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TV Review: Designated Survivor (Season 2, Episode 3)


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This week’s episode of ‘Designated Survivor’ was the first step away from the Patrick Lloyd plot that launched the series, though his shadow still looms over Hannah Wells’ investigation.

In any case, away from the conspiracy, ‘Outbreak’ packed a punch in its portrayal of current political and social issues in contemporary America. It tackles both institutionalised racism, the whitewashing of history, and the dangerous power of pharmaceutical companies in a capitalist society, whilst staying close to home in exploring how Kirkman’s administration handles such conflicts.

The season’s third instalment is a showcase of how far President Kirkman has come in developing his leadership capabilities, as he handles a viral pandemic and takes on big pharma. His victory in the end continues to highlight his disinterest in his image, pride or in taking credit, but rather his want for what is ultimately best for his people and his country. It’s his character trademark, and even through his personal growth and learning curve, it’s one thing that never lets go.

It does feel like the show is losing him slightly, however. Our introduction into the whole universe of Designated Survivor was Tom Kirkman; nowadays though, it seems he’s merely brought in to jump from crisis to crisis, without ever returning to centre stage the way he was at the show’s inception.

Once again, one cannot escape drawing comparisons between this and The West Wing. President Bartlet was never the focus of The West Wing, rather it revolved around the individuals working close to him. That’s never been the case for Designated Survivor, however, where Kirkman’s role hasn’t been to connect storylines, but to drive the narrative. It’s what’s made this show different, and it’d be a true loss to steer too far from that.

Likewise an unfortunate side-effect of the show’s retargeted focus on the day-to-day running of the White House, is losing track of Emily, Seth, and Aaron’s trio dynamics. With the introductions of Lyor and Kendra, who respectively head up the new frog species and Confederate statue subplots, our original three are relinquished to threads connecting storylines, rather than characters with agency.

It's a surprising outcome of focusing more on the administration’s runnings, that we might lose sight of those persons we grew to love over the last season, or of the deep relationships we witnessed them forging with one another.  

Meanwhile and parallel to the events in the White House, Hannah Wells, Damian Rennett and Chuck discover evidence left behind by Lloyd that may undermine the first family’s integrity, particularly that of the First Lady’s.

After thinking that Eva was a simple plot device in last week’s episode, it’s a pleasant twist to discover she was involved in a defence contract bribe to move her husband up in the heart transplant list many years ago. What will come of this and why Lloyd thought it worth risking capture to deliver the documents to the FBI has yet to be understood, but is laying out another investigation for Hannah to pursue.

‘Outbreak’ struck a good balance between action and drama, and serves as a sharp commentary on timely issues of racism and whitewashing. Whilst Lloyd’s legacy still endures, the episode redirected onto much more social themes, bringing a welcome change of pace without completely abandoning its political thriller style.

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

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