybody with that name is guaranteed to be evil, but Moss is, at the very least, enjoyably ambiguous, both charming and smooth and slick enough not to be trusted – within minutes of setting foot back in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he’s already looking to make the most of the POTUS’ secret stash of Wild Turkey and the kitchen’s top-notch grub.
But shrewd politicking is perhaps the order of the day for an administration defined by its lack of guile. As Moss puts it, Kirkman is reacting, not leading.
Almost immediately, a test of his leadership mettle surfaces: a civil war in the fictional African nation of Naruba. Should America wade in to help? With Russia having vetoed the UN’s proposal to interfere and stop the slaughtering, the USA’s hands are tied behind its back. Kirkman flies some drones out there ready for a strike, but to pull the trigger would be too much of a risk. Speaking of risk, what better time for a bunch of American volunteers to be kidnapped by the Naruban militants? Surely now is the time to strike?
Moss advises holding back, focusing on maintaining the safety of his own citizens – sacrificing people to stop genocide can be a decision for another day. But the former housing and development comes up with another idea, using, rather brilliantly (and far-fetchedly), his town planning skills: destroy the nearby bridges with the drones and the army’s advance into Neruba’s capital will be delayed by several days, temporarily stopping the conflict. What to do with that valuable time? Deploy Moss to go and talk with the Russians. That is, once he accepts the post of Secretary of State.
Maybe you can learn on the job.
While Kirkman adds some political brains to his administration, though, he’s also losing some grey matter, as Aaron announces that he’d like to resign – a decision that he says is to do with the negative perception of him in the press and nothing to do with his possible involvement in Macbeth’s coup against Kirkman. After a period of “personal leave” and interrogation by the FBI, though, this clearly won’t be the last we see of him – no matter how much we just want Emily to ace the job of Chief of Staff and everyone to focus on her being awesome instead.
Speaking of Aaron and the FBI, what was his last act as Chief of Staff? Why, meeting with Charles Langdon, of course, the former Chief of Staff, who mysteriously managed to survive the Capitol bombing. Fortunately, FBI agent Hannah Wells is on his tail and eventually brings in Langdon. His story is just strange enough to be dubious, but also unrehearsed enough to be convincing; he says he fell for a woman at a party, who managed to get information out of him under pretence of being a contractor wanting information about infrastructure and other project details – just smalltime enough to seem like innocent corruption, rather than the grounding information for a terrorist attack. As for the woman, he happens to have a photo on his phone – and guess who? Yes, it’s Claudine, the woman who met Jason Atwood and threatened to kill his kidnapped son (and then did kill his kidnapped son) several episodes ago. But there’s more: she apparently was the one to blackmail him into making Kirkman the Designated Survivor for the fateful State of the Union address that started the season. He tried to inform the FBI, but his smart car was hacked and tossed off the road – and, you know, despite having a smart car, he evidently didn’t have a telephone to hand. Or a carrier pigeon.
Why did our sinister villains want Kirkman to be the Designated Survivor so badly? Langdon offers one gripping theory: that Kirkman was the least qualified. Him becoming President, then, would bring about their end goal: chaos. An unqualified man unexpected becoming President of the USA only to cause chaos and disruption and undermine a country? Designated Survivor just got woke – and, with Kirkman’s mother-in-law also mentioned as being Russian, maybe this series isn’t so far from real life after all.
Designated Survivor is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive every Thursday, within 24 hours of their US premiere.