May 18, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Designated Survivor”


DESIGNATED SURVIVOR has been running through showrunners like breath mints (a fourth is scheduled to join the show for Season 2, and reportedly every script makes its way through star/executive producer Kiefer Sutherland as well), so it’s not much of a surprise that the tone and even the genre of the show has wobbled through the course of 22 episodes.  Designated has been an action-adventure, a conspiracy mystery, a pointed political primer, a family soap, and even a half-hearted romcom for two of the characters.  It’s been held together mostly by its fine cast, led of course by Sutherland as unexpected President Tom Kirkman, who alternates between his Jack Bauer growl and a more statesmanlike posture.

Tonight’s season finale, written by series creator David Guggenheim and directed by Fred E.O. Toye, was firmly in the action-adventure camp.  The opening act was devoted to heroic FBI agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) madly driving the van full of bombs that had been parked with her in it to the nearest body of water, where the explosion produced only a big wave.  Later on, Hannah had a face-off with the season’s #2 villain, mercenary Nestor Lozano (George Tchortov), which ended with him impaled.  By the conclusion of the episode, the head of Homeland Security had been unmasked as the traitor within the White House, President Kirkman had delivered a rousing inspirational speech to Congress and the nation, and as the required kicker for Season 2, it was revealed that Lozano, before his death, had downloaded America’s entire cache of military secrets to Big Bad Patrick Lloyd (Terry Serpico), a white supremacist billionaire who was still on the loose after masterminding the destruction of the Capitol that killed virtually every national politician except designated survivor Kirkman.

Unfortunately, the plotting of all this was a shambles, even by the standards of a TV series with modest ambitions.  In order for the story to go where Guggenheim and his fellow producers wanted, the member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Kevin McNally) who had been put under arrest for an attempted coup of his own, had to completely flip his opinion of Kirkman to help identify the traitor.  Even sillier, despite the giant intelligence resources in play to find Lozano, he was only identified when Hannah literally drove past him and recognized his face.  Earlier, Lloyd had escaped a massive dragnet because no one thought to secure the tunnel under his house.

This kind of sloppiness was symptomatic of Designated‘s problems all season, and the show was also marked by inconsistencies.  It would get on a run of effective episodes in one genre or another–when the new Vice President (Ashley Zukerman) was exposed as one of the conspirators, or when Kirkman and the Speaker of the House (Virginia Madsen as Kimble Hookstraten, perhaps the best character name of the season) fenced and collaborated on putting the new government together.  But then the show would switch gears, and suddenly we’d be in dumb plots about whether Kirkman was really the biological father of his son (he was), or whether the President’s two top assistants (Adan Canto and Italia Ricci) would or wouldn’t (they did, then didn’t).

Designated Survivor has been frustrating but not unwatchable, thanks to the charisma of Sutherland and the rest of the cast, and it’s had the knack of stringing a few good hours in a row just when you were ready to give up on it.  Will the administration of a new showrunner bring some stability and a stronger voice to the series?  Impossible to know.  The ratings, while not up to the high expectations of last fall, have been solid by the standards of ABC’s non-Shondaland dramas, so the series should have some time to work out its kinks.  The foundation exists here for an effective drama that offers action and also has something to say, but those are campaign promises it’s only intermittently fulfilled so far.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."