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TV Review: Designated Survivor (Season 2, Episode 4)


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This season of Designated Survivor continues to, at times clumsily, walk the line between fantasy and real-life contemporary political issues.

‘Equilibrium’s focus is on a US-Mexican border dispute and trade deal, which, alike last week’s, undoubtedly rings all-too-familiar to anyone who’s been following American politics to any degree.

Following a blockade at the Mexican border over a potential trade and labour deal, tensions are mounting between the two states. Things only worsen when a Mexican truck driver charges the blockade, and in the ensuing shooting from both sides, is killed by an American bullet.

Not only does this lead to a pertinent, though not fully realised commentary on current international relations between the two countries, but it also serves as an opportunity for character development. Aaron Shore is reluctantly dragged out and pressured to take a side in the dispute, as the highest-ranking Mexican-American in the Kirkman administration.

His inner conflict is only glimpsed at, but in the end of the episode, the sight of him returning home to his family after a long time is hugely satisfying. The struggle between two conflicting identities is a recurring motif in the American story, and was unfortunately contrived in an exceptionally busy episode. Yet if Designated Survivor continues to allow for more character development and exposition this season, it would greatly improve an otherwise tentatively flat season thus far.

Hannah Wells continues to dig into Patrick Lloyd’s actions, which has been building up to this: the FBI is subpoenaing the First Lady’s mother. It was hard to believe that the exposure of something that happened in the 1980s, which places the event outside the statute of limitations, could have been an intrinsic part of Lloyd’s masterplan.

Designated Survivor promised a return to its political thriller roots when a fresh development threatened to dredge up new life for the Lloyd conspiracy. Another defence contract for the very company that Eva helped secure the bid for, Icarus Astrotech, went through just after the Pentagon hack. It was signed by Eric Little, the man found dead by Hannah and who oversaw the very contract involving the First Lady’s mother. It’s doubtful at this point that anyone can anticipate where this might go, but hopefully it halts the show from falling into too much of a political soap opera.

At the very least if the showrunners are wanting to take Designated Survivor in a different direction, like one more akin to The West Wing, then they should start taking time to explain the political dynamics and workings, rather than over-relying on big emotional beats that suddenly resolve the situation.

Another recurring motif this season that would do well to find more nuance is Kirkman’s utilisation of a good/bad cop routine to resolve conflicts in which he finds himself holding the middle ground. We’ve been presented with ‘noble’ Kirkman the entirety of season one, which worked as he was still finding his footing as President. Now that his role is more secure, he must become tougher and effective as a leader, something which would also make his character more complex and dynamic, as well as authentic.

Overall this was not a great 40 minutes of television. It was lack-lustre, and despite the always-fantastic acting, it struggled to tonally string together too many sub plots. One can only hope the series returns to its original formula that made it so novel and intriguing.

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

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