Designated Survivor s3 ep 2

*SPOILERS*

Since we’re down to ten eps this season, Designated Survivor is not wasting any time getting on with things: a whole six months have gone by since episode 1 and it’s “infrastructure week.” Yay? Not really, since this seems, much as in real life, to involve a lot of announcing that “It’s infrastructure week!”, but not much else that’s got to do with infrastructure at all. I mean, okay, there’s a Bill, which Emily – in her new official role of Soul of the President (SOTUS) – has apparently been running point on, while dressing like she’s at brunch in the Hamptons. And there’s an “app” – I was rolling my eyes pretty heavily at that point – which Dontae has been working on while accidentally solving voter apathy. Or something. But still, “infrastructure week,” again as in real life, is wholly overshadowed by other, more news-tastic problems, the big one turning out to be not the Norway/ Russia/ US “game of geopolitical chicken” which Aaron sorts, nor the cheeseater/termite problem which Mars is on, but PJB himself getting photographed with a visiting Saudi donor and his child bride. Oops. Exactly nobody’s interested in Emily’s roads and bridges after that, except perhaps Aaron and Isabel but we’ll come to that in a moment.

Bafflingly, noone in the White House except Aaron’s girlfriend seems to realise that child marriage is in fact legal and objectionable across most of the US as well. (Yes, I know, there are different rules in different places about when you become an adult and there are requirements for various kinds of approval etc but still.) I mean, I don’t work in the White House but I knew, just from watching Chicago Med of all things, that it was at least legal in some states. You’d think folk in the pretend US government might have a bit more of a clue than me or folk in a pretend US hospital, but there’s a really weird few minutes when it looks like they’re not going to realise it and they’re just going to argue with the Saudis instead. (Those were an interesting few minutes on the Cregg couch.) Credit where it’s due, though: the conversation/fight between PJB and the female Saudi lawyer the embassy sends to yell at him/ educate him on the various laws of the country he’s the President of is a bizarre, stupid scene and not the way I’d have chosen to point out the inconsistency of POTUS’s position, but at least the show does in fact point it out. And it doesn’t offer easy solutions either, with, for once, PJB going with political expedience rather than his conscience (or SOTUS). Dude really wants to win this election.

Although I’m not entirely sure he’s going about it the right way since, six months after Lorraine was hired as campaign manager, he’s still third in the polls and neither he nor SOTUS really trusts her. Why she’s still campaign manager at all, then, is not entirely clear. She does have a splendid idea (which she may or may not have borrowed from a fan fic I read a while back) which might just turn things around though: World’s Sexiest Politician candidate Aaron for VP! This is a tremendous plan because (a) Aaron is killing it this week – preventing wars, keeping on-message with infrastructure, getting photographed running with his shirt off etc – and (b) it means that he and Emily will be spending plenty more time together since she’s leaving the White House to work on the campaign too. WELL. Last week, I was wondering about PJBemily but this week it’s all Emron back on, baby. Sort of. I mean, there are two major clues. One: Isabel thinks Emily hates her because of Emily’s (EXTREMELY truncated) romantic history with Aaron, rather than because Isabel is really annoying. And two: while everyone else is having the time of their lives teasing/ bullying Aaron about his new sex symbol status, Emily is fretting about the poor boy’s feelings and how mean it is. As am I, and since I have a thing for Aaron too, this seems like incontrovertible evidence that Emron is at least a possibility again, which after the utter weirdness of season 2 acting like they’d never even met let alone anything else, is something of a turnaround. Seems like season 3 is going to pretend Semily never happened instead. Which I am absolutely fine with, thank you very much, season 3, carry on the good work.

In all seriousness, actually. I’m not pretending this was flawless top-tier television – for a start, the angstathon with Mrs Mars adds nothing except yet more characters, and the surgical excision of poor Maggie Q from the rest of the principal cast gets more obvious and inexplicable by the episode. I wouldn’t be surprised if she films her “Q vs the Bioterror” show scenes in a different country from the principal cast, since parent show Designated Survivor has removed any and all reason they might have had to interact with any of them. All that said, though, I really enjoyed this episode. It was fast, interesting and, for the first time in ages, a genuinely good watch. Thumbs-up!

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Designated Survivor s3 ep 1

*SPOILERS*

Now that it’s a Netflix show, as opposed to “a show that’s on Netflix”, Designated Survivor would like you to know things are different. Former workaholic/not-a-traitor (I mean, as if) Emily is now unemployed, moping about in Florida and apparently making a cameo appearance in the unofficial sequel to The Birds (The Birds 2: Revenge of the Humans? No?). So the new Chief of Staff is Dr Greene from ER, with added Secret Pain and prickliness. “Political Director” Lyor has vanished, as if he was never there in the first place. New campaign manager Lorraine is an alcoholic with a secret gigolo habit. (Or should that be “Secret Gigolo Habit”? Whatever. I don’t suppose it’ll be “Secret” for very long.) Aaron is still National Security Advisor but with added new girlfriend whose chief function is to neg him for being a “bad Latino”. (I very much doubt this show can handle this type of storyline well, but we’ll see.) Seth is also thinking about matters of heritage and identity, albeit his attempt to track down his birth parents comes to a somewhat abrupt end – he doesn’t seem too bothered. Agent Q has wisely rid herself of the teenage hanger-on she acquired at the end of last season, the better to concentrate on being fired by the FBI – now run by people who, unlike poor Reed Diamond, don’t appreciate her “can do” attitude to rule-breaking – and being hired by the CIA to carry on being in a different show from the rest of the main cast (except possibly the Birds, given Q’s “bioterror” mandate and its likely connection to the final scene). And everyone is swearing! Swearing, swearing, swearing – even Little P, who would like her dad to STOP calling her Little P because maybe she reads this blog, I don’t know, but either way she’s realised “Little P” is embarrassing and she can’t answer to that and swear at the same time, unless she suddenly releases a rap album.

What of President Jack Bauer, though? Well, uh…. Designated Survivor doesn’t want you to think it’s that different, so PJB is really just the same. People keep pretending he’s “unmoored” because Emily’s not around, and his delight at her return does make me wonder for the first time if Jed might actually get the PJBemily affair he’s been hoping for since episode 1 of season 1. Whether that happens or not, though, the truth is PJB still has the same basic storyline he always has: he loses his cool and does whatever he feels like because he’s a “Man of the People” who doesn’t like politics; the big bogeyman tag-team of mainstream press and politicians criticise him for it; and the “real” people love him because he’s so “real”. Hm. You know exactly which world leaders and wannabes have been using this playbook in real life over the past few years, and their politics are markedly different from PJB’s, but the idea is, of course, that PJB is using them for good. Which would be fine and all, if he could get enough big bad politicians, or even any good ones (bye Darby!), to work with him. Oops.

By the end of the episode, though, things are apparently looking up for the Bauer Administration and its re-election prospects. The band are back together, new Communications Director Seth having correctly pointed out to Emily that the writers are “creating new jobs around here” all the time (I don’t know if it was meant to be quite so meta or even a joke at all, but I laughed) so there’s no barrier to her getting back on the Bauer bus. New, uh, “Hashtag Director”(ok, I made that up, but that’s what the dude does) Dontae revitalises PJB’s election campaign with the, er, power of the hashtag. And the show thinks it’s come up with a new take on Let Bartlet be Bartlet, but it just makes the old one look even better. This try-hard but lacklustre opening episode suggests that the change to Netflix hasn’t changed what was fundamentally wrong with the show last season. It’s still trying to be The West Wing, and it’s still no good at it.

Public Service Announcement 34 of 2019: Designated Survivor

My problems with the second season of Designated Survivor were many and well-documented on these pages, so when Fox decided to cancel it, it felt like something of a mercy killing. Season one was great, silly fun but the show ran out of road when the original conspiracy ended, and season two turned out to be a season too many – the show didn’t seem to know what to do with the better characters and relationships it had, so it added a bunch of new, terrible ones and some incredibly annoying, stupid storylines, and, to put it politely, drove me nuts.

Because nothing is ever truly dead on TV these days though, Netflix  decided to resurrect the Bauer Administration and pad the cast out even more. So the show which probably shouldn’t have had a second season (much as I wanted one at the time) and already has too many characters, is now getting a third season and even more of them. Oh, God. On the plus side, though, the new season is only ten episodes – maybe a shorter, tighter season will work better? Maybe. We’ll see. I’ve criticised Designated Survivor a lot, but I really loved the first season and no one will be happier than me if the show gets its mojo back. (And if Emily and Aaron get together properly. PLEASE.) Anyway, since all ten episodes are going to drop at once tomorrow (7 June), I won’t be doing week by week reviews, but I’ll review the first one at least. Please let it be good.

Designated Survivor s2 ep 22

*SPOILERS*

So, about those storylines I said were going nowhere…

Emily being shot in the final seconds of last week’s episode turns out to have been the cheapest, most pointless of cliffhangers: a minute into this episode, and she’s not only absolutely fine, but her hair and make-up are flawless and she’s headed back to work pronto. Only for her to make a real hash of things, try to knobble the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and resign, on the basis that making a real hash of things has been her default setting for a while now. It’s not entirely clear at first whether PJB is actually accepting her resignation – his method of “putting it back in the envelope and leaving it on a random table in her office” is new to me – but we subsequently see her in a sweatshirt toasting his address to the nation (yes, another one) at home, so I assume all the HR stuff and the leaving gift is in hand. Although there might be a teeny issue with that, which we’ll come back to later.

Meantime, Ethan West, the AG and the two buzzing mosquitoes posing as the majority and minority leadership (every week with these two) turn up to try and strong-arm PJB into announcing he won’t seek re-election, if he wants to avoid the constitutional crisis they say will ensue if the AG tries to indict PJB on whatever nonsense Ethan West has cooked up. This is a bad move for two reasons. No.1: nobody puts PJB in a corner. And no.2: Ethan West forgets he’s supposed to be a fiendishly clever baddie, and decides actually, no, he’s a truth-seeker, and PJB is the real deal. His sudden epiphany/devotion to the side of truth, justice and the American way is bizarre, and unless he operates on a different planet from everyone else, makes no sense in the context of his behaviour and everyone else’s over the past few weeks, but there’s no point in fretting about it because this is the finale and I don’t care any more.

In contrast, PJB, as usual, cares too much, so while his political life hangs in the balance, he busies himself – quite rightly – with thousands of lives at risk from a tsunami in a (fictional) US territory which has just voted for independence. Two of those lives happen to be Seth and Lyor’s, but, of course, they both turn out to be fine, a legally tortuous solution is found to do the right thing and get round the mosquitoes Congress, and Taurasi’s grateful Governor sets about taking steps to make sure that the independence referendum is followed by another one which goes entirely the other way, and they go back to being the “territory” the US wants them to be.

The messaging for this part of the episode is somewhat inconsistent, since it’s Taurasi’s newly-acquired, albeit apparently fleeting, status as a separate country that enables PJB to get round the Congress problem in the first place, and also, the patronising racial optics of it all are awful – in the show’s mind, the black governor of Taurasi is immediately wrong to even contemplate self-determination and independence from the largely Caucasian government of the US, regardless of whatever arguments there may be either way. Lyor makes some sort of Brexit comparison to justify the show’s stance, but it’s both idiotic and completely different. We’ve made no secret on unpopcult of our feelings about Brexit, but to even hint that the UK’s membership of and status within the EU (a group made up of sovereign, independent countries who have freely chosen to team up for various shared benefits, by the way) is similar to territories like say Puerto Rico or Guam’s relationship with and status within the US is fundamentally wrong and misleading in so many ways my head might explode.

But there I go, over-thinking things again. Unlike Q’s plot of the week, which is unburdened by much in the way of thinking at all. She’s at a very posh boarding school which apparently has no staff and no students except Damian’s daughter Amy, a precocious teen with super spy skills and photographic memory, all of which come in handy when we find out what it is Damian had that the Russians are after: a list of all British spies everywhere. My goodness. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? How Damian got it, why he hadn’t already given it to the Russians when he was working for them and, if he hadn’t, how Valeria knows it exists at all, let alone where it is and how to get it, are questions which will forever remain unanswered. Likewise where, say, the janitorial staff or ANYONE ELSE ASSOCIATED WITH THIS SUPPOSED BOARDING SCHOOL are when Q sets up Amy as bait and has a final showdown with Valeria outside the girl’s bedroom in the middle of the night. While she’s sitting inside just hoping not to get shot or stabbed. Top work “taking care of Damian’s daughter,” there, Q.

All of this is ridiculous beyond belief, but the cherry on top of the silliness sundae comes when, Q having killed Valeria and just left her on a towpath (how do you know she hadn’t already sent the list to her FSB pals, huh, Q? Or made a copy?), Amy, her accent shifting back and forth by the second, decides to join her in the US. What? Setting aside the questions that might reasonably be asked by the UK authorities, the US authorities, and the non-existent staff of the boarding school supposedly entrusted to care for this youngster when Q rocks up at immigration with her (What’s your purpose for travel, dear? Oh, I’m just going to move to America to live with this woman I just met yesterday. She says she knew my dead dad. I presume that’s fine?), this all seems completely mad, and only gets madder when Q uploads dead Valeria’s USB. Is the list on it? We don’t know. But is there a re-run of the “senior White House staffer might be a traitor” storyline which screwed up Emily and Aaron’s season one romance for nothing? Well yes, there is. So just like last week, Emily ends this episode in a precarious position, although if there were to be a season three, I assume that would be sorted out pretty quickly too. PJB’s precious Emily’s no more a traitor than Aaron was.

At the moment, though, there doesn’t seem to be any prospect of a season three resolving the issue. ABC wasn’t happy with the show’s ratings or its creative direction – I feel you, ABC – and while rumours suggest Netflix might be interested, they’re just rumours. For now. The tv landscape has changed considerably over the past few years, and shows rising from the dead has become a lot more common than its used to be, so Designated Survivor may not be entirely buried yet. Whether a late save would be a good thing is another matter, though. I loved season one, but whether it’s the repeated change of showrunners, or the show actually just running out of story when the original conspiracy was over, Designated Survivor’s second season has been bad. The show has simply become the very thing I insisted it wasn’t in season one – a poor, confused imitation of the West Wing, with none of its wit or intelligence, wasting characters and actors I liked in service of half-baked, ill-considered plots and characters I didn’t. I am actually sorry it’s ending, but more because it was an opportunity squandered rather than because I want to watch any more of it.

Designated Survivor s2 ep 21

*SPOILERS*

It’s probably the second-last Designated Survivor ever, and the show marks it by starting a whole bunch of random new storylines. I understand that the writers didn’t know it was going to be cancelled but it’s an unfortunately apt metaphor for the disjointed, all-over-the-place nature of the storytelling this season that the stuff they decide to introduce in the penultimate episode is not only completely out of nowhere, but heading back there fast.

First up is Agent Q, who’s breaking into an angry man’s house looking for Valeria Poriskova. Having been bailed out by Aaron (was that “my middle name is cover” chat flirting? I think it was flirting. It was cute!), she then finds out Valeria has broken into her house looking for something else. Sucks to be Valeria though, because Q, having manipulated Aaron and his soft spot for her (I’m sure it was flirting), has already got the something else: a USB of Damian telling her to go save his teenage daughter in London, quick-smart. At this point, I have to ask two questions. First, why would the Russians care about Damian’s teenage daughter whom nobody has even heard of till right now? And second, why should the audience?

*Shrugs*

Challenging Q for the “Where did that come from?” award, meanwhile, Kendra has spent the night with BROTUS. No, really. (Have they even shared any scenes since the episode they met?) Storylines for Kendra are obviously like buses – nothing much for ages then last week’s #Metoo moment and now not just the birth of Trendra but the third break-in of the week. Gosh. Long story short, the family of a murder victim from her AUSA days are not happy. They’re also surprisingly skilled and well-resourced, since they find out where she lives, hack into BROTUS’s phone to call her AND manage to hire a sniper to shoot her? Or is it the gangster people the DOJ gave the killer protection from who do that? I don’t know, it all gets a bit convoluted. The important things to note are that a) after last week’s successful murder investigation, Mike has now moved on to solving break-ins, so Robbery-Homicide Division rather than the Secret Service should probably be paying his wages and b) poor Emily, who’s only there because the plot really needs her to be, takes the bullet instead. It’s not the first time Emily’s been in the vicinity of a bullet intended for someone else, but it looks like she’s a lot less lucky this time. Don’t die, Emily! The show may be cancelled but you could still be Chief of Staff in the great Kirkman administration in the sky.

If there is one, that is. Having turned down the Republican and Democrat parties’ offers to join them as their candidate for 2020 (really? Both of them offer? Are they high?), PJB ends up in an all-out war with both of them, and facing the prospect of being a lame-duck president who won’t get another term – a fittingly meta state of affairs, since the cancellation means this is now a lame-duck show. One might think that would be enough of a threat to the administration for one week, but the budget impasse it causes is resolved largely by PJB telling everyone (his staff, the majority and minority leaderships, the press corps) very firmly that it must be resolved, and the attention switches to a more immediate threat. Yes, in perhaps the most random storyline of all, in order to give MJF something to do, PJB appoints Ethan West (who, somewhat strangely, still seems to despise POTUS although the man listened to his Secret Pain and then saved that kid for him last week) as a Special Prosecutor to investigate Cornelius Moss; Ethan West concludes his investigation in about ten minutes; and Ethan West then promptly starts investigating PJB for criminal conspiracy instead. This is quite mad, really annoying and completely unnecessary since we’ve only just had a storyline about Ethan West heading up proceedings against PJB to try and get him removed, and we really don’t need another, but what the hell. Barring some sort of streaming service miracle, one more ep to go and we’re done.

Designated Survivor s2 ep 20

*SPOILERS*

Well.

I don’t know if Designated Survivor has finally bludgeoned my critical faculties into submission, but I thought this was the best one in ages. Which is not to say it was terrific or anyone should be handing out Emmys all of a sudden, but it had some clever twists, it made a valiant effort at a thoughtful #MeToo-adjacent storyline, and I only ended up wanting to throw things at one character – Ethan West, since you ask – instead of the usual three or four. Yay?!

Bad stuff out of the way first, though. The show really does not need to work so hard to find reasons to shoe-horn West into stuff. He and his Secret Pain added nothing to the story about Bultani (another made-up country? You really are spoiling us, show) except someone for me to yell at; he just got in the way of a plotline that would have had plenty going on without him. I mean, the ambassador was REDACTED at the REDACTED! A teenage kid was REDACTED for REDACTED! FFS. Chuck and Mike joining forces to fight crime, I’m more than happy with. PJB and Louis Canning? Not so much.

Onto the good, then. The Gamine storyline took a dementedly brilliant turn and was all the better for it: I did suspect last week that it might all be the work of REDACTED, but Q’s antics this week (while making me very worried for Chuck) were framed so cleverly they made me rule out the mere idea till BAM! You got me. Well done show, and well done Q. (But not for handing in your badge so you can REDACT REDACTED and get yourself REDACTED or REDACTED in the process. Just NO.)

At the other end of the story spectrum, however, well done to Kendra and Seth who came out of the story of “Kendra and the Problematic Fave” a lot better than Emily and Lyor, who have apparently shut their ears to the sexual and gender politics wake-up call that has been ringing out over the past year or so (Emily, of course, has form for being surprised that workplace relationships can have legal consequences) and wiped their brains of any concept of optics at all. The spectacle of Lyor who normally panics at the mere hint of a bad look, and Emily who (before the memory-wipe, presumably) almost lost her job for identifying another powerful man as something of a sexual predator himself, both being all “this guy we’re nominating for a massively important role might have an ongoing history of using his job to score sex with his subordinates in circumstances that might not be entirely on the up-and-up? And firing them if they don’t appreciate it? No big!” is very odd. But otherwise the issue is actually dealt with in an intriguingly ambiguous, well-thought-out way. I think Flannery’s history demonstrates a pattern of abuse of power and Kendra’s decision is the right one, but even she’s not sure. And, setting aside the more obvious discrimination suit side of things for now, other people will take a different view of his encounters with his colleagues – they’re all consenting adults, a power imbalance doesn’t mean everybody wasn’t into it etc – than I do. Fair enough. Kudos to the show for picking a risky, thought-provoking way to look at the issue – not something I ever thought I’d say about Designated Survivor of all things, but there we go.

Designated Survivor s2 ep 19

*SPOILERS*

Despite valiant efforts by the cast to try and persuade us of the stratospherically high stakes involved, we all know there’s absolutely no danger PJB is going to be removed, and this show’s writing isn’t anywhere near good enough to overcome that, so the 25th Amendment hearing comes across more as an annoyance to the audience than an existential threat to the Kirkman Presidency. I’m just thankful that it only lasts one episode, as opposed to a real hearing to remove a President which might last significantly longer, and don’t propose to worry myself too much about the paucity and randomness of the witnesses called (Audrey from 24, really?) and evidence sought – if the show doesn’t want to waste too much of its time or ours on this particular speed-bump, I won’t be trying to suggest it do otherwise.

As well as the ultimate result, the hearing has a number of consequences, three of which are not very surprising and not massively entertaining: West asks some irritating questions which have no bearing on anything, the newly-diabolical Moss gets a chance to twirl his metaphorical moustache (mwah hah hah!), and the show re-runs that plotline it likes about mean folk POTUS has already made a very important deal with trying to turn the screws and renege on it because he’s in a bit of bother.

Never mind all that, though. The real news is the hearing’s other three, much more surprising consequences, the first being that Seth is suddenly, fleetingly quite funny again. “Do you know what Nixon did on his last day in office? He didn’t shut the government down. He got a haircut.” Heh. Go Seth.

The second, not quite so cheery one, is that the strain of losing every scene partner she’s ever had (I’m now really worried about Chuck and Aaron) finally sends Q over the edge. In itself, that’s not such a shock; it’s been coming for a while. But the way she goes about it is quite something as, ignoring Aaron’s advice that any case against Audrey from 24 in respect of Damian’s death has to be “completely bullet-proof” – uh, unlike Damian then (sorry) – Q eventually decides yelling at POTUS’s new BFF/biggest crush in a posh restaurant will do just as well, and promptly gets herself “terminated” by PJB as a result. I think we know Q isn’t going to just take that, any more than PJB was going to just get fired, but we’ll see how it pans out.

The third unexpected consequence, however, is the one that’s really blowing my mind, if only because I’d given up hope of it ever happening. And yet – unless I’m having some sort of fever dream – here it is, because, possibly for the first time this season, Emily and Aaron have… An Actual Conversation. With EACH OTHER. No, really! And not only that but OMG! Either any behind-the-scenes issue there might be has been resolved/parked for a week, or somebody on the writing staff finally got round to watching last season, because Aaron and Emily Actually Remember They Kissed Last Year. THEY TALK ABOUT HAVING KISSED LAST YEAR. WHAT IS HAPPENING?!