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Designated Survivor - The Confession - Review

Designated Survivor “The Confession” was written by the team of Jennifer Johnson and Paul Redford and was directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, whose other credits include Under the Dome, The Last Ship, and The Pillars of the Earth. Johnson also wrote for Kiefer Sutherland on Touch and her other credits include Chase, Cold Case and Lost. Redford has plenty of “political” writing in his dossier as previous credits include Madam Secretary, The Newsroom, The Unit, and The West Wing. All this talent isn’t wasted, and I’m continuing to really enjoy the show as the stories develop, and we get to know these characters more.

We learn immediately that the lone survivor is Peter MacLeish (Ashley Zukerman). He’s clearly suffering from a bit of survivor’s guilt, but as the episode unfolds, there’s also something not quite right about him having survived. Footage of the speech cuts out shortly before the actual bomb blast, but pictures taken on a woman’s phone show that MacLeish wasn’t actually in his seat when the bomb went off. Why remains to be explained.

When the Whitehouse suffers a “one time malicious cyber intrusion,” there is some concern over who did it – Russia, North Korea, the still unknown bombers? They quickly determine that a video has been left in which Al-Sakar takes credit for the bombing. Cochrane (Kevin McNally) is quick to declare that the video is proof, but Kirkman (Sutherland) insists it doesn’t make sense for them to hack in to leave the video, and asks if anyone else has any reason not to believe this is definitive proof. Atwood (Malik Yoba) finally tells Kirkman about the unexploded bomb.

Kirkman demonstrates his lack of political acumen by trusting Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen) far more than he should. He shows her the video. He looks to her as the representative of Congress and thinks she needs to know about all threats to National Security. He also tells her that he doesn’t think that the way to bring the country together is through war. When the video is released, Hookstraten is his first suspect. Madsen is terrific as the career politician, and it looks like she may be the one we love to hate.

Kirkman prepares to speak at President Richmond’s funeral. Seth (Kal Penn) is helping to prepare his remarks and asks his son Tyler (Colin Woodell) if he has any memories he’d like to share. Tyler says all the right things – “he was just Dad to me.” Kirkman listens politely and sympathetically, telling Tyler that he has big shoes to fill as President. Tyler answers with a somewhat cryptic “We both do.” This remark resonates much differently when they find out after the funeral that Tyler and his father had been estranged. However, at this point, Kirkman is struck by how quickly one can lose their family, so he calls Alex (Natascha McElhone) and sets up a family dinner for 6:30 – and you know immediately that he’s never going to be able to make it.

Meanwhile, Kirkman’s family – particularly Leo (Tanner Buchanan) – are having a difficult time adjusting to life in the Whitehouse. Alex, however, points out that it’s not really the Whitehouse – they brought their problems with them – and Penny (Mckenna Grace) finds Leo’s – the drugs he brought with him. Leo flees back to their house and Alex follows him. Leo insists that he doesn’t know why he did it. And I did find this part of the episode was a bit weak – but perhaps we should be patient for this to be teased out.

Back at the Whitehouse, Kirkman gives an interview, which is going really well until the last question when he’s asked if President Richmond fired him on the day of the bombing. Aaron (Adan Canto) calls him and rescues him temporarily. Emily (Italia Ricci) tells Kirkman to tell the truth, and Aaron wants him to hedge – it’s all about perception. In fact, Aaron’s advice before the interview was to appear in command but approachable while Kirkman suggested sincere. In the end, he sticks with sincere by returning to the interview and answering by saying he’d been offered another post. He hadn’t been fired. But the interviewer hammers home – but President Richmond didn’t want you in his Cabinet anymore.

Next stop is Richmond’s funeral, and when he arrives, Tyler won’t let him speak. Emily doesn’t want Kirkman to back down, but he insists that Tyler just lost his father, so he gets to decide. Kirkman is taken aback when Hookstraten gets up to speak. He remarks, “this is what you get for being honest in DC: Opportunism.” He may not be a politician, but he has worked in the political machine. I loved that he wasn’t above cutting her down by throwing her own words in her face on his way out.

When the video is leaked, Kirkman confronts her. Hookstraten denies it, but points out that whoever did do it, did him a favor. The news is going to be all about the video. His interview and the questions surrounding his legitimacy will be forgotten. He asks her point blank if she wants to be President. She tells him honestly, not now – but she’s ramping up to run in the next election. Her remarks make it clear to Kirkman who did leak the tape – Aaron.

Kirkman confronts Aaron, telling him that he knows he did it. Aaron tries to justify it, but Kirkman tells him “what you did was directly insubordinate, not just duplicitous.” Aaron gives him his letter of resignation and tells him to use it whenever he chooses, but he points out that Kirkman is surrounded by people who want him to fail. In the end, and I was surprised by the choice, Kirkman appoints Aaron Chief of Staff, but keeps Emily on as a Special Advisor. He tells her that he needs someone who doesn’t think like he does, who’s political as Chief of Staff, but he needs her to keep him honest.

I’m liking the dynamic between Emily and Aaron. He may criticize her for being late and taunt her about getting engaged – her boyfriend asked, she turns him down by the end of the day – but he also clearly respects her enough as a credible rival. It’s also clear that she’s not going to simply sit by and be a wallflower.

Kirkman once again shows what kind of man he is by calling Tyler back to the Whitehouse. In a completely self-less act, ignoring the way Tyler slighted him, he goes about helping Tyler have a positive memory of his father. Seth has discovered that Tyler and his father were estranged, and Kirkman tells Tyler a story about President Richmond holding up a Cabinet meeting for an hour to tell them about Tyler’s recital. Tyler is shocked because he was sure that his father had missed the recital – it would be hard to miss the Presidential retinue! But Kirkman assures him his father was there – in a baseball cap in the back – the same way Kirkman was able to visit the bombing site quietly. Richmond hadn’t wanted to make the visit to the recital about him, he wanted the focus to stay on Tyler. The punchline, of course, is when Kirkman can produce the program from the recital as tangible proof. Richmond had brought one for everybody. Tyler is moved and grateful for the memory of how proud his father was of him. When he leaves, Tyler thanks him and calls him Mr President.

By the time Kirkman remembers his own family, it’s 9:30, and he’s three hours late for his family dinner. Alex and Penny have waited up, but Alex tells Kirkman that Leo is at a friend’s… only to be surprised by Leo showing up. I liked how they managed to weave the personal story thread into the political thread. It looks like Leo may be troubled and have typical growing pains – the same kind of long shadow to escape as Tyler perhaps, but it also seems like he’s probably not a bad kid either. This kind of show really doesn’t need heavy personal drama to go along with the political intrigue. This is a balance that Madam Secretary and The West Wing managed very well. Clearly the writers for Designated Survivor bring this direct experience to the show.

I’m not at all interested by the Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) storyline. Q has not impressed me, and doesn’t in this episode either. The fact that we learn the man she’s been so worried about – Senator Scott Wheeler – is a married man that she was having an affair with – simply makes me even less sympathetic to her character.

The final scenes indicate that Kirkman is going to call on Aaron to do a lot of the hard calls. He tasks him with making sure that Al-Sakar is found quickly. Meanwhile, Aaron receives a folder from a mysterious woman on Tom Kirkman. He asks if there’s anything good in it, and she responds, it depends on what side you’re on. Is Aaron working against Kirkman
, or is he simply trying to get out in front of potential problems? Arguably, Aaron needs to know the worst so that he can be prepared to deal with it if it comes up.

What did you think of the episode? I’m liking the balance between personal and political, and Kirkman is really shaping up to be the kind of President that made the West Wing such a joy to watch. It’s also a refreshing change from the current political climate… Were you surprised at Kirkman’s choice of Chief of Staff? Would you have chosen differently? Let me know your thoughts on the episode in the comments below!

About the Author - Lisa Macklem
I do interviews and write articles for the site in addition to reviewing a number of shows, including Supernatural, Arrow, Agents of Shield, Agent Carter, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, The X-Files, Defiance, Bitten, Killjoys, and a few others! I'm active on the Con scene when I have the time. When I'm not writing about television shows, I'm often writing about entertainment and media law in my capacity as a legal scholar. I also work in theatre when the opportunity arises. I'm an avid runner and rider, currently training in dressage.
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