Designated Survivor s1 ep 16

On Designated Survivor this week, A Tale of Two Shows on Two Floors.

Overground/ upstairs, the PJB administration tries to push a gun control bill nobody really believes in through the Senate – they’ll “fix it in the House,” apparently, which seems risky to me, but then again I’m just recapping not legislating the future of a nation. The writers and the cast do their best with this Very Important Subject: Aaron gets to reach out to Emily (SQUEE!) and offer Kimble’s help; Kimble gets to reach out to PJB and confound him yet again (easily done); and the First Lady gets to almost screw everything up, as per usual, with the supposed “move” to Camp David now nothing but an ephemeral, beautiful, idea consigned to the dustbin of time, along with Betamax and my youth.

While perfectly watchable and reasonably entertaining, none of this save-the-bill, save-the-world stuff is very surprising. PJB is earnest, Moss has a whale of a time chewing the scenery (and chewing up anyone not playing ball), Seth is Seth and therefore awesome, and the final vote is fun, albeit the “shock! twist!” is about as “shocking!” and “twisty!”as a ruler. The problem with spending such a big part of any episode on a serious politicking story like this one, however, is that it reminds us of what the show isn’t capable of doing, as opposed to what it is; I’ve said in the past that I really don’t mind PJB not being The West Wing and I don’t like comparing the two, because PJB’s not meant to be a serious prestige political drama, it’s a high-concept thriller set against a political background, which is a very different thing. An episode like this one suggests, though, that the writers have forgotten that, and think this gleefully crazy show (I mean that as a compliment) can compete in the serious political drama arena, which it not only, patently, can’t, but makes that sort of unfavourable TWW comparison both inevitable and damning, whether I love both shows or not.

Since PJB is usually more successful when it’s being daft and thrilling than when it’s trying to be serious, then, it’s unfortunate that this weeks Conspiracy Plot side of things is more exposition than exciting. While upstairs focuses on gun control, below stairs is in charge of missile control – Agent Q (now apparently allergic to sunlight?) sticks to the lower levels, firstly using her basement office at the White House (When did she get this? What happened to QHQ?) to show Agent Mike all the exciting “Hey, we can blow stuff up!” graphics that she and Jason found on Janice from Stalker’s computer, before heading off on another road trip to Conspiracy Corp’s underground missile silo in North Dakota. Despite “the one man you can trust” Reed Diamond being back from his holidays, Q still chooses to take the not-entirely-stable Jason Atwood along instead, but he holds it together long enough for both of them to find enough bombs to blow up three Capitols, which I probably should’ve been a lot more aghast about than I was. I mean, I know it’s bad and all, but it’s difficult to get worked up about a dusty warehouse full of giant, oddly-shaped Lego. To be honest, I was much more excited by Aaron’s husky post-vote call to Emily (SQUEE AGAIN!), than anything Agents Q and Atwood were getting up to. The episode was fine, sure, and I enjoyed it, but PJB has been much sillier in the past and much better for it.

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