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TV Review: Designated Survivor (Season 2, Episode 9)


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This week’s Designated Survivor, ‘Three-Letter Day’, had every sign of being yet another filler episode before the highly-anticipated winter finale. That is, until the very last minute, when a satisfying but predictable twist sets up a cliff-hanger as next week’s jump-off point.   

It was foreseeable that Hannah Wells’ handsome love interest would be the covert enemy amongst their ranks. After all, it’s a recurring trope in many shows featuring a female operative, and because of its predictability, it steers the show once again into soap opera territory. Whether this will be the case remains to be seen in the way the writers will handle this development in episodes to come.

An undeniably great thing to come from this revelation is that Damian’s character being underdeveloped and the single-tone acting was intentional, and not the result of poor scripting. The annoying convenience with which he continues to stick around Hannah and be involved in US governmental affairs, his lack of any meaningful contribution to their investigations, and how his infuriating arrogance could still appeal to a woman like Hannah all make sense now. The new context this week provides to this season’s events suggests these perceived flaws were in fact deliberate, which is good news for the show’s writing.

‘Three-Letter Day’ did make significant headway regarding the Eric Little conspiracy and Alex’s involvement within it all, but this season’s driving narrative got relegated to subplot status this week, and was forgotten amongst the three other plots involving the three letters assigned to the White House staff. This mid-season has been dragging on this conspiracy in a painfully laborious manner, so much so that the anticipation surrounding it has dimmed considerably.

This week’s instalment, though entertaining in the moment thanks to the character dynamics keeping it afloat, is uneventful in hindsight, and seems mostly aimless, concerned merely with passing the time until next week’s mid-season finale. Designated Survivor has been lacking what made it such an exciting political thriller, and one can only hope that it will steer course back to the kind of conspiracies that made audiences fall in love with the show.

The theme of betrayal is prevalent this week, which could be foreshadowing Natascha McElhone’s upcoming exit from the show. The first cracks in the Kirkman’s marriage begin to show as Alex confronts Tom about his refusal to fire FBI Director John Forstell, demanding he put her needs above Presidential moral duties, simultaneously implying that he was not fulfilling his duties as her husband.

Either sides feel betrayed by the other, and for the first time it seems possible that Lloyd’s machinations might be causing the intended effects. It’s the most effective betrayal in an episode that thrives on them, and provides a brilliant, albeit short, scene in which Sutherland thrives.

More frustrations were in store as Emily and Aaron are paired up to work on a case involving a deceased soldier and his widow. It was the first time the two had worked together since their romance, and yet the uneventfulness of their subplot seems to confirm that the showrunners have decided to completely ignore everything they had built up between the two characters last season.

Meanwhile the two other subplots, one regarding the murdered bees and the other, about the death row inmate covering for his son’s crimes, seemed to have been cut-and-pasted into the episode. Though Lyor and Seth’s interactions were highly entertaining and provided some levity, neither narrative contributed anything to the broader picture. They were inconsequential, which was disappointing for a second-to-last episode before the winter hiatus.  

Overall, it was quite a fun episode, but was also mostly a filler one that did not exhibit any real purpose until the very final scene. The hope is still that this will lead to an exciting and shocking mid-season finale.

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

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