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.

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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.

Designated Survivor s2 ep 15

*SPOILERS*

We’re back into fictional country territory this week as PJB and the rest of the boys (literally – they only leave Emily and Kendra behind) head off to a very special summit at Camp David to try and broker a peace deal between “East Hanchu” and “West Hanchu” which could not be more obviously North Korea and South Korea if they held up signs. Which makes me wonder what the point is of pretending to invent fake countries if you then go on to do everything you can to make sure your audience knows you’re actually talking about real ones – I mean, FFS, the ruthless supreme leader of pariah state “East(?) Hanchu” who has a penchant for murdering relatives and winding the world up with missile launches is actually called “KIM,” so it’s not as if the writers are being subtle about it. How come Russia doesn’t get the fake fig-leaf treatment on this show but the Koreas do?

Anyway. Negotiations at the summit are complicated by the fact that the Kirkman crew are on the one hand pretending to act as honest brokers, while on tthe other hand helping organise the defection of Kim Jr and the jailbreak, more or less, of his girlfriend. Luckily, Dr/ Highly Eligible Widow Audrey from 24 is ready and willing to help PJB sort things and pocket a big fat contract for her company, with the promise of tax breaks and yet more government contracts to come from a very grateful (and equally eligible) Widower POTUS. If anyone’s concerned that the President’s unilaterally promising special perks and patronage to a private company, they keep it to themselves.

Back at Camp, meanwhile, it’s time for another instalment of “I Love Lucy Lyor” with Seth taking over Desi duties from Emily this week and learning to appreciate the man behind the rude personality and baffling takeover of the season. I don’t care for Lyor myself but given the sheer amount of screentime devoted to getting to know him this year, somebody on the writing staff really, really does.

“Emily Loves Seth” is cancelled once again, however, it being a revelation to Emily that the WH Chief of Staff dating a subordinate might raise some manageable but entirely obvious legal issues (at this point in my notes, I’ve written “ARE YOU NEW?”) and a revelation to Seth that Emily’s not that into him. Please let this be the end of “Sethmily”: we’ve all suffered enough.

As has poor Chuck, as Emily (not having her best week) bludgeons him into not entirely legally finding out that the man who helped save the Chu deal is also the man who almost scuppered it in the first place, so PJB’s even angrier with Cornelius Moss than he was before. Ho-hum. No Kirkman Family Values and no Damien this week, so this episode was a thousand times better than the last one, but I still struggled to care about any of it.

Designated Survivor s2 ep 14

*SPOILERS*

The super-hacker shuts down the power grid this week, plunging DC (except the White House which has back-up generators and some very tasteful candles) into darkness and chaos: such is the population’s discontent apparently that, pretty much as soon as the lights go out, Washington turns into Thunderdome, and PJB’s talking martial law. If it all seems a bit quick and pat, that’s because it is, but the speedy descent into looting and mayhem has nothing on the solution for it, which involves perhaps the stupidest, cheesiest rubbish this show has ever given us: PJB and the DC Mayor on a “friends forever” tour, for all the world as if this is happening over two months instead of one night, doling out platitudes and blankets because the ultimate fix for poverty and lack of opportunity is politicians in expensive suits telling us we’re all in it together.

Argh.

This is all awful and gets on every nerve I’ve ever had. Unfortunately the rest of the episode isn’t much better, albeit it’s marginally less likely to provoke me to violence. Emily and Lyor get stuck in a lift, which on many a show would be a reason for their passions to erupt and for them to make out, but since neither Emily nor Lyor have any passion for anything beyond their politics, instead it’s a chance for her to come to a better understanding and appreciation of him. This is odd, since I could swear Emily was the one who recommended PJB hire Lyor in the first place as she’d known him for years and could already see beyond his abrasiveness to the purported genius underneath, but I guess that’s just a minor plot detail we’re all supposed to have forgotten about. The writers obviously have.

Because everyone is behaving like an idiot this week, nobody works out that since Emily and Lyor have not been seen since they went to the State Dept, maybe they’re STUCK AT THE STATE DEPT, and instead everyone keeps saying “Oh they must be stuck in traffic, power outages mean traffic jams everywhere.” This wouldn’t be that unreasonable an idea, except that everyone forgets to tell any of the other characters zipping around town in all their cars no problem – Q, Damian, PJB, the very same Japanese Finance Minister that Lyor and Emily were meeting with himself – about these so-called traffic jams apparently shutting the city down because ARGH AGAIN.

Since Emily’s MIA, Aaron (already the busiest National Security Advisor on the planet) is appointed Interim Chief of Staff because he needs more jobs to do. This seems a bit unnecessary since Emily’s only away for a few hours not a few months FFS, and makes me wonder: do they appoint an Interim COS when she’s at the dentist? Out for her lunch? On a longer-than-usual bathroom break? As usual, I’m thinking about this much more deeply than the show does.

Meantime, Damian breaks out of the safe house to go plead with his Russian ex not to kill his American ex – or so he says – with Q conveniently catching up with him just as he shoots some dude who was apparently going to kill her – or SO HE SAYS – stone dead. None of this makes any sort of sense, least of all the scene where the Russian “cultural attaché” cheerfully admits her plan to have the President’s pet FBI agent executed with pretty much no consequences at all except some big talk from Agent Q. Maybe pull girlfriend’s diplomatic credentials? Get her punted out of the country? Or no, having said pet FBI agent threaten her back is a much better plan, I can see that now. ARGH FOREVER.

I’d like to end this on a positive note and say the episode is redeemed by some of the smaller, more personal sub-plots, but it isn’t. I think PJB’s brother becoming his babysitter/cheerleader and new Japanese finance liaison is supposed to be heartwarming but it’s all just more of that irritating “family” rubbish that the writers are so fond of wasting time on. And as for Seth fretting about his relationship with Emily…. turn the lights off, blow the Capitol up, do whatever you want to these characters to try and get us all worked up, but none of it changes the fact that Emily has more chemistry with her hairdryer than she has with her supposed boyfriend. This was a terrible episode and their skin-crawlingly awkward kiss just put the tin lid on it.

Designated Survivor s2 ep 13

*SPOILERS*

Here’s the thing. I think President Jack Bauer using the might and influence of his office to give the prisoner responsible for FLOTUS’s death a piece of his mind was an abuse of power, unpleasant to watch and generally very bad craic. In an increasingly right-wing, reactionary climate though, I’m finding it a little hard to believe that all the press and public on Designated Survivor are having the same reaction. Where are all the “Good on him!” “That scum killed his wife! He should get the chair!”-type talking heads and very special debates on the PJB universe’s equivalent of cable news?

Instead, the entire nation is apparently united in its unflinching devotion to prisoners’ rights and irate that their hitherto relatively mild-mannered but currently somewhat agitated President might use his position to settle the odd score. Um…. reality long ago outstripped fantasy on that front, but I suppose that has been an issue for many a political drama over the past year, so this week’s Designated Survivor decides to just double-down on its own echo chamber and have a whole episode devoted, essentially, to PJB and his staff fretting about whether he might be coming across as a despot.

The prisoner problem kicks things off but, warming to their theme, the writers whip up another “maybe he’s not that woke after all” controversy by having a Native American tribe sit-in, right there in the hallway at 1600 Penn, because PJB, back in his pre-President days, may have helped big business screw them out of their ancestral land. This would obviously be very bad if it were true, but there’s no real need to worry; a little digging and all the badness turns out to have been the work of other people entirely (I mean, as if PJB would, come on), so thanks to a late save from Tricia – who is the best – everything is sorted out and the Kirkman brand is shiny and untarnished once again. Even if, once again, I’m not sure I grasped all the finer detail of what the solution actually was. (Did the Ocheole get their old land back? Or just to keep the most recent land they were settled on? Did they get federal recognition despite Mr Mean Client’s intervention? Am I thinking about this too much?)

Rehabilitating the President’s image on a number of fronts is apparently not enough for one day, however, as the writers again take time out from the drama and the politics for yet another “family” storyline : this time, it’s some business about Kirkman the Younger, a man we have never seen nor heard of before and who serves little purpose here other than to annoy everyone a bit and fill in some back story nobody needs. Whatevs. It all ends exactly as you’d expect, too.

On the spy shenanigans side of things, meantime, as I said last week, the writers are weirdly fascinated with Damien. So they completely ignore both my wishes and “Paul’s” (no, me neither) advice to “Cut him loose!” – Paul is now my new favourite character and should get a spin-off show with Tricia – in favour of bringing back Mr Slimeball, his job this week being to give Q the deets of his Russian handler/girlfriend and act as unwitting, gratuitously shirtless bait in a “sting” to catch the hacker which ends with one dead guy, one burnt-out laptop and still no sign of the hacker. Oops.

On the plus side, Lyor’s storyline is mildly amusing (for a change), Seth doesn’t do anything whiny, and the episode’s heart is generally in the right place, trying as it does to touch on some serious issues in an accessible way. The joins are a bit too obvious, though: it’s all a bit tired and doesn’t have any of the breathless excitement or stirring conviction the best instalments of Designated Survivor do. A passing grade from me, then, and no more.

Designated Survivor s2 ep 12

*SPOILERS*

Designated Survivor has always been a tremendously silly show and normally I love that about it, but this week’s spy shenanigans may have pushed me too far. Materialising like the ghost of boyfriends past in Agent Q’s bedroom, the agent formerly known as Mr MI6 finally resurfaces, having been on the run (since Q shot him) from his Russian handlers because they know he’s been burned and his British employers because they know he’s a traitor. His options somewhat limited, therefore, he offers himself to the Americans who indirectly blame him for the death of their First Lady, and very directly blame him for bruising Q’s heart.

Happily, Q gets to bruise his face in retaliation, before dragging him off to be interrogated by her and Aaron. This is admittedly somewhat surprising but, as we’ve learned over the course of the season, Aaron’s duties as National Security Adviser are much more varied and plot-dependent than common sense and real life would necessarily suggest. Anyway, turns out Damian has some information on how to track down the hacker who’s hobbled NASA and Roscomos and is preventing them from saving a crew of astronauts stuck on the malfunctioning International Space Station from a highly unpleasant death. Space being infinite, the stakes literally could not be higher then, and so, instead of being huckled to a CIA black site and waterboarded forever, Damian is popped back into the field to save the spacemen and spend some quality alone time with Q before he goes to jail.

I can just about understand the rationale for this when we’re dealing with the skittish secret source who’ll only talk to his old buddy, but any attempt at plausibility goes running headfirst off a cliff when Q takes Damian, and only Damian, along to a very public, very open flower show to see some guy who doesn’t know him from Adam, Chuck, Reed Diamond or any number of people still legitimately in law enforcement and available to help Q out.

‘Twas ever thus on procedural drama, I suppose. Plausible or not, it’s all over soon enough: the systems are fixed, the astronauts are saved, and Damian is duly dropped off at a nearby penitentiary to think about what he’s done. I hope we don’t see him again – now I’ve decided to get on board the good ship Qaron, I don’t need him trying to muscle his way on board – but the writers seem weirdly fascinated with the man, so he’ll probably be in every episode from now till the season finale. Sigh.

Meantime, unexpected consequences of the whole business include President Jack Bauer reuniting with (and being very impressed with) Audrey from 24, who is now some sort of science genius; Lyor behaving like an eight-year-old; and Cornelius Moss reading his boss the Riot Act and ending the Icarus investigation, both of which seem like extremely positive developments for the show if not for Cornelius, who is immediately and angrily kicked to the kerb by PJB. He must not have watched the first half of the season.

It’s not a bad episode, but there’s a little too much that’s a little too daft for it to succeed entirely. The Damian stuff is one example, but the thing that bugs me most is just how much time the President of the United States devotes in the middle of an urgent, critical and potentially devastating interstellar crisis to the sorrows and tribulations of one Little P. Lessons obviously haven’t been learned from season one’s ill-advised focus on Kirkman family storylines – here we are again, taking time out from the politics and the spy adventures, otherwise known as the stuff we actually tune in to this show for, to meet with Penny’s Principal. Come on, now.

Designated Survivor s2 ep 11

*Spoilers*

President Jack Bauer is sad. But sad in a tv President kind of way, which means that instead of having a big long cry to make himself feel better, he is rude to the compassionate but no-nonsense therapist (Danny from The West Wing, because what Designated Survivor really needs in an episode already borrowing a lot from “Noël” is more points of comparison) he pretends he never wanted to talk to anyway and he stops making any real decisions about anything. Since it’s been “ten weeks” since FLOTUS’s death and there’s still a country to be run, this isn’t ideal, but it becomes significantly more of a problem when Aaron (sporting a very relaxed lavender shirt, grey suit and no tie combo – Aaron not wearing a tie is becoming something of a habit), new BFF Agent Q – it makes sense, I suppose, for the two characters who’ve been largely rudderless since season one finished to buddy up – and the rest of a super-significant trade delegation to Cuba are kidnapped by armed rebels. What to do?

At this point, we’ve all watched enough American tv drama to know that what not to do is “negotiate with terrorists”. At least not officially. But PJB’s not keen on risking any more countrymen, least of all a bunch of Congressmen and his National Security Adviser. This contrasts somewhat with the attitude of his senior staff, who quite frankly could stand to show a bit more concern for their colleague: Lyor and Seth don’t seem to care much at all about Aaron’s safety and it’s only Emily who seems remotely bothered. That and the fact she essentially, if temporarily, dumps Seth at the end of the episode might have got my hopes up in the past about the possibility of rekindling of the Aamily flame, but I’ve been bitten that way too many times before. At this point, I think an Aaron/ Agent Q hook-up is more likely. They make a good team, they have a nice, easy chemistry and I’d be into it.

Agent Q has some unfinished romantic business to attend to first, though. She acquits herself in her usual bad-ass fashion in Cuba, and once they’re all eventually saved (although it happens so abruptly I have no idea how – I know PJB actually gave the go-ahead for military action, but did it actually happen?), up pops Mr Ml6 once again. “We need to talk,” he growls. Oh no. Must we?

Presumably, this means the corruption investigation storyline didn’t die with FLOTUS after all; I suppose Q does need something to do. Meantime, this wasn’t a bad way to re-start the season, overall. I hated PJB’s scene with the guy responsible for his wife’s death, but Kiefer Sutherland’s performance throughout the whole episode was excellent, it’s always great to see Timothy Busfield and Lyor’s new assistant Tricia (Chelsea Harris) is absolutely lovely, even if her boss still does my head in.