A good news story to start President Tom Kirkman’s week: an American track-and-field team, led by national hero Coach Brad Weston, is heading to Russia. But nothing goes according to plan for POTUS: on landing in Moscow Weston is arrested, ostensibly for possession of performance-enhancing drugs. But then the CIA admits to the President that Weston is one of their assets, and Moscow demands the withdrawal of nuclear missiles from Turkey in return for Weston. Well, Tom isn’t going to stand for that, so instead he tries to pull off a three-way spy exchange to get Weston home, using a Russian operative being held in Saudi Arabia as tasty bait for Mother Russia. The fact that the swap is taking place around ten minutes from the end of the episode is enough of a clue that it isn’t going to work out as planned.
And, while we’re on the subject of three-ways (not that there’s any evidence, etc. etc.), the question of Leo’s paternity won’t go away: FLOTUS goes to prison to visit Jeffrey Myers (played by Erik Palladino, Dr Malucci in ER), still in the frame as a possible baby daddy, who wants to be released in return for his silence. Unfortunately, this means that Leo’s in the show this week.
Meantime, with Nassar lying dead on the floor of his cell, the President wants some answers, and the man who can provide them is Deputy Director Atwood, who has now been convinced by Agent Maggie Q that Congressman MacLeish is behind everything. So Atwood heads to the Oval to brief the President, but just as he’s about to begin… who should hove into view but MacLeish himself, on the back of a cosy dinner with Mr and Mrs POTUS. Without actually saying anything Atwood really couldn’t make his suspicion any plainer, and he doubles down on the side-eye when MacLeish drops into his office to hand over some personal documents relating to his vetting as a possible VPOTUS. So it’s no surprise when Atwood’s son goes missing on his way home from school; not to the audience at least, although Atwood is a little slower on the uptake than you’d want the Deputy Director of the FBI to be in an ideal world. “What”, he wonders aloud to Agent Q, several years behind the rest of us, “if this isn’t a coincidence?”
Agent Q, as it happens, is chasing Catalan, revealed by her CIA source not to be a Catalan, but an American mercenary. Mr CIA Source, whose name I didn’t catch and can’t be bothered to find out, has plenty of dire warnings for Q – he doesn’t want to see her get hurt, back away, and so on – but of course she doesn’t pay any attention, and her reward is that someone leaves an envelope full of Catalaniana in her car. But she can’t get hold of Atwood on the phone to tell him this, because he’s been approached by the Big Bad’s representative, Janice out of Stalker, who confirms that she and the people she’s working with have his son. I really hope that Mariana Klaveno and Maggie Q have, for loyal fans, insisted on at least one Stalker meta-joke in a future episode. (It struck me this week that the White House phones sound like the CTU ones in earlier seasons of 24, or maybe I’m imagining it.)
My problem with Designated Survivor is that I don’t really have a problem with it. I like it. It’s Madam Secretary with more action; it’s Scandal with more gravitas; it’s The West Wing with less of everything that made it The West Wing, but I can live with that. It’s not quite tailor-made for me, but off-the-peg it fits well enough. I wonder, though, whether there are sufficient viewers like me to make Designated Survivor into a viable long-term proposition.