‘Designated Survivor’ Recap: Season 1, Episode 3: “The Confession”

The Kirkman Administration is having a rough week. Photo Credit: ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg
The Kirkman Administration is having a rough week. (Photo Credit: ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg)

By Guest Contributor: Lakshmi Gandhi (@LakshmiGandhi)

The White House has been attacked by the cyber!

That was my first thought during Wednesday’s episode of Designated Survivor just after viewers learned the White House computers were being hacked.

As you can probably imagine, everyone in the newly inaugurated President Kirkman’s administration has been on edge since the bombing that completely destroyed the Capitol. So when the White House lights start flickering and the network goes down everyone begins to flip out.

The Secret Service quickly marches in to confiscate every computer in the White House in order to make sure nothing has been infiltrated. It turns out that the only machine affected is Kirkman’s, and the agents find a that a mysterious video file has been downloaded. The video is a message from the terrorist group Al-Sakar claiming responsibility for the Capitol bombing.

Naturally, that trigger happy general from last week jumps at the chance to start a war but (once again) Kirkman urges caution. Is anyone struck by the fact that the Joint Chiefs clearly have no idea how to react when faced with a president who demands strong proof before bombing another country? It’s very telling.

Outside of his staff and the Join Chiefs, Kirkman does confide in Republican Congresswoman Hookstraten about the Al-Sakar tape and the discussions going on in the Situation Room. Why Kirkman sees Hookstraten as a ally continues to be a mystery, as she continues to seem really shady.

This episode was filled with exclamation points, so the rest of this recap reflects that fun fact.

Elizabeth Vargas brings out the claws! I know everyone on this show is new at the whole “how do we run the White House” thing, but it seemed extremely strange to let a team of journalists into the White House just after deciding to hide the fact a cyber attack just occurred.

Vargas takes no prisoners during the interview, noting that being Secretary of Housing and Urban Development isn’t often a path to the presidency. Just as she is wrapping up her interview, Vargas decides to drop a bombshell.

Is it true that he was fired from his Cabinet position the morning of the attacks, she asks the president sweetly. Completely thrown, Kirkman didn’t know what to do for a moment and was quickly called out of the room by senior aides Emily and Aaron.

Aaron advocates lying or finessing the truth (because he’s a liar.) Emily says its best to tell the truth and not start his presidency with a lie. Kirkman goes with Emily’s suggestion and tells Vargas that he had been offered an ambassadorship the morning of the attacks. Vargas (of course) pressing him on this and asks if the new position was one that he had asked for. He answers no and all hell breaks loose.

No! Who cares what the bratty son thinks? One of Kirkman’s first official speeches as president was to be delivering the eulogy of his slain predecessor President Richmond. He and Seth ask Richmond’s son Tyler to visit the White House so that they can offer their condolences and also ask him about stories they could include in the eulogy. This does not go well. No one in the White House knew it at the time, but It turns out that Tyler and his father had been estranged for years and Tyler was also upset by the fact that Kirkman had been fired. He declares that he doesn’t want Kirkman to speak at the funeral.

OK, I think it’s time for Kiefer to channel his inner Jack Bauer and have Kirkman be a little less humble. I almost screamed when Kirkman decided to respect Tyler’s wishes and not deliver his speech. As Emily pointed out, “He can’t do that. YOU ARE THE PRESIDENT.”

So instead of seeing the President deliver Seth’s spot-on speech, we instead see Tyler call up Congresswoman Hookstraten look presidential and bask in the spotlight.

A survivor is found in the rubble! Last week’s episode of Designated Survivor ended with the news that someone had survived the catastrophic bombing. It turns out to be Congressman MacLeish, a 35-year-old representative who was the youngest member of Congress. FBI agent Hannah Wells is instantly suspicious of how MacLeish managed to survive an explosion that powerful and jumps into investigative mode.

First she headed to the hospital to question the congressman and learns enough to severely doubt his story. Then, she asks a co-worker to help her sift through footage of the State of the Union to see if they could track MacLeish’s movement during the speech. Hannah’s hunch is correct: MacLeish is nowhere to be seen at the moment of the blast. Where he was and what he was doing is a question for another day.

Aaron is the leaker! Unsurprisingly, that video of Al Sakar leaks to the media and Kirkman realizes that Aaron was the one who released it. He quickly confronts the ambitious Washington insider and Aaron owns up to it immediately. This is followed up by the most backhanded, unhealthy explanation in history.

“I want you to succeed. I want you to thrive,” he tells the president. I’m sorry, but that sounded like a  master class in gaslighting to me. And then! Aaron offers Kirkman his resignation letter and Kirkman refuses, leaving most viewers to wonder why.

Hannah was having an affair with a senator! “He was unhappy and he and his wife were splitting — or at least that’s what I wanted to believe,” she explains. “He was unhappy and he and his wife were splitting — or at least that’s what I wanted to believe,” she explains. Oh, Hannah!

Kirkman is the healer-in-chief! OK, that moment where Tyler and Kirkman had a heart to heart in the Oval Office about parental estrangement and how the late President snuck into a music recital even though he and his son weren’t on the best of terms was really touching.

The twist! Wait, so not only does Kirkman pass over his loyal right hand woman for a slimy gaslighter, but then it appears as if Tyler is out to undermine Kirkman’s authority as well? A mysterious woman meets Aaron on a bridge and exchange a clearly confidential file on Kirkman. What does Aaron want, really? To say I wasn’t happy with this turn of events is an understatement. Poor Emily!

I also wonder how watching the scene in which Emily gets turned down from her dream job felt to Designated Survivor’s female viewers. (I flinched and thought of all of the times I’d seen bullies and other less-than-stellar men get promoted. I really do wish the show had rewarded Emily’s years of service in Kirkman’s office.)

What did you think of this week’s episode? Any guesses as to what Congresswoman Hookstraten’s end game is? And how annoying is the drug dealing son? (I’ve decided to pretend the children on this show don’t exist for as long as I can because they bore me.)

Lakshmi Gandhi
Lakshmi Gandhi

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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