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Designated Survivor - One Year In - Review

Designated Survivor returned for season two with an appropriately titled episode – “One Year In” written by Keith Eisner and directed by Chris Grismer, who directed several episodes last season. Eisner joins the show as the new showrunner and his credits include The Good Wife, Law & Order, Shark, Gilmore Girls, and NYPD Blue – three very impressive shows out of five, so I’m hoping for some improved coherence in the story telling.

This was a pretty solid episode to kick off the second season. I like that they are continuing to comment on real world issues, and I found the conspiracy plot a little more interesting – mainly because I enjoyed the addition of Ben Lawson as Damian Rennett. I’m not equally sold on the addition of Paulo Costanzo as Lyor Boone, however, as his character is simply utterly annoying. And my favorite walk and talks are also back!

One year in, Tom (Kiefer Sutherland) seems to have settled a bit more into the office. Emily (Italia Ricci) no longer seems to have any problem – did she ever? – telling everyone what to do, making both Seth (Kal Penn) and Aaron (Adan Canto) toe the line at different points in the episode. Aaron is now National Security Advisor, but answers to Emily. We get to see him in action when a plane is hijacked. I’m not sure we necessarily needed to just happen to have an estranged friend of Tom’s on the plane though.

I did like some of the elements of how the story played out quite a lot. I liked that both Emily and Aaron strike out with their assigned ambassadors. I also liked that after trying to get the UN to step in as negotiator, it’s Tom who figures out what’s really going on. It was almost a little Jack Bauer when he read Pavlov (Damir Andrei) and Dressler (Daniel Falk) the riot act. He tells them play time is over – and fix it. It’s a nice mirror to the fact that Tom’s “play time” is over and he’s ready to fix more than the Congress building. It was a nice touch having Tom know Russian because he taught it to himself to impress Alex’s parents.

The other scene that I particularly liked was Tom’s scene with Elias Grandi (Arye Gross). Grandi is there to meet with the President after winning the National Medal for the Arts. It’s hilarious as Grandi is shunted from room to room and passed off from one member of the team to the other – and of course the rooms get less and less grand as Grandi’s very long day plays out. When he finally does meet with the President he is ready to refuse the honor and he’s sure there’s been a mistake.

Grandi tells Tom that he doesn’t think Tom could have read anything he wrote and that he abhors the government and everything it stands for. But Tom assures Grandi that he has read everything he’s written. He believes in freedom of speech and believes in rewarding dissenting voices. He tells Grandi that if Grandi didn’t exist, he wouldn’t either. He tells Grandi, “I’m not asking you to stand down. I’m asking you to stand up.” Tom is fully prepared to be accountable to the people he governs.

This is a nice counterpoint to Seth’s storyline. We first see him being offered a job by Dax Minter (Chris Butler). When he’s called back to hold a press conference after the hijacking, he’s combative with the press corp, and clearly tired of answering questions about Patrick Lloyd (Terry Serpico). Leor manages to further undercut Seth’s already shaken confidence by heavily criticizing his press release on the hijackers. Emily also plays into this when she points out that his language is combative. She also catches him in a lie and finds out about his meeting with Dax. Emily knows he’s thinking of quitting, and he admits to her that he feels like he’s sinking the ship for the entire team at the White House.

Seth is finally able to give out some good news when the hijacking is resolved – at least the hostages are released and negotiations have begun. Rather than simply walk away from the podium, Seth comes back and apologizes for having been so short with them. He underscores the importance of the freedom of the press – something sadly lacking in the current White House. He tells them that he understands that it’s their business to ask questions and it’s his job to answer them. He tells them that the President has never wavered in his belief in the American people and that they should write about that.

Leor spends his first day “observing” and generally criticizing everyone and being obnoxious. Emily is the one who brought him in to be Political Director and she is still determined that he can help with their messaging but Seth and Aaron tell her they want him out. The three go to Tom with that goal in mind, only to find Leor already there, and Tom ready to welcome him to the team. Leor takes the time to explain his criticisms – he tells Seth that hijacking is too violent and that he should use terrorist attack because they’re the victims in this scenario and it gains them more sympathy. He tells Aaron that he should never have met with the Ukranian Ambassador in a hotel because it was a lack of respect for a proud people not to meet him in the White House. And finally, he criticizes Emily for making Tom meet Grandi in private. Tom should be seen publicly embracing his most vehement opponents to prove that he’s a President for all the people.

It’s hard to say whether they all are really completely won over at this point or just putting up a good front for Tom’s benefit. Regardless, Tom tells them that inspiration is fundamental to what they’re doing at the White House and he’s fully behind Leor.

Tom is called to the situation room when the plane blows up. It turns out to be an accident and the only casualty is Tom’s friend. It’s a nice little bit of backstory that his friend was on a humanitarian mission and that he and Tom used to do them together before they had a falling out when Tom accepted a position at Stanford instead of going on a mission. It turns out that his friend never held it against him – but they never got to resolve it.

This story is offset nicely by Tom coming to thank the staff for their hard work that day. He tells them that one of the dead was a friend of his who dedicated his life to the ideal of humanitarianism. He pays tribute to his staff – to all who dedicate their lives to public service. And of course, that is really what Tom has also done.

Finally, we see Hannah (Maggie Q) on the trail of Lloyd in Europe. She ends up working with MI6 agent Damian Rennett after they cross paths following Lloyd’s trail. As it turns out, Lloyd owns a lot of property in the UK so is a person of interest. They track Lloyd to a buy of computers and then don’t find them in the warehouse they were delivered to. I was a little sad to see Chuck (Jake Epstein) really shunted to the sidelines. He realizes that Lloyd just wanted the processors and that they would generate a lot of heat. He finds where Lloyd was, but he’s gone by the time Damian and Hannah arrive. The episode ends with Lloyd returning to Washington.

What did you think of the episode? Do you like the new characters? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!