TV Review - DESIGNATED SURVIVOR Season 1, Episode 4: Difficult Decisions Finally Made

– by Joseph Medina

As I've said in the past, Designated Survivor has largely, dare I say, survived on its incredibly strong premise: what would happen if all three branches of government, save for one man, were killed in a terrorist attack? Up until this point, they've done a solid job -- not in making this scenario believable -- but in making an entertaining ride.

They've made President Kirkman a likable, unlikely leader -- an honest leader many would genuinely like to see in the White House, especially in today's political climate. But, of course, things in D.C. are rarely black and white, and oftentimes decisions that hurt people need to be made. For the first few episodes, the series managed to get away with it. Kirkman was still adjusting to the job and wanted to make sure he had all the facts before making any rash decisions.

But a number of events that have built up over the course of the first three episodes have made rational decisions all but impossible. I'm largely torn on this front.

All in all, I'd say this may have been the weakest episode in the bunch. It's rather slow in its pacing, and while Kirkman does finally buckle down and make two very important, pivotal decisions -- ones they've been holding off on for a good while now -- it's almost as if he's waited too long. They spent a little too much time pushing and pushing and pushing him to the point where it's almost derivative of previous scenes. In many ways, it felt as though the writers were stalling to have these decisions made near the tail end of the episode.

As such, it seems a bit ironic that in the episode where Kirkman finally makes these decisions is the episode that is the most sluggish. By the time he does anything, it feels...wrong. Either he should have done it earlier, or events changed so that taking action when he did felt wrong. The governor of Michigan finally agreeing to meet with the president, only to be arrested for treason...I suppose that arrest would've been much more rewarding had he been arrested in the thick of his insubordination, not when he finally concedes.

Then again, I can't really complain when a show makes a very specific move, plot-wise. The idea behind all this was that the right decisions don't always make us feel good, and on that front, they succeeded.

Taking plot out of the picture, I suppose the biggest offense was the aforementioned pacing. Things took too long -- so much so that I found myself checking the clock every five-to-ten minutes or so, which is not ideal. In a perfect world, these matters would've been resolved halfway through the episode's runtime, and we'd be in the thick of the next subplot by the time the episode ended, but I can understand the needs to highlight President Kirkman's actions.

One subplot that I particularly liked was Kal Penn's character's, who plays interference with the press, thereby securing his position as press secretary. Like many aspects in the show, it was a predictable move, but one that didn't take away from how rewarding it felt. Given the circumstances surrounding their own political climate, having this subplot with a brown man (more specifically a Muslim-looking man -- they haven't made it clear if he actually is Muslim) in a high ranking position has importance that can't be underestimated, and I'm sure it'll come into play at some point.

The biggest weakness in the show so far seems to be its emphasis on the inciting events: who is responsible for the terrorist attack, and all the fallout that followed. What's surprising is that they're not seeming to take the time to do things like appoint more cabinet members and get the actual government up and running again. I understand the need to focus on the "sexier" points in a TV show, but this seems like a gross misstep.

On the whole, this was by no means a bad episode, even if it was the weakest link. It carries on with the intriguing premise, and if you were a fan of the show thus far, you're probably already all-in at this point. Another plus in this episodes is the complete absence of Leo, Kirkman's teenage son. I'm hoping the writers realized what a monumental mistake that character was and have decided to phase him out of any real subplot, but I have a feeling I'll be disappointed. 

Grade: B-

What did you think of Episode 4 of Designated Survivor? Do you agree with the assessment that this was perhaps the weakest episode of the show thus far? 

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Reviews, TV TV, TV Review, Reviews, Designated Survivor, Recaps