Designated Survivor: Season 1
The citizens of the United States of America are among the more fortunate among the people of the world. They are to freely participate in the political process to the point that political figures and the mechanics of the system are sufficiently commonplace that they often included in popular forms of entertainment. The most recent Presidential election in 2016 is considered the most unusual in the history of the country. I’m reasonably certain the preproduction process for the series under consideration here was in progress long before the election of the 45th President, but the show does provide a platform for an exceptionally imaginative and exciting political thriller, ‘Designator Survivor.' Based on a little-known procedural mandate required as a contingency plan to ensure the continuity of government should most of the official’s necessary for a functioning government to survive. During situations where most of the government officials from all three branches of government gather in one location. The most common event that results in these circumstances is the annual State of the Union Address. During this speech, the President comes before the entire Senate, House of Representative, the full executive cabinet and the Justices of the Supreme Court. While a nuclear attack may have been the most probable danger befalling this lauded assembly, the tragic events of recent years have shifted the focus and substantially increased the potential for a devastating act of domestic terrorism could annihilate the working government in a matter of seconds. As a preventative measure, one member of the Cabinet sequestered in a remote, highly protected area for the duration of the assembly. Considering the exponential increase in terrorist activity many films and television series have examined scenarios where most of the government destroyed. ‘Designated Survivor’ is one of the first to scrutinize this specific set of conditions. For fans with the prediction of trivia, it can be stated that this is the conditions infused in the SyFy channeled space opera, ‘Battle Star Galactic.' They are decidedly grounded to a greater degree, but the ensuing excitement, intrigue, and drama remained intact.
During the State of the Union, Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland), the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is selected as the designated survivor while President Robert Richmond (Richard Bekins), gives his State of the Union Address. With the entire country watch, the worst-case scenario unfolds. Carefully positioned explosive devices are detonated bringing the rotunda down killing everyone on the auditorium. A sudden fluffy of Secret Service agents rush into the room whisking Kirkman to a prepared, secured location. Kirkman suddenly received the ultimate in battlefield promotions from a relative, minor member of the cabinet to the leader of the free world, the President of the United States. The President’ wife. Was removed during this rushed by highly practiced, carefully choreographed exit, the new President wife, Alex (Natascha McElhone), teenage son, Leo (Tanner Buchanan) and young daughter, Penny (McKenna Grace), are now the First Family, placed under the highly protective care of the secret service. In most TV shows concerning the trials and tribulations of government service, the families of the politicians have typically relegated o peripheral characters whose story arcs barely intersects with the principle threads. T The new man in the Oval Office is understandably taken aback by the sudden elevation in status, power and most importantly, responsibilities. What differentiates Tom Kirkman from, most of the power-hungry denizens of Washington D.C. is Tom never wanted the ultimate seat of power. He had nothing but altruistic motives in entering politics. Tom is the rarest of commodities in a power-driven city, an honest man seeking to help others. To assume the mantle of authority and remain true to his immutable moral compass. To assist this difficult yet crucial goal, Tom surrounds himself with a cadre of people that he implicitly trusts. On the home from his with is a most faithful ally but Tom realizes that it is best to keep her and the children as insulated from the political turmoil as possible.
Tom does his best to compartmentalize his new reality. This requires constructing the foundation of a new government scaffold. His Chief of Staff for most of his career was Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci), one of his most trusted friends. Initially, Tom bypasses her in favor of someone with experience in the Oval Office, Charles Langdon, (Peter Outerbridge) but when circumstance arise that places him in a compromising position Kirkman replace him with Emily. His suspicions were well founded as the political opportunists begin to leverage themselves to a coupe. The remaining member of the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Kimble Hoogstraten (Virginia Madsen), R-Missouri, who was the Designated Survivor for the Republican Party. Superficially she is supportive of Kirkland, but she is diligently working behind his back to forward her agenda. This begins as hostile partisan politics, but as the season progresses, it becomes obvious that her opposition is deeply rooted in something bigger and more sinister than anyone could imagine. The Deputy Director of the FBI, Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba), has the inevitable job of investigating the terrorist bomb while skirting the myriad of political landmines that obstruct if performance. The only Special Agent that is determined to uncover the truth no matter what the consequences. Hannah Wells (Maggie Q), is the best, honest and determined person involved in the quagmire that permeates the dark hour in America history. With methodical precision Agent, Wells follows the clues until it becomes clear, people with intimate access and knowledge of the contingency scenarios were in the planning and execution of the attack. The placement of the explosives, the fact that one House Democratic, Congressman Peter MacLeish (Ashley Zukerman), a war hero who becomes the center of public praise leveraging it to consider as the new Vice President. Agent Wells uncovers proof that just before the explosions MacLeish left his seat and went to a highly secured and protected safe concealed from all but a very few. Evidence mounts extremist did not instigate the attack as an act of terrorism, but a carefully planned and executed coup d'état.
Overall, the series works largely because of the capable fashion an intense political thriller is juxtaposed to deeply character-driven drama, the intrinsically intense furor of a constitutional crisis resulting from a carefully planned fifth column takeover of the United States Government igniting an unprecedented threat to the foundation of the government. One factor that is frequently neglected when assessing the impact on a series is its placement in the socio-political timeline. In the real world, the 2016 election was the most unusual contest for the office of President in history. In a substantial number of ways the Presidency of Tom and the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Both were politically naïve, possessing little experience in the routine functioning of the executive branch. They both faced the task of rebuilding the government, realigning critical policy, foreign and domestic while rallying against a nation in the grips of fear generated by terrorism. Of course, the principal difference in the appointment process. President Keller rose to authority through an untested clause in the Constitution while the current 45th President got to sit behind that iconic desk in an election still contested by some faction. Although not directly ripping episodes from the headlines, the themes routinely explored in the context of the story shared enough elements with reality to capture and retain the imagination of the audience.
There is the matter of the professionals on both sides of the camera that made all the difference. David Guggenheim is a writer/producer that makes up for his lack of formal experience with a fresh eye for crafting an intensely captivating story. Fortunately, President Kirkman has already been confirmed for a second term.