‘Designated Survivor’ Recap: Season 1, Episode 4: “The Enemy”

This is President Kirkman's "I'm fed up" face. Photo credit: ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg
This is President Kirkman’s “I’m fed up” face. Photo credit: ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg

By Guest Contributor: Lakshmi Gandhi (@LakshmiGandhi)

On this week’s Designated Survivor, President Kirkman struggled with whether or not federalizing Michigan’s National Guard was a good idea, dealt with a rogue general who wanted to rush into war, and continued to defend the right of American Muslims to protest.

I don’t know about you, but watching the whole jam-packed episode felt like a refreshing break after the depressing whirlwind that was Election Twitter last night.

Here’s what stood out while watching this week:

Seth Wright saves the day: Anyone who has struggled while at work had to feel at least a little empathy for the low-level political aide who suddenly became White House Press Secretary after the deaths of all of his colleagues in the Capitol bombing. Watching him hem and haw through a briefing filled with complex policy questions was excruciating, and it was completely understandable when he literally fled the press room when things got to be too much.

That’s when speech writer Seth Wright immediately steps up to the podium and seamlessly takes over. One of the first questions to Seth was about the continuing situation between the Governor of Michigan and that state’s Muslim community. Seth is unequivocal about the fact that everyone has freedom of speech and other basic civil liberties. The governor’s actions had nothing to do with national security,  but “it has everything to do with the Islamophobia threatening the rights of regular Americans,” he tells reporters.

In sports terms, Seth’s performance was like pinch hitting a home run— and everyone immediately noticed. Reporters began asking Chief of Staff Aaron Shore if Seth was the new Press Secretary (and strongly encouraged him to make Seth a job offer.) President Kirkman himself did the same.

Wait, Seth’s parents are Muslim? Readers who have following my recaps from the beginning know that I’ve always been confused as to why a character played by Kal Penn was given the name Seth Wright. We’ve already seen that Islamophobia and racial profiling are regular parts of Seth’s life and this week it was confirmed that Seth was raised in a Muslim family. I wish we had received an explanation as to how he got the name Seth Wright, but perhaps that’s coming soon. (I still think the character would make much more sense with a South Asian Muslim name though.

The Governor of Michigan continues to go rogue: Discrimination against Muslim Americans continues to be a big part of Designated Survivor‘s storyline. The Governor of Michigan continues to act like a mini-despot in the wake of the Capitol bombings. The governor has decided to use the fear and anti-Islam sentiment in his state to pretty much destroy all political protest (particularly those protests lead by Muslims and other minorities.)

Kirkman knows that he has to nip Michigan’s uprising in the bud or other power-hungry governors will follow suit. Since Emily became a Special Advisor to the President after she lost out on the Chief of Staff job last week, she volunteers to go to Michigan to monitor the situation and negotiate with the governor. Emily arrives in a Michigan that looks like it’s getting ready for war. Armored vehicles surround her plane and National Guard members with assault rifles are everywhere.

The governor doesn’t bother to beat around the bush with Emily. He tells her immediately that he doesn’t consider Kirkman to be the President of the United States and that he is the only authority in the state. (This whole scene was pretty weird and reminded me of a certain someone who says things like “I alone can fix it.”)

Emily tries everything in her arsenal to convince the governor to chill out, but it doesn’t work. Being told that “Standing in the schoolhouse doorway didn’t work for George Wallace and it won’t work for you” didn’t even work! At this point, Kirkman had enough and declared that the Michigan National Guard would be federalized. However, when Emily hands the phone to the National Guard official in charge, he too decides to go rogue and says that the Governor of Michigan is the only commander he’ll listen to.

Let’s pause a minute and be horrified by how badly this (thankfully fictional) governor and (thankfully fictional) National Guardsman want to strip Michigan’s Muslim population of its civil liberties. The scenes in which Designated Survivor tackles issues like nationalism, racism, and Islamophobia continue to be particularly timely and I have to think the show’s producers had the upcoming election in mind when they decided to go in this direction. (It was hard not to think of the real-life conversations happening on the trail right now while watching this go down.)

Emily finally convinces the Governor to fly back with her to Washington so that he can talk to President Kirkman directly. Emily is excited because she is victorious on her first assignment as Special Advisor. Once she gets the governor and the president talking, she believes, they’ll be able to come up with a diplomatic solution.

Kirkman has other plans. He has the governor arrested for treason as soon as he arrives in DC. It was very Jack Bauer and very excellent.

Hannah’s investigation gets curiouser and curiouser: Hannah continues to be suspicious of the fact that Congressman MacLeish managed to survive the terror attack and needs to find out why he was missing during that crucial minute of State of the Union footage. She decides to visit MacLeish at home, even though (as usual) all of her supervisors and colleagues really, really want her to calm down.

When Hannah arrives at the MacLeish residence, she meets both the congressman and his wife. Taking a deep breath, Hannah decides to take the plunge and shows the couple the photos of the empty chair at the State of the Union. Could the congressman tell her where he was just before the bombing?

What happens next was (as usual for this show) really awkward. Mrs. MacLeish begins talking about being at the mall and losing track of one of her children at the same time the speech was taking place at the Capitol. She tells Hannah that she texted her husband repeatedly while the child was missing and that MacLeish must have left the House Chamber in order to call her back. Are the MacLeishes telling the truth? At first it appears as if Hannah is inclined to believe them, but something undefinable still nags her thoughts.

FBI Deputy Director James Atwood (Malik Yoba) suggests that Hannah might be blinded by her grief over her boyfriend, the married Senator we learned about last week who was among those killed at the Capitol. Instead of screaming or throwing something, Hannah seems to consider the possibility. We then see her at home, looking at photos of her with her former partner. Suddenly, she receives a call from an unidentified number on her phone and a voice that sounds like Siri says “Find Room 105. Find Room 105 and you’ll understand more about Peter MacLeish.” Mysterious!

Jack Bauer is taking us to war, after all: After weeks of stressing that President Kirkman was a thoughtful diplomat who is hesitant to have the United States enter another armed conflict, viewers suddenly learn that Designated Survivor Land is getting ready to go to war with Algeria. (Apparently there is a terrorist camp in the fictional version of Algeria and now is the time to strike.) The about-face her was startling. What did other viewers think?

Finally, a fun homework assignment: Can we talk for a second about how over-the-top the dialogue on this show is? Your assignment (if you choose to accept it) is to use the phrase “You’ve hitched your wagon to a footnote” into a conversation this week. Readers who work at Trump Tower clearly at a unique advantage regarding this week’s homework.

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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