The Designated Survivor Has 99 Problems And Michigan

President Kirkman struggles to hold together a country that's running scared.

While former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Tom Kirkman settles into his new gig as President of the United States, there's quite a to-do list to get through. Similarly, the show's writers seem determined to check a lot of boxes as well. A show with this many subplots all but cries out for the Rankled treatment, so in view of the subject matter, we're going to rank the various story elements in Presidential Order of Succession Format. But instead of the order laid out in the Constitution, I'll be running down the list in order of how well they and/or their representatives did their jobs, from most to least successfully. Maybe it won't work, but there's a lot less at stake here than on the show. Here goes.

  1. Speaker of the House
    Tom is surprised to meet the other Designated Survivor, Representative Kimble Hookstraten (seriously). Looks like the Republicans kept one of their own in reserve as well. She presents herself as being on Tom's side during this shared crisis, and he takes her at her word, but it's obvious to us viewers that she's got an ulterior motive. Why else would she be secretly Googling the man if she weren't up to something shady?
  2. President of the United States
    Tom's first briefing in the Oval Office is brief indeed; he endures about a minute of angry crosstalk before it drives him out of his own office. He'd rather take refuge in his old chair in the Cabinet Room, then escape the White House entirely to visit the scene of the disaster (production has to get its money's worth out of that shattered Capitol dome set, after all). His megaphone-on-the-rubble moment, besides being derivative, is derailed by a breaking news story and a panicky crowd. Although he's starting to show some problem-solving skills in private (see below), the public is just not buying him as the president yet. Maybe it's time to consider some other form of public address, or maybe a stacked heel.
  3. Secretary of Defense
    Despite giving Tom credit for facing down the Iranians in the pilot, General Cochran is still insisting he knows best. He argues that there's a 75 percent certainty that the bombing is the work of Al Saqr (there's also a 75 percent certainty I'm spelling that wrong, which is okay because there's a 99 percent certainty it's fictional), but that's not good enough for Tom. One can't help enjoying Kiefer Sutherland's brief slip back into a familiar mode as he angrily schools the pushy general:

    Tom: "Come back to me with more than seventy-five percent and I'll launch the missiles myself."
    Cochran: "How much more?"
    Tom: "Twenty-five, dammit!"

    Only one number off from an absolutely perfect Jack Bauer line.

  4. Secretary of Homeland Security
    As in the aftermath of any real terror attack, the proverbial woodwork disgorges scads of panicky, pissed-off bigots eager to give the terrorists exactly what they want. Seth gets stopped by the cops on his walk to work for no other reason than his brown skin. Which is nothing compared to how the governor of Michigan is rounding up Muslims and letting his cops run roughshod over the people of Dearborn. And Governor Royce flat-out refuses Tom's presidential order to knock it the hell off. Fortunately Tom hits on the idea of bluffing that three DHS agents have been scooped up along with everyone else, and threatening Royce with an obstruction charge if he doesn't release everyone immediately. Yeah, like that would work. But this is TV, so it does. And Seth is warmly welcomed into a candlelight vigil on his way home, because again: TV.
  5. First Family
    Alex, formerly the alpha Kirkman, is already reduced to fretting over demeaning First Lady concerns like what she's supposed to wear and whether she's supposed to smile. Also, rather than availing herself of the White House's massive staff to watch Penny while she joins Tom at the bomb site, she assigns the job to Leo, who totally blows it and lets Penny see her dad get caught in a stampede on live TV. That boy is going to be a problem, in case you didn't pick up on how the pilot introduced him as a drug dealer.
  6. White House Staff
    Tom is still letting Aaron and Emily act as his co-Chiefs of Staff, which is dumb. Not just because they can't agree on a single name with whom to refill the Cabinet, but because it doesn't occur to either of them to simply split up the list and each pick their own. That way they could have been done in an hour rather than bickering about it all day. It's hard to pick a side between these two, but Emily has a slight edge because Aaron just looks too much like Aimee Mann's terrible boyfriend in the "Voices Carry" video.
  7. Attorney General
    Rather a poor showing for the Justice Department, in more ways than one. First, two guys from the (presumably late) AG's office give Tom totally conflicting advice on how to deal with Governor Royce. But secondly, and more significantly, Agent Wells suspects that the unexploded bomb found at the Capitol -- the one that seems to point the finger at Al Saqr -- was meant not to go off, but to serve as a red herring to hide the identity of the real bomber. Unfortunately, that's as far as she gets; she can't convince her boss to tell Kirkman about it, nor does she speak up about it when she finds herself in Tom's presence. To be fair, proving her theory would take a lot of work that would cut into her moping time.
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