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TV Review: Designated Survivor (Season 2, Episode 11)


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Finally, Designated Survivor is back after a lengthy mid-season hiatus that left audiences on the edge of a devastating precipice. ‘Grief’ picks up the pieces ten weeks after Alex’s death, as Tom attempts to simultaneously grieve for his wife and lead the Free World.

As this week deals with Tom’s emotional journey, the kidnapping of an American delegation to Cuba by Cuban rebel forces, and general day-to-day workings of the White House, Designated Survivor continues to do too much.

What was a political thriller continues to veer into also being a political drama, and in doing so is weakening the essence of the show that audiences fell in love with. It also continues to cater to too many storylines each week, which once again results in artificial plot devices with little organic developments.

As always however, where the plot might let the show down, the acting carries it home. Kiefer Sutherland gives another fantastic performance as the grieving husband and father, and while the episode may not have been sob-worthy, certain scenes remained incredibly emotional.

The direct aftermath of Alex’s death is revealed in flashbacks during Tom’s therapy session, which he is pushed to had by his staff, who feel like he is not dealing with his grief. As a result, his role as President is compromised in his inability to make decisions that might put further people at risk; it means the White House has been on pause for over two months.

I believe jumping ten weeks was a mistake, and I think trying to pack such a significant emotional journey into a series of flickering flashbacks with mediocre dialogue fails to give proper significance to Alex’s death. It’s another testament to Sutherland’s stand-out performance that the scenes can still resound with real emotion.

Similarly, while Maggie Q and Adan Canto are also both incredible actors with great chemistry, even they cannot make the Cuba storyline of much interest. Designated Survivor’s main concern has never been to make its stories plausible, and with enjoying the show comes the need to suspend one’s disbelief. However, it couldn’t disguise the fact that the ‘crisis of the week’ was a mere plot device.

The story spins its wheels until it’s wrapped up far too quickly and tidily, barely attempting to conceal that the whole plotline was designed only to show Kirkman getting his groove back and moving on with his grieving process. Canto and Maggie Q deserve more substantive roles than this.   

Paulo Costanzo and Italia Ricci in Designated Survivor (2016)

Likewise, Seth and Emily’s only function this week was to add romantic drama as it’s revealed (as well all realised long ago) that Emily isn’t as into Seth as he is into her. Their whole entanglement felt pointless from the beginning, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better.

The introduction of a new character this week is what adds levity to an otherwise sombre occasion. Lyor is trialling a new assistant, Tricia, by sending her on what he believes to be a wild goose chase to determine whether she can handle the exhausting bureaucratic elements of the job.

In a few short scenes Tricia is given a background story, a rounded personality, and some smart and playful repartees with her future employer. Hers seems a promising addition to the regular cast, and with both Kendra and Lyor now well-integrated, the stage is set for Tricia to make her mark.

Overall, this was an adequate episode with a throwaway story designed to bring Tom back from the edge and move the story on from Alex’s accident. With Rennett’s surprise return at the episode’s close, one can expect Designated Survivor to return to the plot threads of the season’s first half.

Whatever direction this series will now take, it needs to decide what kind of show it wants to be, and fast.

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

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