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.

Designated Survivor s1 ep 15

*SPOILERS*

This week on Designated Survivor, Team PJB – presumably stung by President Moss’s suggestion last week that their Administration isn’t so much governing as freaking out – decides to get back to the business of running the country, and do some cutesy re-start the clock nonsense to roll out the President’s agenda for the next/ “first”100 days. This requires yet another Presidential Press Briefing – dude loves a briefing – and a “Town Hall,” giving PJB the chance to speak earnestly and well, and a cheeky Seth to ask him what he thinks about pornography, and prompting me to wonder why Seth isn’t chief of staff instead of Emily, because Seth is smart and funny, you guys, and Emily is wearing a tank top (aka a sweater-vest). Her judgement is clearly suspect.

Of course, no discussion on US politics – fictional or otherwise – is complete without gun control popping up, and neither should it be. So when the First Lady – who, despite all that palaver a couple of weeks ago, has moved to Camp David in the same way that I have moved to Camp David, which is NOT AT ALL – answers a question about it in a sane and compassionate manner, everyone loses their minds. There follows some walking back, some political manoeuvring and a nice big Bauer hug, all of which are fine, but I don’t watch this joyously crazy, fun show for the serious issues, you guys – give me your ships, your assassins, your labyrinthine conspiracies which make no sense whatsoever, and I’m in clover.

And as far as the assassins and conspiracy count goes, we’re cooking with gas. (Just like Chuck’s apartment. Ba-dum-tish!) Reed Diamond seems to have a week off – or maybe he’s still standing frowning at QHQ behind last week’s two-way mirror, I don’t know his life – so Agent Q drags the other two law enforcement men in her life back into the search for Janice from Stalker (who might now have a real name and a back story, but she’s always a Janice to me) instead. Uh-oh…

Even the lovelorn Chuck can see when he’s being taken advantage of by the co-worker who isn’t so much unaware of his crush on her as wilfully pretending it doesn’t exist, but he keeps it to himself, focussing instead on performing some sort of miracle of forensic science and oh yeah, not getting blown up. Good work, Chuck.

Having only just avoided, er, “cancellation” at Janice’s hands, however, the undeterred Agent Q decides to give it another go by taking the still grieving and understandably agitated Jason Atwood with her to Conspiracy Corp’s Washington offices, which is not a good plan both for people management reasons – probably shoulda waited for Reed Diamond – and for Janice is wise to all of it reasons as well. Goodbye Janice! Maybe someday someone in Conspiracy Corp will be caught and NOT shot in the same episode before they can tell us all about it.

While the assassins and conspiracies are going strong, though, the ships are in port and not even close to anchors aweigh. Agent Q’s mind is firmly on the job, Reed Diamond is on the subs bench and I think we all know Chuck’s chances of Qmance are about as strong as my chances of moving to space. Which leaves us with Emily and Aaron, who aren’t so much not getting on as not getting within a two-mile radius of each other, because… well, I don’t know but I don’t like it. Or, as I’m sure the writers are calling it, “character development” since we suddenly parachute in a whole lot of stuff about Aaron and his backstory which, if it was something the writers worked out in advance, could maybe have been spread out over a few episodes so it looked more organic, and if it wasn’t, could not have been more obvious about it.

Still, I love Aaron, so after the initial (disconcerting but by no means unwelcome) revelation that he has charmingly bouncy holiday hair, I was quite excited to hear him speaking Spanish and find out his cute small-town-boy-made-big history. His cousin, I’m much less interested in, but as a means to an end to getting him back into politics, this time at Kimble Hookstraten’s side, I can live with her.

Because Kimble’s a Republican and all, of course, Emily has to pretend not to be delighted by this, so the only scene she and Aaron do share involves her playing it decidedly cool. But no matter. Aaron’s new job has to mean he’ll be spending a lot more time right back in Emily’s face, and since we all know what that led to last time (before, y’know, the whole suspicion of treason thing), I am DOWN WITH THAT.

Designated Survivor s1 ep 14

*SPOILERS*

I know the show’s completely bonkers but I love just how fast Designated Survivor has become, battering through plot twists and storylines like tv’s going out of fashion. (In terms of network tv, anyway, I suppose it is.)

The show’s “get it done quick-smart, no hanging around” mood continues this week; other, less self-aware dramas would have had Agent Q and Reed Diamond dawdle along for weeks following Aaron and Ari from Nikita about the place while looking – not very hard – for leads and smoking guns and such, but neither Q nor PJB is down with the dawdling, yo. No sooner has Langdon frogmarched the bewildered Aaron into a church, than Q and co are swarming in mid-service (good luck spinning that one, Seth) and frogmarching him back out again; the poor guy’s President-mandated “personal time” is turning out to be significantly more stressful than he anticipated.

Off to QHQ we go then, so things can get worse for Mr Shore before they get better; “We weren’t tailing Langdon” says Q, ominously. Oh, dude. The cent penny drops, and so does Aaron’s face, as he realises why Emily’s stopped snogging him and the boss’s locked him out of all his accounts. Langdon is anxious to deal, however – like I said, no hanging around – so Aaron helps set up a slightly underwhelming secret rendezvous, and we all head back to QHQ for another round of “Whose Conspiracy Is It Anyway?”

Reed Diamond’s main job this week is to hold the coats frown and fold his arms, while Q asks the, er, q’s, so she softens Ari up before letting Kiefer Sutherland yell at him a bit – instead of producing a blowtorch and flambéeing his head like he would have done pre-Inauguration. Anxious as Ari is to please, though, he can’t actually tell them much more than we already know, so the few tidbits we get are mildly gratifying but not that surprising: Janice from Stalker does long cons as well as child abduction, Aaron is innocent and Team Treason specifically picked JB to be the Designated Survivor.

One at a time, then. Janice: uh-uh, and? How’s about some facial recognition? DMV records? Traffic cams? Or maybe borrow Kalinda’s NSA databases from Blindspot. Whatevs. When the writers want Janice identified, she will be, and the speed they’re moving at, I’m guessing it’ll be fairly soon.

The Aaron situation may take longer to fix, however. Sure, Q’s done exactly what I wanted her to – hi-fives! – and cleared him, but dude is still a bit miffed. “My President, my closest friend in the White House – both think I’m capable of treason,” he snits, not unreasonably, before (Dammit!) handing in his resignation, although that seems to be more motivated by loyalty than pique.

PJB tries to talk him out of it but Aaron’s not hanging around either; the press know he was at QHQ all day, it’s not a good look for the President’s Chief of Staff and he gots to go. “It is my primary job to protect you, even from your most generous instincts” he says, before Emily interrupts what was shaping up to be quite a sweet, if sad, scene and manages to both cut short PJB’s consoling remarks and speed up her ex/non-boyfriend’s surprisingly downbeat exit from the building: no farewell drinks? And certainly no farewell smooch. Will nobody think of me the shippers? HURRUMPH.

Of course, PJB’s having something of a challenging day himself, with smarmy ex-President Moss sliding around like he owns the place and telling him what’s what, while the present incumbent has to decide whether saving fifteen Americans is a good enough reason to allow a genocidal warlord to slaughter millions of other people instead. Luckily, though, the writers find a third way – urban planning for the win! – and we’re spared the thought of contemplating PJB being anything other than a Really Good Guy. Mrs JB, however? She’s the only one bucking the show’s trend by continuing to hang around like an expensive candle which you can’t throw away because someone gave you it for Christmas, but you’re worried about lighting because it might burn your house down. Last week’s “Cheerio, I’m off to Camp David with the kids!” has turned into “Hello, I’m leaving the kids at Camp David with my mother, who, by the way, is RUSSIAN although I’ve never mentioned it before, and coming back pronto to get all up in your business again!” Which, come on now, is totally meant to be a nod to all the real-life Russia-related drama in US politics and another clue that Alex is very possibly up to no good. Isn’t it? Why did Team Treason pick JB? Maybe his wife’s a ranking member.

Designated Survivor s1 ep 13

*SPOILERS*

Having spent a bit of time spring cleaning this week, I was reminded how cathartic getting rid of clutter can be. After last week’s admirably swift and merciless consignment of the MacLeishes to the netherworld reserved for tv villains who have served their purpose, Designated Survivor seems to be in similar clear-out mood; it’s not quite callous enough to kill the President’s kids (just poor Jason Atwood’s, I guess) but sending Little P and, er, the other one, off to Camp David with their nosey mother serves just as well. I understand that the whole point of the First Family was to show an ordinary, loving, everyman being thrust into an extraordinary situation and the effect it has on the people around him, but, contrary to YEARS of perceived procedural drama writer wisdom, the unhappy wife/ resentful family parts of any of these shows are NEVER the bits anybody tunes in for. They just get in the way of the good stuff.

Of course, the cynical among us (i.e. me) might also think another reason why Alex has left the building is the lure of treating Jack Bauer mean, to keep Jack Bauer keen. Instead of just wandering round the White House sulking that her husband won’t share National Security secrets with her anymore, she may well have decided absence will make the heart grow fonder and the tongue grow looser, taking herself and the kids away as both stick and carrot to encourage PJB to be a bit more forthcoming when she pops in for conjugal visits. Or maybe she really is a decent (albeit annoying) woman who’s just concerned for her kids and I’m much more devious than she is. We’ll see.

Anyway, now that I’ve spent two paragraphs talking about the bits nobody tunes in for, time to move on to the aforementioned good stuff, of which there isn’t quite as much as there was last week, but still plenty to be going on with.

PJB is, understandably, fizzing over last week’s mission mishap – “Somebody’s gonna have to explain to me how the Vice-President of the United States of America was murdered in front of a team of federal agents!” – but Agent Q and her new ride-or-die buddy Reed Diamond calm him down very quickly, so the investigation can pick back up again and PJB can do all sorts of addresses to the press room, to camera, to the American people. Dude LOVES an address. Which would be a good thing if he were being entirely truthful but the US President going on tv to preach about how important transparency and honesty are while not telling the truth, the whole truth and anything all that close to the truth is surely going to come back and bite him on the First Butt? (Or not. I mean, it doesn’t seem to trouble his real-life counterpart.)

Either way, points to everyone for giving Seth’s new nemesis Abe Leonard a gig with Teen Mode, in a joyous and well-deserved hat-tip to Teen Vogue who were indeed (and still are) doing “real stories on real issues” at a time when too many traditional outlets were unaccountably scared to. It’s a shame then that this storyline makes no sense in terms of timing, though; Abe raises a question in the afternoon, PJB addresses the nation on it in the evening, Seth manages to get various newspapers to physically publish hatchet jobs on the man at some time in between – do newspapers do High Tea print editions now? Or even in terms of Kimble’s motivations – why leak some of it to him if you very clearly don’t want him to know the rest? But never mind all that. The main point is that the whole snafu gives everyone an excuse to dump yet more baggage on the poor beleaguered Aaron, who has to fess up to “leaking classified info” to the Speaker of the House and then gets sent home from school for a week, so Ari from Nikita can make contact with him, everyone who’s only just convinced themselves he’s not part of Team Bad Guys can convince themselves (again, wrongly) that he is, and Emily can make the power grab she’s wanted to since ep 1, even if it’s more of a power hand-out, and both she and Aaron (and me) look really sad about it. Oh well. Since Agent Q specialises in clearing the unjustly accused, I assume she’ll sort it out eventually, but if she could hurry it on up, that would be great. For me, anyway. I mean, I may be the only one shipping Aamily, but I’m shipping them HARD.

Designated Survivor s1 ep 12

*SPOILERS*

As seasoned tv-viewers will know, there is nothing more frustrating on a tv show than the people who know crucial things not telling the other people who need to know crucial things about the crucial things, while simultaneously sharing said crucial things with the people who really have no business knowing anything at all.

As if conscious that the first half of the season involved a little too much of that (don’t make me say it all again), Designated Survivor now seems determined to make up for it at warp-speed; suddenly, the right people are telling the other right people EVERYTHING, and, finally, somebody is telling the First Lady and President Jack Bauer himself that just because she’s a member of the First Family, none of it is any of her beeswax. (Yet another week  when an unapologetically madcap tv drama shows an infinitely better grasp of ethical responsibility than the people currently in power in real life, then, but there we go.)

The bar is set early and high by Agent Q filling PJB in on the the past eleven episodes (come on in, new viewers, the water’s lovely!), and only stopping when Mrs B wanders in, all faux-innocence, with some brand new “look at me, being all shifty – maybe I’m the mole” incidental music accompanying her, to try and get some of the goss. PJB is keen to share, of course, but Agent Q and Agent Mike know better, and, for the first time all season, PJB realises that, saintly as she may or may not be, Alex is his wife not his National Security Adviser and zips it. If this turns into an excuse for a marital discord plot, rather than an “Alex is secretly evil” one, I will be most disappointed.

One traitor at a time, though. The Pres is ready to go the full Bauer on MacLeish – the latter’s “look at me and my All-American awesomeness” speech on live TV providing even more incentive to gut him like a fish – but there’s a little more work to be done first, so Agent Q reaches out to the one man she can trust to help; the man who turns out, somewhat surprisingly, to be Reed Diamond. This development caught me on the hop, since Reed Diamond usually plays (and indeed until this week was playing) the one man you can’t trust to help, but Agent Q’s sure he’s “beyond reproach” and full of “integrity” and – catching me on the hop again – the pair of them are suddenly not only working together but also flirting together to save the Republic, and whoa, that came out of nowhere, huh?

Not that it gets in the way of the work, oh no. “You can’t afford to have feelings,” Reed points out (“even though you clearly are having feelings” being my response) so, resisting the urge to pucker up for now, off they go to bring down MacLeish, and tie up the loose ends of the “Jason Atwood’s still in an orange jumpsuit” sub-plot, both of which turn out to be short but tragic work. Poor Luke. Janice from Stalker is RUTHLESS. And so is this show.

With Lady Macbeth MacLeish turning out to be even more of a fanatic than she seemed, then, the MacLeish story is over a lot more abruptly than I thought it would be, shocking me (and Agent Q) yet again. Wow. That was…. WOW. I feel like faster, closer back-up might have helped, but at least everything’s recorded this time – nobody wants to see Agent Jinx Q locked up for yet another assassination attempt (and a successful one, this time) she just happened to have a ringside seat for – and the by-now smitten Reed sees and hears it all. There’s hope for those two crazy kids, and very possibly the Republic, yet.

While one ship nudges out of port, however, another has run aground. PJB does try to smooth things over between Aaron and Emily, but since his attempts are accompanied with a warning that “he might still be a traitor, so maybe don’t snog him again just yet” (not a direct quote), and an instruction to Agent Mike to “discreetly” shut down the guy’s access to everything he needs to do his job, because of course he’s not going to notice a giant red “ACCESS DENIED” banner flashing across his screen, this doesn’t really fix things.

Poor, lovelorn Aaron copes with his heartbreak by apologising for stuff that isn’t his fault; poor, lovelorn Emily copes with her heartbreak by playing mournful airs on the piano (when did this piano show up?) and poor, FFS ENOUGH of this, CJ copes with her heartbreak by eating a large packet of Kettle Chips. Sigh. At least this gives Seth, my favourite character in the show, yet another chance to showcase his estimable counselling skills, but what with propping up Alex last week and Emily this week, is it not about time Seth got a plot of his own again, as opposed to “supporting the women of the Bauer Administration through times of heartache”? Maybe next time, I guess. Either way, this was a fantastic episode – thrilling, shocking and a whole lot of fun. Designated Survivor is awesome.

Designated Survivor s1 ep 11

*SPOILERS*

And we’re back.

As 24 tries to persuade everyone it can function without Jack Bauer, this week’s Designated Survivor half-heartedly tries to fool people into thinking it might do the same thing: President Jack Bauer’s been shot, y’all. Let the panic commence.

Well, kind of. The reveal is well done; both PJB and I initially thought it was Alex who’d been shot – my excuse is that PJB said so, although I’m not sure what his is. I’d have expected him to notice the bloody great hole in his chest, but maybe he had other things on his mind. Anyhoo, the leader of the free world is rushed to hospital, and everyone pretends to be worried for a few minutes, except the audience who know how this goes. Sure enough – as if the writers realised there was no point pretending – in no time at all, turns out it was a “through-and-through” and the Commander-in-Chief is going to be fine. Until someone else – the writing team leader? – decides, well, wait a minute, you didn’t even try, and we go through the whole rigmarole again with “bullet fragments in the chest, oh my, will the President survive surgery?” To which the answer is: of course he will, have you never watched tv before?

Of course, although there’s no danger of anyone actually killing off PJB mid-season (or indeed at all), that’s not really the point, is it? He just needs to be out of the game for ten minutes so new VP and comic-book villain (there’s even a scene where he sits alone in his bedroom with yoghurt-pot-shaped hair and his own evil theme music), egged on by Lady Macbeth Macleish, can bring down both Catalan and the global economy – Catalan on a permanent basis, the economy on more of a temporary one. The increasingly decent Kimble and the bewildered, slightly heartbroken (Emily, FFS, he is NOT THE MOLE) but still super-competent Aaron try and stop him, but the 25th Amendment gets in the way, so everybody just has to grit their teeth and wait for PJB to wake back up again so sanity can resume. (If only there were a similar fix available in real life.)

While PJB’s unconscious though, Mike is sort of in loco Presidentis, or more in loco Baueris, I suppose: Agent Q is in federal custody, accused of all sorts of high crimes (although any idiot can see she was shooting at the shooter, rather than the shootee) and refusing to talk to Reed Diamond’s character, because nobody ever wants to talk to Reed Diamond characters on procedural tv. She’ll only talk to the President. But she’ll whisper a bit to Mike; some clever blocking, a nice big showy diversion, and a chat with Chuck, and eventually we get the scene we’ve been waiting for since this show started. Jack Bauer and Nikita are going to TALK. Oh, yes. This show’s not going to win any awards for subtlety, or even for sense, but it’s exciting and fun and I’m glad it’s back. I love it.

Designated Survivor s1 ep 5

This week, quite a lot of Designated Survivor is given over to the hunt for Majid Nassar, the man who wasn’t behind the attack on the Capitol. He’s been tracked to a compound in Algeria. But just as it, and he, are about to be flattened by the US Air Force he leaves – dammit! – and hits the road, ending up hiding in a hospital. Which – if he’s going to be taken dead or alive or dead – means Navy SEAL boots on the ground. President Kirkman visits a military base to talk to the men who’re going to be deployed – as soon as they get names and vestigial backstories you know that at least one of them won’t make it back – and when they get to Algeria there are the usual military operation tropes: the green-hued live feed which goes offline at the crucial moment, that sort of thing.

But there’s something else going on: when we get politicians and military personnel making a point of how much effort they’re putting into avoiding civilian casualties, and soldiers flinging themselves in front of children to save their lives… To be sure, Designated Survivor isn’t, thus far, quite as slack-jawed in its drooling reverence for the military as, say, Hawaii Five-0. And I do get it, sort of; I understand that the American nation has a different sort of relationship with its armed forces, and that the courage and nobility of the American soldier are generally to be taken as read. But I can’t help but feel that a point is being made and, while I’m not remotely qualified to offer an opinion on whether it’s a valid one, I do wonder whether it’s one that network dramas should be making at all. If, indeed, that’s what is happening. (Equally I should say that, to a British viewer, it’s at least odd that, weeks before a national election, a US network can broadcast a show in which an evidently decent Democratic president is grappling with an apparently duplicitous Republican congresswoman.)

Anyway, Nassar is taken alive. I wonder whether Kirkman, who has shown a degree of disdain for some of the trappings of White House protocol, will be able to resist questioning him himself, perhaps in the style of a character from another TV show?

Meantime, the investigation of Congressman MacLeish continues to edge closer and closer to the main storyline: the cryptic phonecall Agent Wells received at the end of the last episode has revealed the existence of a hidden room in the Capitol building, although since we don’t know who made the call it’s not yet clear why the caller didn’t just say that. Anyway, it turns out that during renovations the room was significantly reinforced – a top secret bomb shelter in the Capitol! I love this show! – and that, not by coincidence, is where MacLeish fetched up when the bomb went off. Kirkman and his staffers don’t know this yet, though, so that explains why MacLeish is given the chance to become Speaker of the House. What’s more difficult to explain is why, when he modestly declines, they leap to the conclusion that they should instead consider offering him the Vice-Presidency. Still, even though Wells isn’t above going to Kimble Hookstraten to trade favours for information, we are at least now being afforded tantalising glimpses of the possibility of Nikita teaming up with Jack Bauer.

And in what might be the best news for some time for the beleaguered President, Aaron’s oppo research has thrown up the possibility that his appalling son Leo might in fact be the biological son of an old boyfriend of Alex’s named Jeffrey Myers, a man now doing federal time. Nature over nurture there, I’d say. Not my favourite episode so far, I’d have to say, but still superior entertainment.