Last night’s DESIGNATED SURVIVOR channeled its inner-The West Wing in providing an episode that explores the delicate process of creating a new supreme court for the country. It’s no easy task and because the show is all about conflict (things can’t run smoothly for more than two seconds), so we have a foe to help create problems for President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) and company. Let us dig in deeper into the business at hand.
Republican Senator Bowman, the latest political villain to join the show and who lost by having the gun control bill pass in last week’s episode, is not the biggest the fan of Kirkman and his independent views. Being the selfish character he is, Bowman decides to reject Kirkman’s justice nominations out of spite. Well, Kirkman is not having it with Bowman and sternly yells at the room to sit down (unleashing his inner Jack Bauer), but quickly apologizes for losing his cool.
In order to fill out the Supreme Court, Kirkman calls on Julia, his former supervisor from his university days. She has been working around-the-clock to get nine members vetted for the process. In order to keep things balanced and moving smoothly, she has collaborated with senior leadership in the Senate to pick four progressives, four conservatives and one bipartisan independent. The independent nominee would serve as chief justice, this way creating balance for both parties. Julia and Emily assure Kirkman that everyone is on board with these choices. Which is why Kirkman is thrown off by the Republicans and their resistance to the nominees. They feel that the independent choice has shown liberal bias in his rulings. The Republicans demand they have five conservative nominees they find suitable or they hold up all confirmations (so much for being team players). Kirkman gets angry and informs them that there are 126 cases on the Supreme Court docket that are being blocked by this process. Kirkman calls out Bowman for holding the justice system hostage. Another Republican senator speaks up and decides to offer a compromise: bring us another chief justice nominee and we will consider it. Kirkman agrees and teamwork continues, albeit with inner resentment by all.
Julia, feeling equally as frustrated with Bowman, quickly gets another name for the nominee, but is immediately shot down by Bowman and his team. Emily and Kirkman sit down with Julia and propose that she run for chief justice. She is honored by the opportunity, but she has never been a judge. Kirkman points out that she worked as a clerk for Justice Gray and that he decisions are studied in law schools. Emily and Kirkman also point out that the right would have a difficult time saying no. This appears to going over well, until Julia sits one-on-one with Kirkman to inform him that she has early onset dementia and can’t accept the job. Kirkman is shocked and upset by the news. This was someone he considered a mentor. The scene is one of those surprisingly moving of the season and a much-needed dose of genuine emotion from the show. Sutherland and Linda Purl beautifully play the scene in all of its confusion and heartbreak. Through the sorrow, Julia finds strength in finding a solution for Kirkman: there will only be eight supreme court justices, in order to keep things equal for both parties. According to Julia, the justices isn’t dictated by the constitution, and the next president could nominate one as he or she sees fit. Bowman agrees to the terms and we now move forward with the eight nominees. Something tells me Bowman will continue to be a thorn in Kirkman’s side.
Meanwhile, Congresswoman Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen) is keeping her eye on the prize, which is becoming the new Vice President. She feels since she helped Kirkman get the gun control bill passed, then he owes her a seat at the table. Emily tells Aaron, that Kirkman never made such a promise. This will probably become a complicated situation fast and Hookstraten will most likely make some power moves.
Moving on to the most intriguing plot of the episode, the return of shunned and tenacious journalist Abe Leonard (Rob Morrow). Abe has found a new home working for The New York Standard. He’s been given the assignment of uncovering the conspiracy theories of Nestor Lozano (Kirkman’s assassin). We see Abe in Iraq, where he meets with a terrorist leader, who informs him that Lozano paid Al-Sakar to take credit for the Capitol Hill bombing, which they did not do. Abe rushes back to Washington to get a response from Press Secretary Seth for Kirkman. Seth has no clue what he is talking about, but alerts Emily to warn Kirkman of the story.
Abe moves on to Hookstraten and informs her that he has been made aware that she did not approve MacLeish’s confirmation as VP initially. Hookstraten decides to not comment and put herself in a messy situation. Aaron is nervous by Abe’s allegations and calls Agent Wells (Maggie Q) for help. FBI Director Forstell meets with Aaron and gathers the intel provided to take to Kirkman. He informs Kirkman that someone in the White House is leaking classified information to Abe. Forstell wants to bring in Abe for questioning, but Kirkman says to hold off. Regardless, Abe’s publishers don’t believe there is enough concrete evidence to run the article.
Abe searches online for any information he can find to make the article stronger. He stumbles onto a mysterious pop-up link on his computer screen, he clicks and is taken to classified videos of Wells shooting at the building where Lozano was in position for shooting Kirkman, during inauguration day. Shortly after, Abe is being followed by who he thinks is an FBI agent and runs to Seth to confirm, but Seth is as clueless as ever. Later, Abe receives a mysterious package on his car with a cell phone. It quickly rings and the mysterious caller informs him that they have information on Lozano and to meet in an hour, mysterious indeed!
In conspiracy land, Wells and Atwood are still in North Dakota to see if they can dig up any additional information about the massive explosives they discovered last week. Wells and Atwood walk around the small town of Driggs and notice many out-of-town license plates on cars, which is very suspicious. In one of the cars, they notice a blue book titled Pax Americana, which they take a photo of and walk away to get more clues. They go to a nearby bar and find out from the bartender that the visitors call themselves “true believers,” which sounds like some crazy cult. The “true believers” visit the Air Force property and burn bonfires, they also line up their cars. Atwood and Wells believe that this may be a terrorist cell. At a gas station, Wells notices a man with the blue book in his pocket and a tattoo that reads “NVWS.” She is able to slyly swipe the book and discover that the book is about replacing the old government with a new one. The book also reveals that NVWS stands for “No Victory Without Sacrifice.” After failing to get onto the site of the “true believers,” they sneak around by foot and observe from afar. They realize the bonfires are created as a landing zone for an incoming helicopter and when the helicopter lands, Wells and Atwood notice that Lozano has stepped off and is clearly not dead and very alive!
This was a solid hour that had a good balance of DC politics and the conspiracy stuff. The pleasant surprise was the heartfelt emotions that came from the Julia and Kirkman scenes. It didn’t come off as cheaply manipulative because the actors played it honest and subtle. It was refreshing to get some moments of genuine feeling from a show that is usually preoccupied by plot movement. I hope we get more character moments like this in future episodes. In the meantime, what does Lozano being alive mean for the conspiracy? Will Abe become an asset or a thorn for Kirkman? Another entertaining hour has come to an end and until next week for intrigue and twists.
Season 1, Episode 17 (S01E17)
Designated Survivor airs Wednesdays at 10 PM on ABC
In the crowded TV jungle, Cristian searches through the dense vines to find quality programming for all to enjoy.
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Cristian Barros | Contributor