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Designated Survivor - Grief - Review

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Designated Survivor returns after a very long hiatus with “Grief,” written by Keith Eisner and directed by Timothy Busfield, who also guest stars as Dr Adam Louden. In addition to having been a regular on The West Wing, Busfield’s extremely long list of directing credits includes Thirtysomething (which he also starred in), Damages, Aquarius, and This Is Us. This episode finally catches us up on the aftermath of Alex’s death and Hannah (Maggie Q) shooting Damian (Ben Lawson).

It’s been 10 weeks since the accident – just as long as the hiatus, in fact. Tom (Kiefer Sutherland) is not handling his grief well because he’s choosing to simply avoid it. He didn’t go to the sentencing hearing of the man who was texting and driving who killed Alex nor even read an article on him. I liked that they raised awareness about this stupid practice, but it did seem a rather trivial way to get rid of Alex. The senior staff is concerned because he has been paralyzed by indecision, and it’s at their urging that he is meeting with therapist Louden – and doing his best to avoid that too.

I like how they spread this element of the episode out – and that they side-stepped the direct aftermath. The episode begins with Tom being called away from therapy – to do his job – but the Louden points out that Tom always breaks off when they finally get to Alex’s death. Louden vows that he’s not leaving until they finally get to it.

The next time we see Louden he asks Tom if he has a strategy for coping. Who does he blame for Alex’s death? And we get flashbacks to Tom’s decision to become President, take the HUD job, and Alex agreeing to stay. Louden points out that every action has an antecedent, and Tom refuses to blame Alex for any of the decisions that got them to that day, claiming that the only one that matters is that he’s the reason they stayed. The point, of course, is that the only person to blame, is the one who caused the accident.

Next the doctor asks about the kids. We get flashes to Penny (McKenna Grace), who is really too young to truly understand – but I really questioned why he’d wake her up in the middle of the night to tell her? Why not let her at least get one more night’s sleep and tell her in the morning? Leo (Tanner Buchanan) takes his anger out on Tom, telling him that Alex hated it there and clearly blaming Tom. Louden points out that grief is different for everyone. Tom has been reluctant to share telling the kids’ reactions, and Louden points out that by sharing their grief, he had to share his own, and Tom doesn’t want to confront his grief.

We get flashbacks to Tom – dry-eyed – at the funeral. Louden asks if Tom grieves in public or private, does he cry? Tom says no. Louden tells him that grief is a ritual – and Tom has to get through it – he can’t go around it. Later we see him having to make decisions about the funeral and so forth – but he doesn’t have to make any of these decisions. As someone who has had to make these types of decisions, I can tell you, he doesn’t know how lucky he is to have so much help.

Louden finally gets Tom to admit that he was traumatized by Alex’s death. He tells him that if he brings unresolved emotion unintentionally into a decision, it will have a bad result – and of course, that’s what is paralyzing him and causing him to make bad decisions throughout the episode. Kiefer Sutherland is terrific throughout the episode as we see the tight control he’s keeping on himself and finally get a glimpse of his grief, especially with the kids. It’s also interesting to see this different side of Kirkman, and I loved the transformation in the situation room at the end when he finally takes back control.

In the final scene with Louden – and I do hope we see Busfield again, both behind and in front of the camera – he tells Tom that he’s standing still. He consoles the children but not himself, he holds himself responsible, and he’s angry. Tom finally admits that he’s not dealing with any of it – but now he’s ready. Louden tells him that he needs to deal with it to move on – people who tread water too long, inevitably drown.

In the final scene, Tom confronts Evan Beeman (Joey Coleman) in prison where he’s serving time for Alex’s death. Here we get just a shade of Jack Bauer again as Tom asks him if he’s being well-treated and fed. When Coleman says yes, Tom is pleased – he wants Beeman to live a long and healthy life and to remember every day what he took from Tom.

Not surprisingly, given Busfield’s connection to The West Wing, we get lots of great walk and talks in this episode. Seth (Kal Penn), Emily (Italia Ricci) and Lyor (Paulo Costanzo) worry about Tom’s complete inaction over the last ten weeks. However, now there’s a big diplomatic, trade mission going forward with Cuba in Havana.

Aaron (Adan Canto) and Hannah accompany the mission. Adan asks Hannah if she’s ok after having shot someone she was sleeping with – yes. He’s not stupid. Maggie Q is her usually flat affect, so I believed her when she said she was fine. She’s still on probation and has to earn their trust back. We learn that no body was found, and was anyone surprised when Damian showed up in her apartment at the end of the episode? I’m sure he’s going to turn out to be a good guy who’s gone deep undercover…

The delegation is kidnapped by a group of rebels lead by Ramon Bravo (Miguel Perez). He demands $500 million in ransom – and it doesn’t take him any time at all to recognize who Aaron is. Hannah manages to briefly escape and discovers that their fellow “prisoner” – Phillip Cross (Jefferson Brown) – is actually in league with Bravo.

As things unfold in the situation room, we see Tom bringing his therapy with him. He insists that assigning blame for the kidnapping doesn’t matter – of course, in the end, it does! And this also leads to Tom confronting the real person to blame. Tom wants options from everyone, rather than just making a firm decision. He gets input from Emily, Kendra (Zoe McLellan), Lyor, and a new General (Rick Roberts). He decides to send in a single Blackhawk – which ends in disaster. Emily and Lyor are concerned that Tom wants assurances and that he’s being too risk averse – kind of like Emily with Seth – but more on that later…

Tom ultimately decides to pay the ransom – which nobody thinks is a good idea. Another great walk and talk with Lyor, Emily, and Kendra (but really, could she bounce less in these scenes? Please? It’s distracting in a bad way!) discuss that they’ll have to get Senator Sanchez (Lisa Marcos) to get the money from Congress to get Aaron back. Emily looks pensive at the mention of Aaron… And then Sanchez can’t get the money – because newsflash, you never give in to terrorists! Lyor comments that Tom has been all about safety in the last 10 weeks – pulling troops from Iraq/Iran, doubling Homeland security and now the ransom…

Lyor points out to Tom that paying ransom has at its heart the blind faith that the others will honor the deal. And that’s the deal breaker for Tom – he also realizes that he has been bringing his unresolved emotions to the situation room. He tells Bravo that he won’t pay the ransom but he will act as an arbiter with President Ortega (Emiliano Diez) and he’ll hunt Bravo down and kill him if he kills any of his people. Cross then rushes in and offers to pay the ransom – meanwhile, Hannah, who Bravo has been threatening to kill, crosses herself. Emily realizes that Hannah isn’t catholic and gets the signal to be wary of Cross – it’s the clue they need to unravel the whole plot.

With Chuck’s (Jake Epstein) help, they discover that Cross has made 6 trips to Cuba and is funding the rebels in exchange for land rights to build resorts. Tom presents the evidence to Sanchez, and it’s revealed that Ortega was in on it too, paying off Bravo to frame the rebels for all of it because Bravo knows the rebels will be killed off in a military action – sure to come after the ransom is paid. Tom tells a shocked Sanchez that the longer you’re in politics, the more you realize that you don’t know anyone. Tom leaves it up to the Cuban people to take care of Ortega and Bravo.

Emily and Seth are apparently off again. He spends the episode trying to get her to go on a trip and is tipped off that something’s not right when she really criticizes him for one of the press scrums. It’s pretty clear that she still has feeling for Aaron. In the end, Seth wants to know if she wants to simply dial back their relationship which has grown quite quickly, or call it off completely. Emily is still waffling – much like Tom – so Seth tells her he knows what he wants, and she should call him when she figures out what she wants. I think it’s pretty clear that Alex’s death has also had an effect on Emily who was close to her. Emily has also been a witness to the love between Tom and Alex for a long time, and seeing that end must also have an effect on her. Seth is a smart guy – I’m betting he gets his answer the minute that Aaron gets back.

In a side plot, we’re introduced to Tricia Sims (Chelsea Harris) who wants to be Lyor’s new assistant. Poor girl! Lyor sends her on what he thinks is a wild goose chase to get the original blueprints to the Capitol for the President. We get some funny stuff with her pulling files from the Annex – black mold! But in the end, she more than proves herself to Lyor.

He finally has pity on her and tells her that the exercise was just about perseverance – the number one thing needed in the job. But she’s got the blueprints! Turns out they aren’t kept at the White House but at the Capitol and they can’t be removed. So she’s taken pictures of the original with her phone, pieced them together and normalized them and had them transferred to the correct paper! She tells Lyor that her dad worked construction and her mom cleaned house to send her to college. Now she’s working in the White House! She’ll find the blueprints to Atlantis if he asks her too! I like this girl! And I’m betting that Tom is going to love her…

This was a nicely structured episode, showing the fallout from Alex’s death in really interesting ways. Sutherland delivers a terrific performance. As always I found the main plot most interesting, but I thought the subplots were handled well in this episode. I’m not looking forward to splitting the action again between whatever Hannah and Damian are up to and the action at the White House. They’ve never found a way to truly make those two elements gel for me. What did you think of the episode? Was this a fitting tribute for Alex? Did you want more of the aftermath? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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