Designated Survivor packed a lot into its winter finale, the cliffhanger being First Lady Alex Kirkman’s death. Given the hiatus and the Winter Olympics, the writers thought it better to pick back up in real time. 10 weeks after the First Lady’s death, there is a hole in the White House, but life has moved forward. It has to. The world doesn’t stop turning when someone dies, not even the First Lady of the United States. The President leans into that so as to avoid his grief. A hostage crisis changes that.
It turns out that Alex Kirkman’s death was a terrible, random accident. She was killed by a driver who was texting. In the present, the President can only cope by shutting down and not really making any decisions. He has a routine. He gets up, he goes to work, and he shakes hands. But he is not the President, not really. He doesn’t make any substantial decisions, doesn’t enact policy. He barely makes time to go see a therapist, where he talks about everything and nothing. It is only in flashbacks that we see his most difficult moments after his wife’s death, because he won’t discuss them.
President Kirkman’s first substantial act of the New Year was supposed to be the Cuban Initiative. But a group of Cuban rebels angry with the United States for being willing to work with the country put a stop to that. They kidnap various delegates and business people from both Cuba and the U.S., including Hannah and Aaron. There’s a lot of stop and start during negotiations, much of with has to do with the President’s state of mind. He’s so careful after losing his wife, not wanting to lose any more lives. His therapist has to push him to confront his grief so that he can do what needs to be done. Using the aggressive approach, and with a little help from Hannah, they’re able to save the hostages and expose the trick the rebels and Cuban government tried to pull to extort money from the U.S.
Not that Hannah pays much care to playing by the rules, but it was lucky she wasn’t reprimanded for shooting Damian point blank. Unfortunately, there are signs that it threw her off her game emotionally. Betrayal will do that. Finding out your boyfriend is a traitor and has been using you will do that. She’s still on point in everything else. She was certainly able to handle herself with those rebels. She doesn’t have the luxury of standing still, and neither does anyone else. Life moves forward. Seth and Emily are happy in their relationship. Lyor hired a fantastic new assistant willing to sift through the National Archives for hours. The President was stuck. He was so frozen, not even a brutal confrontation with his wife’s killer could move him. He needed an emotional push, and Hannah gets one whether she wants it or not. There is a lesson soap operas tell us time and again. When you attempt to kill someone, make sure they are actually dead. Damian has more he wants to talk about.
Returning from winter break, this episode felt very much like a transition. Everything was very centered around the internal conflict and turmoil, so much so it felt more dramatic than the physical stakes. Proof of that is that the most powerful scene of the hour was a flashback to President Kirkman telling his son about Alex’s death. “I watched his youth vanish before my eyes” was the perfect way to describe that moment. What came so close to that was Kirkman’s confrontation with the man who killed his wife, which showed just how much power Kiefer Sutherland had with such simple words. Any other man, any other tone, might not have been able to be as brutal and terrifying. But these were moments in an hour that was playing catch-up. It is only in the one minute preview for the rest of the season that we got a glimpse of some really exciting things to come.
In the upcoming weeks Designated Survivor will reunite Kiefer Sutherland with his 24 costar Kim Raver, as well as a big dose of Michael J. Fox. It’s tough to say who we’re more excited to see.
Designated Survivor Season 2 Episode 11 Review: "Grief"
The first Designated Survivor of 2018 examines how the government moves forward with a President paralyzed by grief; plus, guess who’s back?