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.

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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?!

Designated Survivor s2 ep 18

*SPOILERS*

The hacker with the thing for Alan Turing is leaking tapes of PJB’s therapy sessions, upsetting everyone at the White House a lot and everyone else in the US even more. I’m a little bemused by what’s supposed to be so shocking about them: the Capitol bombing, the devastation of the entire political system and the loss of his wife had an effect on POTUS’s mental health. And…? Of course they did, he’s not a robot, FFS.

In these talking-head-tastic times, the frenzy over his fitness to serve isn’t exactly shocking either, though. Although the sheer speed at which Congress and the newly-minted VP move in for the kill is quite something – before we know it, we’re invoking the 25th Amendment and planning our own unprecedented special hearing with Michael J Fox playing Louis Canning MK II. No offence to MJF, who is a fine actor, but Louis Canning MK I already overstayed his welcome, so I’m really not looking forward to a repeat.

For now, though, I suppose this episode is OK as far as Designated Survivor season 2 episodes go, if nothing special. Emily learns a lesson (and stops behaving in the mad way she has over the past few eps), Chuck and Tricia prove once again that they’re better than everyone else on the show put together, and, er, REDACTED dies?! I know it’s fiction, but it never feels quite right to be pleased about the death of a character on tv so I won’t do a happy dance or anything. I mean, he was awful and I never want to see him again, but poor Q. How many partners can one agent lose?

Designated Survivor s2 ep 17

*SPOILERS*

“The airstrikes will continue until the Emir surrenders unconditionally.”

Having started out as a careful, even-tempered moderate for whom violence was a last resort, President Jack Bauer is turning into something of a hawk. A perfectly sensible argument could be made that it’s the stresses and losses of the past 18 months which have broken him, which would make sense and explain his complete change of attitude and increasingly angry behaviour, except that, apart from a few perfunctory nods to “other views,” the show doesn’t seem to think there’s any real problem with the president’s new Charles Bronson-ish outlook on everything. I mean, although it’s eventually established that, in his fury, PJB did indeed jump the gun and order the attacks on Kunami on the basis of faulty intelligence and that if he’d waited half a second, he might have realised that, as soon as he shows any signs of accepting that he was wrong, the show provides him with not one but two “justifications” after the fact: number one being that (contrary to my expectations last week) it was indeed a senior Kunami official who was responsible for the bombing of Brandt station, just not the one he thought it was, and number two, what do you know, the Emir had a deux ex machina secret stash of chemical weapons and “plans to attack civilians” just lying around for special emissary Q to find, so he was a bad dude anyway and nobody’s going to come after POTUS for bombing his country to bits and getting rid of him on a false premise after all. Handy.

Anyway, the entire war plot does my head in this week, which is becoming a regular state of affairs with this show. I miss season one. Chuck is almost as fed up as I am, since the appalling Damien is back and now has an immunity deal (FFS), and Aaron gets a bit tetchy as well, albeit he cheers me up in the process by getting all up in Lyor’s face. Not that it lasts, this being Aaron’s week to succumb to the lure of Lyor and comfort the “political director” in his time of (momentary) doubt with “You have a streak of decency. You’ll never be (Bowen).” I don’t know if the writers have got a bet on or something, but we get it: Lyor is their favourite. We really don’t need to have a different character learn to appreciate him Every. Single. Week.

By way of silver lining, however, Trisha and Mike hang out, which is lovely, and we meet Trisha’s brother Royce (accompanying Q of all people on a ridiculous mission to Kunami, don’t get me started) who is also great – niceness clearly runs in their family – and seems to be the only person who’s worked out that Q might not be in the best headspace either. I’d be much happier watching a spin-off with the four of them, than whatever it is this show thinks it’s doing.

Designated Survivor s2 ep 16

*SPOILERS*

Saddled with the imminent threat of a “dirty bomb” on top of everything else, PJB’s itching for a fight. Forgetting he’s a world leader now and not CTU’s answer to Rambo, he storms in to accuse Chairman Kim of masterminding the whole thing before putting the entire EHC delegation, Chairman and all, in an indefinite time out. So far, so not exactly diplomatic. Meantime, because he’s not just a hothead but a hothead with a crush, he brings Dr Audrey from 24 back yet AGAIN because, as well as super-advanced billion-dollar defence systems, her company has also built a super-advanced privacy- busting search engine. My goodness. Is there anything Dr Audrey can’t do? Um, work for the FBI, apparently: she has constitutional scruples about using her super-smashing tech to help out law enforcement. (But no such issue with using it for the pursuit of her own profit, presumably, or she wouldn’t have built the thing in the first place.)

Happily for law enforcement, however, Dr Audrey’s conscience is no match for the lethal combination of PJB’s puppy-dog eyes and her very own room in the presidential bunker come the apocalypse. While the good doctor searches for the bomber underground, then, Agent Q combs the overground with new partner Paul who has sidled quietly into the recurring cast without any fanfare. Seems like it might be a case of one in, one out: Reed Diamond returns this week and I’m very pleased to see him but my happiness doesn’t last, and neither does he. His entirely legitimate investigation into FLOTUS family corruption (and a load of bad stuff we’ve never really had a decent answer for) having been rebranded by the show as the demented witch hunt that killed her, poor Reed Diamond now has to suffer the indignity of apologising to both Q and PJB for doing his job. Apparently that isn’t enough penance though, as minutes later he’s summarily blown up. It’s meant to be a heroic death, I know, but however you want to categorise it, it’s a sad, disappointing ending for a decent, steady, sane character and there are precious few of them in this show as it is.

Talk of steadiness and sanity, meanwhile, brings us to Emily and PJB, who seem to have abandoned theirs entirely. After Emily’s brainfart last week about the legal implications of workplace relationships, she doubles down on the out-of-character ignorance this week by demanding of the increasingly flabbergasted Kendra “Does it really matter where the evidence came from?” Uh…. Since Emily’s so contemptuous of the idea that yes, yes it most certainly does, I really hope Ms Chief of Staff ends up in front of some sort of congressional committee very soon and learns to appreciate a “procedural nicety” or two for herself.

The potential harm caused by Emily is dwarfed, however, by the actual harm caused by her boss. After a whirlwind thirty seconds where everyone suddenly decides that EHC didn’t kill Reed Diamond and – completely out-of-left-field – Kunami did, POTUS summons the unfortunate Kunami ambassador to yell at him, give him no time to investigate or refute anything, and then yell at him some more, before ordering immediate retaliation. Never mind “waiting 18 months,” PJB refuses to wait 18 minutes and he’s not going to listen to anyone who tells him otherwise. So a unilateral act of war (which will no doubt turn out to be a mistake – I mean, Kunami didn’t do it, did they?) means PJB finally gets the fight he wants. I guess we’ll find out the cost soon enough.