By Guest Contributor: Lakshmi Gandhi (@LakshmiGandhi)
Is Designated Survivor deliberately trying to taunt us all with its perfect liberal president who always respects our civil liberties?
I have to admit that it often felt that way while watching this week’s episode. After watching an endless parade of stories about late night Twitter rants, questionable power grabs, and a game show-like Cabinet selection process on the news every day, it almost seems as if this show wants to show the United States that it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some of the most prominent examples from last night’s episode:
President Kirkman loves the First Amendment: Earlier this week, President-elect Donald Trump assailed a CNN reporter on Twitter for what he believed was biased coverage. That weird Twitter rant was the exact opposite of how President Kirkman reacted when he learned Reporter Lisa (who you’ll remember as the one who has a crush on Seth) had asked his son Leo about the rumors about the identity of his biological father. While extremely upset on both his own and his son’s behalf, Kirkman ultimately says that he hopes that Lisa stays in the White House Press Corps. “I believe our country is as strong as our journalists. We need you to keep us accountable,” Kirkman tells her. (That sound you hear is every reporter swooning.)
Terrorists are trying to disrupt the election: Seth begins his press briefing by grandly talking about the importance of elections and democracy. “Tomorrow marks an unprecedented day in American history,” he notes. “It’s the day we elect a new House of Representatives.”
What should have been an incredibly symbolic and glorious day for both the Kirkman White House and democracy was severely threatened when a bioterrorism attack targeting poll workers occurs in Kansas City. An elderly woman who was a longtime polling place volunteer dies as a result. With cable news and regular Americans completely freaking out at the idea of a terrorist attack, Kirkman seriously considers canceling the election and it almost seems as if he’s about to call the whole thing off.
Readers whose families hail from either fragile democracies or dictatorships know that canceling an election because of a perceived security threat is a total dictator move (and something many of us can imagine a certain someone doing.) So I literally breathed a huge sigh of relief when Kirkman changes his mind and decides to give an impassioned speech about the power of voting and the importance of elections instead of calling the whole thing off. “We cannot live in fear. We will not live in fear,” he intones.
The Kirkman Administration (kind of) believes in transparency: Remember when the suspected terrorist Al Nassar was murdered in his jail cell? The White House somehow managed to keep his death under wraps for days. From the very start, it’s always seemed as if Seth Wright (played by Kal Penn) was the unofficial soothsayer of Designated Survivor, so it made sense that Seth instantly decided to come clean after a reporter asks if Al Nassar has died. (It’s later discovered that he and Kirkman had discussed what to do in this scenario and they decided the best thing to do would be to tell the truth. How novel!)
Kirkman wants to find out the truth: Remember when Assistant FBI Director Jason Atwood’s son was kidnapped and his captors made Atwood agree to do everything they said? It turns out the kidnappers big demand was to have Atwood go to the White House and confess to the killing of Al Nassar. Kirkman is instantly taken aback and instinctively knows that something doesn’t add up. Atwood is insistent and Kirkman ends up hitting his panic button, and he is arrested and detained by the Secret Service.
Kirkman’s instincts still tell him something is wrong, so he asks his chief of staff Aaron to make discreet inquiries about Atwood’s state of mind. Agent Hannah Wells is naturally the first person they call. Hannah also suspected something was going on with Atwood and was doing her own investigation into how her boss’ behavior might be connected to the terrorism attack aftermath.
She quickly figures out Atwood is being manipulated by someone and calls the CIA for assistance. She even manages to track his movements to the White House and tries to get past White House security in order to stop his meeting (and wrongful confession) in the Oval Office. Unfortunately, she’s too late. However, it’s clear that the kidnappers/terrorists/whoever they are know that Hannah is on to them. She gets a mysterious text just before entering the Oval Office telling her not to reveal anything.
For reasons I don’t quite understand, Hannah follows the terrorists’ plan and doesn’t tell Aaron about her suspicions. Given that she’s at a bit of a dead end, you’d think that she’d welcome some assistance?
The potential vice president is clearly getting ready to make a power grab: This scene was one of the hardest for me to take. We’ve known from the start that both Congressman MacLeish and Congresswoman Hookstraten are self-serving opportunists who will undermine Kirkman whenever possible. It was still unsettling to see MacLeish essentially admit that he wants the vice presidency so that he’d only be one step away from the presidency.
I’m sure you can all guess who that reminded me of.
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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