A lot of interest has been generated around political thrillers after the immense success of House of Cards. It’s not like political thrillers are new to the television arena. There have been several shows like West Wing and Spooks which have dealt with diverse political conditions, national crisis and security issues with equal amount of fact and dramatized fiction. House of Cards just rekindled that interest, gave it a little nudge. I haven’t watched House of Cards but I do intent to watch it. I am just weary of how much I need to catch up. That would require binge watching at the highest level. When I searched for similar shows in this genre, the first popular result and the show which I am about to review was – Designated Survivor.
Who is a Designated Survivor? According to the show, a Designated Survivor is someone who is in line to become the President of the United States of America in case of the demise of the sitting President and all his cabinet ministers. Now that situation seems highly unlikely, isn’t? Yet, when the Capitol building is tragically bombed killing the President and the cabinet ministers, Tom Kirkman- the Designated Survivor, becomes the next President. Now Kirkman, or for that matter anyone in his position, could have never anticipated such a turnaround. He is a very simple and modest man, a Professor in Architecture, the Secretary of Housing and Development- and who was just fired from his position the very same morning. Immediately taking oath after the bombing, Kirkman faces the mountain task of bringing some stability to the currently nonexistent government. With absolutely no political experience, Kirkman struggles to keep his mind focused and put a strong demeanor forward. He receives advice from several fronts but isn’t certain whom to trust and whom not to. Media makes things worse as they correctly doubt the capability of Kirkman as President. How does Kirkman make a stance for himself and how he restores the country back to normalcy while he faces problems from different fronts- cyber crime, terrorism, foreign relations and mainly the investigation into the Capitol bombing is the plot of the show.
The Capitol Bombing investigation storyline runs throughout the season with other problems being mostly episodic. I think that was a very clever move. Agent Hannah Wells is assigned with the investigative task and she uncovers several disconnected pieces which she tries to piece it into one. 90% of the time, this storyline captured my attention. The rest- it was too forced. The number of times Wells gets abducted or gets injured/into trouble is numerous. And her working alone most of the time just got a little irritating. The entire track of Vice President Mackliesh was nicely written. Just at the time when I felt it was being dragged, the track was brought to an end which was smart.
Another part which I loved about the show was bringing Ex-President Cornelius Moss into the picture. Not only did Moss bring with him a vast load of experience, he understood the humongous task Kirkman was facing and offered valuable advice at the right time. He didn’t overstep the line. Rightly, Kirkman appointed him as the Secretary of State and all the scenes involving both of them beautifully showed how much thinking goes behind every decision and how many factors have to be considered to avoid repercussions.
The support staff- Emily, Aaron and Seth- depicted how much of the ground work is carried out by them, making things easy for the President. Without them, the President would just be disabled. It’s good they didn’t drag the Emily-Aaron relationship. I loved the scenes between Seth and Moss. They were a huge comic relief.
The role of media and their power was strongly represented in the show. The government has to decide when and how much the public needs to know. But many a times, the media gets a step forward, due to leaks within the office, and gets secure details into the open, forcing the government to either clarify or deny those information.
Running a government isn’t easy and the President is as much a human being as everyone else. This show beautifully portrays that. There were various instances when Kirkman just couldn’t stop himself being emotional especially when he had to his soldiers into war or when Wells got abducted. He felt responsible for those lives. Also- the changes his position brings into his family- his wife and two children and the adaptations they have to make- just only shows the amount of sacrifices one has to make for the country- not just the President but everyone working along, and not just the President of the USA but every other country.
Coming back to the various tracks- I really wish they had completely ended the Capitol Bombing investigation in the finale, especially when they had identified the traitor in the White House (That track was very good). Taking the same track into the next season too would just only drag the storyline and restrict for further creative tracks.
The writing was tight for the most part. Little drags here and there- but it really held my attention most of the time. The entire atmosphere of the White House was set effectively. The actors did their parts really well- but none of them completely stood out. Kiefer Sutherland was very good as Kirkman- but the majesty and charisma for the stature of a President was missing. May be that’s because he is still on the learning curve and would gain more confidence in due course.
Designated Survivor is an excellent watch especially for those who love political thrillers and conspiracy theories. It’s just one season down and hence very easy to catch up too.