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TV Review: Designated Survivor (Season 2, Episode 10)

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Designated Survivor deals President Kirkman his most devastating blow in its sophomore season’s winter finale, and as everyone had suspected since May, it also served as Natascha McElhone’s swan song.

Meanwhile, the episode split three-ways between the investigation into the First Lady, the struggle between Hannah Wells and Damian Rennett, and a political dilemma between a fundamentalist Christian organisation and modern medicine.

Viewers have been teased for months to expect a big ‘midseason event’, and whilst it certainly was a bold move to kill off a main character, the rest of the episode failed to deliver. The conflict between rights of religious freedom and the morality of letting a child die by withholding treatment was clearly only utilised to pad the episode, and to give the White House staff something to keep occupied with. Otherwise, with the two primary plots being taken up by Alex and Hannah, Kirkman’s staff would have had nothing to busy themselves with.

In the end though, whilst such a struggle of moral and political philosophy could have produced a fascinating challenge if handled properly by the writers, in reality it only resulted in a weak and redundant plot.

The partial resolution of the Wells storyline was equally disappointing despite Maggie Q’s best efforts, and her discovery of Damian’s betrayal and the subsequent shooting were both predictable and lacking catharsis. Everything is too rushed, too undercooked, to cause any sort of emotional reaction, and so another hour goes by without much engagement on the part of the viewer.

Similarly, whilst there’s a level of satisfaction from seeing Alex Kirkman regain some form of control over her life, and for audiences to glimpse at the level-headed, smart First Lady to whom we were introduced in the first season, it all concludes too rapidly. The timing then of her death did not feel right, let alone believable.

When an audience becomes used to unpredictable, explosive turns of events, such as the traitorous Vice President’s death by his wife’s hand in Designated Survivor’s first season, a random truck collision killing off one of the show’s principal characters feels too coincidental, and almost lazy. Unless the First Lady’s death is revealed to be part of a greater conspiracy, rather than being an accident as the episode suggests, then it seems the show really has lost the spy thriller quality that viewers fell in love with.  

I had believed that season two so far had been spinning its wheels in anticipation for a shocking, incredible winter finale reminiscent of season one; that it was holding back the best narratives and reveals for an astonishing hour to come. Unfortunately, ‘Line of Fire’ was also ineffectual, holding back for the last couple of minutes with a ‘big moment’ that lacked all the hallmarks of what makes a great twist.

Hopes now rest on the second half of this season to redeem an overall disappointing narrative journey. Thus far, plot has driven the last ten episodes, which means audiences have grown detached from the characters that keep Designated Survivor alive and emotional investment has lagged, by extension also withdrawing interest from the storylines.

The loss of his wife may cause focus to turn back onto Tom Kirkman’s private state, to see him deal with becoming a widower, a single father, and the leader of a nation now found alone. A return to its characters and relationships may be just what the show needs to find its essence once again.

Likewise, it will hopefully emerge that the First Lady’s death was no accident, and that following Damian’s tracks can lead Designated Survivor back down the path of another conspiracy. Maybe then the show can once again find its drive and power, and re-engross audiences the way season one did.

Designated Survivor is available to watch on Netflix, with new episodes arriving weekly.

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