By Guest Contributor: Lakshmi Gandhi (@LakshmiGandhi)
‘He doesn’t have security clearance! This is why security clearances are important! This episode is more relevant than the producers probably realize!’
Those were my first thoughts while watching last night’s episode of Designated Survivor.
In yesterday’s episode, President Tom Kirkman was invited Congressman MacLeish to sit in on a security briefing with the FBI when it’s discovered that the suspected terrorist Al Nazar has been murdered in his jail cell. The White House is notified of the murder just as the Kirkmans and the MacLeishes are getting to know each other during their “Would you be a good Vice President?” dinner party.
When Deputy Director Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba) arrives at the White House, his original mission is two-fold. He wants to talk to the president about the killing of Al Nazar of course, but he also wants to update him on the FBI’s suspicions about Congressman MacLeish. Maggie Q’s Hannah Wells continues to be dogged in her investigation of MacLeish and urges Atwood to alert the president about their suspicions before any Vice Presidential announcement is made.
It’s no surprise then that Atwood is visibly startled when he discovers MacLeish attending what should have been his private meeting with the president. An angry and frustrated Kirkman demands to know what happened to Al Nazar, but Atwood — clearly rattled by MacLeish’s presence — refuses to reveal anything at all. He abruptly takes his leave, startling and annoying Kirkman even more in the process.
I started tapping my foot in frustration with Kirkman after this scene wrapped up. Why didn’t he immediately realize that the FBI didn’t want to reveal anything in front of MacLeish? But the fictional president redeemed himself a few minutes later, observing to his staff that it felt like MacLeish was lying to him. While I’m sure I’m not the only one who wished Kirkman would get it together a bit quicker, it’s nice that it seems like he’s on the right track.
Russia! Wait, Kirkman has to make a shady deal with Russian authorities? A famed American track-and-field coach named Weston is arrested in Russia during an international meet because he’s accused of supplying performance enhancing drugs to his athletes. They then force the coach to confess to his crimes on television, in a move that’s straight out of a Cold War-era film. The Russians decide to play hardball and ask for the disarmament of a military base in Turkey in exchange for the prisoner. Kirkman instantly recognizes this request as ridiculous, and (with a vital assist and excellent basketball metaphor from Emily) decides to propose a three-way spy trade instead. Russia, Saudi Arabia and the US will all exchange spies in a confusing, yet (it initially seems) perfectly planned solution.
Watching from the Situation Room, Kirkman and the Joint Chiefs are stunned when it is revealed that Coach Weston does not get onto the airplane heading back to the United States as planned. At first they thought the Russians tried to renege on their deal, but it quickly becomes clear that Coach Weston (who is considered an American sports icon) is a part-time spy for the CIA. (Huh.) But then, in a twist, it turns out that Weston is a double agent who was also working for the Russians. (Double huh.) Kirkman then returns to the negotiating table, and while congratulating the Russian ambassador on their deception, manages to get Weston home without blowing anyone’s cover.
Tax evasion! Remember that reporter who keeps flirting with Press Secretary Seth Wright (Kal Penn)? She’s determined to publish her scoop on how a prisoner in Michigan is claiming to be the biological father of Leo Kirkman. Seth begs her to hold her story, she says she’ll do so for 24 hours.
Seth then demands an audience with the president to update him on the Leo story. Face time with the president was harder than usual to get with Kirkman because of the Weston negotiations and the ongoing VP selection process, but he finally gets to talk to him about the rumors about Leo. It turns out that the First Lady was seeing someone shortly before meeting Tom Kirkman and discovered she was pregnant a few weeks later. She was never 100 percent sure of who the biological father of her child was and Kirkman said it didn’t matter, refusing to take a paternity test. Weirdly, they never brought any of this up with Leo, even though the first rule of family scandals is that the longer something is kept a secret, the more traumatic the ultimate unveiling of said secret would be.
I do have to say it’s really funny that Leo’s maybe-biological father is in jail for tax evasion, all things considered. What’s not funny is that the maybe daddy is threatening to tell his story to reporters. Fed up, the First Lady goes to Michigan to meet the her incarcerated ex (and somehow manages to not be discovered by the press.) Unsurprisingly, he says he’ll stay silent in exchange for a presidential pardon. We’re not sure yet how President Kirkman will react to that proposal, but Seth finally manages to distract his reporter crush by promising her a ton of access to the president if the story stays unpublished. She agrees.
We’ll see how long this secret stays a secret. This is Washington, after all.
A kidnapping! MacLeish is starting to seem like the creepiest character ever. While Kirkman was confused about why the FBI wasn’t more forthcoming with him, MacLeish seems to instantly pick up that Atwood does not want to discuss confidential material in front of him.
Meanwhile, Hannah continues her dogged investigation of the Capitol Hill bombing. She eventually goes to meet a CIA source in a seedy bar to see if she can get some information out of him. He repeatedly tries to blow her off until she mentions the word “Catalan.” Her source then starts freaking out, and tells her to be careful. Catalan is apparently very bad news.
She rushes back to FBI headquarters to tell Atwood about everything she’s learned. Before she can finish, she’s interrupted. MacLeish has come to Atwood’s office for a visit. He’s ostensibly there to drop off his tax returns (because normally people who run for high office release their tax returns!) but Atwood suspects he’s there to intimidate him. Atwood in turn tries to take his measure, but it’s a frustrating exchange for both of them.
We don’t fully grasp how far MacLeish is willing to go until Atwood gets a frantic call from his wife. Their son Luke has gone missing. Atwood rushes to Luke’s school while his wife calls the cops. There is no sign of him anywhere and Atwood suspects that Luke’s disappearance is connected to the FBI somehow.
Atwood winds up heading to the baseball field where Luke would be practicing with his team if he had not disappeared. There a mysterious woman stops him and shows him a photo of Luke on her phone. She assures Atwood that if he follows her instructions exactly, his son will be fine. First, Atwood has to promise he won’t reveal Luke’s been kidnapped to anyone. Secondly, he will have to schedule a meeting with the president and then follow her instructions exactly.
Will this be enough to save Luke? We’ll find out in two weeks.
Lakshmi Gandhi is a journalist and pop culture writer based in New York. Her work has appeared in Metro New York, NBC Asian America and NPR’s Code Switch blog, among other sites. She likes it when readers tweet her @LakshmiGandhi with their thoughts on Asian American issues and romance novels.
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