Netflix UK TV review: Designated Survivor: Episode 15
Ivan Radford | On 10, Apr 2017Reading time: 5 mins
Warning: This contains spoilers
You can’t fault Designated Survivor for its timing – doubling down yet again on its proximity to real life, it sees Kirkman tackle the benchmark of 100 days in office, just as POTUS Donald Trump does the same. Unqualified and potentially put into his role by the Russians in an attempt to throw the country into chaos, Kirkman at least has an excuse for the instability that has surrounded his opening months: he’s been trying to solve the conspiracy to bomb the Capitol. And so he hits upon an idea that even Trump’s PR team would be proud of: he requests a reset on his presidential clock, so that his 100 Day window only starts being counted now.
That means one thing: policy. The problem is that Kirkman has been so busy being shot at, he doesn’t really have any. So the team start to brainstorm the immediate issues the administration should focus on.
“Our government will be a phoenix rising from the ashes,” declares Kirkman, in a brief speech that’s cute but doesn’t really offer much detail or direction. Alex, on the other hand, finds herself saying too much, as a Q&A at an event sees her accidentally start talking about the need to change gun control laws. That puts her and Kirkman on a collision course with Senator Jack Bowman (Montana), who is very passionate about his guns – and so Kirkman has to do the awkward thing of asking her to “walk back” her remarks.
Kirkman, though, has to walk forward, if you will; he’s too professorial in his answers to questions, which is something he needs to work on in time for a town hall meet-and-greet with normal folk. Seth and Emily are on hand to prepare him, though, and, thanks to Kiefer Sutherland’s winning sincerity and deadpan quips, Kirkman aces the whole evening, charming the crowd as he answers their questions. He even declares that he’ll be putting together a new public works scheme to rebuild America’s infrastructure – again, not unlike real life, except that he’s embracing the changing economy, instead of trying to revive old industries.
Then, the inevitable bombshell lands. A woman stands up to talk about her daughter being killed by someone with a gun – a speech that prompts Kirkman to promise to work on more reasonable, reformed gun regulation. Finally, the world cries, a POTUS willing to take a stand. But, of course, before Kirkman can even get started hashing out a bipartisan bill (new Designated Survivor drinking game: have a shot every time Kirkman reminds us that he’s an independent candidate), up pops Bowman to resurface an old bill that’s full of loopholes. Agree with it and Kirkman doesn’t get anywhere near solving the problem. Fight it and it looks like he’s breaking his promise. Bowman 1, Kirkman 0.
Elsewhere on the Capitol, Aaron is visited by his cousin, Nadia – no, we had no idea either – who wants to get a job in Washington. Aaron puts in a word for her, but at the same time, finds himself getting a job offer from Hookstraten. Of course, he accepts, because what else is he going to do? And, as a bonus, that means there’s still chance for his almost-romance with Emily to take off. (“I guess I’ll be seeing you,” she tells him, when they briefly collide in the corridors of the West Wing.)
If that all sounds a bit dry, though, Designated Survivor has got more than enough excitement lined up in its other half. It’s a sign of how smoothly the show is now running: where once it struggled to tie together the multiple strands of its story, now, the writers can switch between the two to maximise tension.
That means more Maggie Q as FBI Agent Hannah Wells, who teams up with Chuck to track down the conspiracy’s latest lead: Brooke Matheson, the woman who kidnapped and killed Jason Atwood’s son. (Remember that whole Jason Atwood subplot? That was a thing that happened.) In a rather brilliant – and entirely ridiculous – bit of sub-CSI trickery, they manage to find Matheson’s fingerprint from the wine glass in that hotel room photo. And in an equally brilliant – and equally entirely ridiculous – bit of sub-24 action, the villains blow up Hannah and Chuck’s HQ. Of course, they survive.
Kirkman appoints Wells to form an unofficial task force to find the conspirators at any cost, and by any means necessary – and that includes bringing Atwood back into the field to work with her. Atwood, though, remains angry and out for revenge, which means that you can bet he’ll bump Brooke off the first chance he gets. Sure enough, she dies before they can properly question her – although she’s shot by both Atwood and Wells in self-defence, rather than in cold blood. And that’s when Designated Survivor, in a rather brilliant – and entirely ridiculous – bit of sub-Designated Survivor narrative twisting, stacks another conspiracy on top of all the others: a thumb drive on Matheson’s person that includes a virtual simulation of several US landmarks being blown up. We’re way past the halfway mark in Season 1 of this entertainingly over-the-top thriller, but before you can worry about the central plot losing steam, the show seems to have come up with an answer: it might only just be getting started.
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