Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Shots fired as Designated Survivor ends on an effective cliffhanger

Illustration for article titled Shots fired as Designated Survivor ends on an effective cliffhanger

It’s an easy trick—introducing a tech nerd into a high stakes game of espionage and shooting people, and have him (or her, although it’s usually him) lighten the mood with some social awkwardness and self-deprecating humor. But it often works, and “The Oath” does a good job showing why. Chuck isn’t as much a live wire as, say, Chloe from 24, but his honesty, nervousness, and occasional one-line is a nice change of pace from everyone else’s high-minded idealism. It also helps us to ignore his apparently magical abilities with a computer—since Hannah’s been frozen out at the FBI, she needs access to intel, and so long as her intel guy is a dorky charmer, we’ll accept he can get her whatever she needs.

“The Oath,” Designated Survivor’s last new episode to air until next March, finds the show at its best, as strong as its been since the pilot. There are no superfluous subplots about mopey teenage sons and questions of paternity, and the whole hour builds to a final cliffhanger with crisp, enthusiastic precision. If a few of the steps seem a bit obvious, well, that’s nothing new; the fact that pretty much everything in the hour works to make those final two shots count gives things a purpose and an intensity that other episodes have seldom matched. A cliffhanger is a gimmicky way to ensure audience investment, and this one is about as bald-faced a manipulation as they come. But that’s part of the charm, really. No one’s pretending this is supposed to be subtle.

Things pick up right after Hannah’s car “accident,” when the driver of the other car tries to choke the half-conscious Hannah before she can come to her senses. She manages to escape, but not before losing the precious classified file that revealed the lies in MacLeish’s military record. Without that file, Hookstraten is unable to stop MacLeish’s confirmation, moving us smoothly towards the swearing in ceremony that serves as the episode’s climax. That opening sets a good balance: there’s some irritation in seeing Hannah robbed of crucial evidence so quickly, but the fact that she’s now on the run, and has to dig harder to find answers, means that the plot never feels like it misses a step.

The key to keeping a story like this thrilling is to keep providing new obstacles and threats keeping our heroes from the truth without ever giving the impression that their running in place. Most of “The Oath” has the the bad guys winning. They miss Hannah, and also fail to kill former chief of staff Charles Langdon (a man who was thought to have died in the bombing), but MacLeish gets sworn in, and somebody on the podium behind him takes a bullet. It probably won’t be Kirkman (I’m guessing his wife?), but up until Hannah’s final last ditch effort to save the day, the good guys were playing catch up.

They still are, of course, but “The Oath” has people catching on all over the place, not just Hannah. Kirkman, still stinging after last week’s discovery that someone leaked a how-to guide for bombing the capitol building from top secret government files, starts digging, and finds out from Hookstraten about Hannah’s involvement in the case. He’s the only one who points out how unusual it is that Hannah got in a car accident on her way to give important testimony (probably the biggest stretch is how unconcerned everyone is about an FBI agent who goes missing after her car gets totaled in downtown D.C.), and he starts looking into who had excess to the Calamitous Kaboom File three years previous. That leads to a return from the ornery Gen. Cochrane, who explains that he was granted access to the file but had that access pulled away by the Secretary of Defense before he could open it.

So Kirkman sends Emily digging to find out who in the White House gave the order to the Secretary of Defense, and the trail leads, apparently, to Aaron, who was working for Langdon at the time. This discovery is timed for maximum drama, as Emily and Aaron’s on-going flirtation had finally entered into the smooching stage. I suspected the guy from the pilot (something about the haircut), although I’m still not convinced he’s a villain. We’ll have to wait till next year, I guess.


At one point, MacLeish expresses doubts to his wife about their super secret evil plans, and Beth convinces him their goals are worth any sacrifice. They’re going to make America “the empire it once was,” which suggests that whoever is behind this might not be as foreign as Kirkman and his staff have been led to believe. Right now, Designated Survivor is doing a decent job as a reliably entertaining, if slightly hokey and more than a little ridiculous, dramatic thriller. The fact that it’s played so close to the vest with the real nature of whatever group blew up government and started this whole mess makes sense; that is, after all, the show’s main threat, and you can’t give up the goods right away. Hopefully, tonight’s developments mark a turning point in the main plot. At the very least, Kirkman’s job doesn’t seem to be getting easier any time soon.

Stray observations

  • It works for suspense, but assassinating Kirkman seconds after MacLeish is sworn in isn’t something that would inspire confidence in the new new president. But then, by that point American democracy would’ve taken so many hits that I’m not sure confidence would matter.
  • Making Hannah out to be the suspicious one is classic evil conspiracy misdirection, although if they were really good at their jobs, they would’ve framed her from the attempt on Kirkman’s life.
  • The Ballad of Seth and Lisa continues. Can we find more for Kal Penn to do? Please.
  • So, who do you think got shot?