Ben Mark Holzberg / ABC

The Designated Survivor Exercises Judicial Restraint

Republican lawmakers hope to stop the president from appointing a ninth Supreme Court justice. Like that would ever happen.

No longer satisfied with being two not-very-good shows, Designated Survivor has stepped up its game to become...three not-very-good shows!

So let's run them down. First of all, in the poor man's The West Wing, Kirkman has had Julia Porter, one of his former colleagues at Columbia University, put together an entire Supreme Court bench on the down-low. Better yet, Congress seems to be on board. But of course Senator Bowman moves the goalposts, threatening to block Kirkman's "independent" Chief Justice nominee, and sending Kirkman into an un-presidential conniption.

Meanwhile, in budget All The President's Men, Rob Morrow returns as disgraced but dogged reporter Abe Leonard. He's working hard and going out on any number of limbs to uncover the truth about the Capitol bombing and the late Vice President, which would probably be interesting if we didn't already know what it is.

And finally, in community theater X-Files, Wells and Atwood try to learn more about the missile silo full of bombs by venturing to the nearest town. That's where they encounter signs of some kind of revolutionary, paramilitary cult. When they try to check back at the silo, they find it occupied by armed militia types. Which means they have to sneak back in under cover of darkness to observe the arrival of a surprise visitor.

But with all these subplots, is anybody actually getting anything done? Let's rank the players by effectiveness, from least to most.

  1. First Family
    Alex and the kids aren't even mentioned in this episode. Maybe Natascha McElhone is off looking for work as an actress.
  2. White House Staff
    Aside from walking into rooms and delivering news to the president, Emily doesn't have much to do. Her big scene isn't even in the White House, but in an out-of-doors meeting with Aaron, where she shuts him down regarding Speaker Hookstraten's supposed expectation of being offered the Vice Presidency. Like Hookstraten wants that dead-end gig anyway. As for poor Seth: it's become his full-time job to express disbelief at hearing crazy stuff about his boss that we already know is true.
  3. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
    After Senator Bowman from Montana squats over Kirkman's Supreme Court punch bowl, Julia comes up with a solution as to who should be the next Chief Justice: nobody! After all, as we've learned from Mitch McConnell and Dick Van Patten, eight is enough. Everyone accepts this compromise, but the news media trumpets it as a victory for Kirkman. Too bad Julia herself couldn't take the job like Tom wanted her to, but she declines on account of the early-onset dementia she's beginning to struggle with. Which makes Tom really sad, but which I find rather refreshing.
  4. President Pro Tempore of the Senate
    For a guy who got his ass handed to him on the gun control vote last week, Bowman doesn't seem to have lost any of his relish for grinning smugly while ruining Tom's day. This time, he threatens to undo all of Tom's (actually Julia's) work by torpedoing the Chief Justice nominee. He stands and takes the president's scolding -- in front of the rest of Senate leadership no less -- and then continues not to let him have his way. Ultimately, it looks like he'll claim victory by virtue of letting the next president pick the ninth justice. And the obnoxious thing is that it looks like he'll get away with it.
  5. President of the United States
    Tom actually shows quite a bit of range here. One moment he's yelling at Congress like an angry schoolteacher; the next he's awkwardly using a coffee table as a desk while he works in a kneeling position because there aren't enough chairs in the White House. He also refuses to let the FBI arrest Abe Leonard to see what he knows and how he knows it, which is good. But he gets his big victory by facing down Senator Bowman's refusal to confirm his Chief Justice nominee and responding with a mighty "...Okay." He'll take his wins where he can get them, I suppose.
  6. Secretary of Homeland Security
    You'd think that Mike would keep pretty busy as the liaison between the FBI's investigation and the president, but that would require him to ever be anywhere near the president. Sitting in on conference calls with the feds seems to be a full-time job, while updating Kirkman on their progress falls to Director Forstell. Seems backwards, I know.
  7. White House Press Corps
    Abe Leonard has moved on from Teen Mode to the even-more-fictional-sounding New York Standard, which apparently gives him the resources to go chasing off to Iraq to learn that Arab terrorists didn't blow up the Capitol after all. But his editors aren't letting him run with it until he gets better sources, and since his best source appears to be some mysterious figure who sends pop-up links to his computer and leaves burner phones on his windshield, he'll probably be spinning his booze-sodden wheels a little longer.
  8. Speaker of the House
    Kimble Hookstraten doesn't do much onscreen other than stonewall Abe Leonard regarding her delay of McLeish's confirmation vote and wonder why she hasn't been offered the Vice Presidency yet. But offscreen, she's getting that gun control bill through the house and probably plotting what she'll do with that Vice Presidency offer she seems to be expecting from Kirkman. Because it's not like she'd actually take that job. Right?
  9. Attorney General
    After completing their recce of the bomb-filled missile silo, Wells and Atwood venture into the small, fictional town of Driggs, North Dakota to see what they can learn from interacting with the locals. What they find is a lot of out of state license plates, awkward conversation, and copies of a mysterious manifesto entitled Pax Americana. Learning that some kind of shindig is apparently going down at the missile silo, they quietly gatecrash the party and are just in time to see the guest of honor: the dreaded Catalan, who was supposedly killed on Acting President McLeish's orders while Kirkman was in surgery! So I guess we can amend the list of the late Vice President's accomplishments to zero.
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