At this point, we should be used to the idea of Tom Kirkman never having an easy day. What’s impressive is that these crises of the week don’t disrupt the flow of the ongoing narrative from episode to episode. Designated Survivor is an ideal network TV series, yet it has the strength to stand up to those found on cable.
“The Traitor” Introduces a whole new level of terrorist conspiracy. Plenty of series continue asking new questions—instead of answering existing ones—to hold off on solving whatever the premise’s big mystery is, but while Designated Survivor is using a similar tactic, it actually works. Each week, we feel like we’re actually getting closer to who bombed the Capitol, and while new questions and trials arise, it all feels connected and purposeful. Here are the five best moments from this week’s episode.
The writers haven’t done much to convince us that MacLeish is innocent, and moments like these only persuade the viewer further that he’s a traitor. His very presence is now menacing: If he did have a hand in the attack, he must be powerful indeed. It’s sinister, and as we see later, MacLeish is not a man to cross. Atwood’s glance at MacLeish before addressing Kirkman shows us that even Atwood’s afraid of him—enough so to lie to the President.
You’d think they’d let the president know that an athlete the U.S. is sending to Russia is also an operative for the CIA. But no, Kirkman has no idea. The night prior, when Tom meets him, no one bothers to say, “Yeah, by the way, he’s a spy and he’s gonna let us know what’s up in Russia.” In truth, Weston’s character doesn’t make much sense. During Tom’s meeting with him, Weston’s recitation of the famous quotation, “Leaders are made, not born,” introduces a theme we might expect to see later in the episode, but that’s not the case, as we learn where Weston’s true loyalties lie in the end. Yet the moment we find out Weston’s a spy, it sets up the A plot for the rest of the episode, which raises a new kind of issue for Kirkman, involving spies and trade-offs between nations.
I still don’t understand why Hannah is such an important character on Designated Survivor. Sure, she’s the one investigating the Capitol bombing, but she’s the only character who hasn’t had any screen time with Kirkman, and doesn’t seem likely to cross paths with him anytime soon. Regardless, her character is the one who tends to bring the show’s more shocking surprises to light—including this week’s. It’s interesting how the show at first tricked us into thinking the terrorist behind the bombing was an Arab living in the Middle East, only to reveal that he or she is an American in our own backyard. What makes this exciting is that we’re back to square one on pretty much everything regarding the attack, other than MacLeish as a suspect—and now, MacLeish’s involvement is much less like a Homeland rip-off.
This is one of Kirkman’s most brilliant strategies, and one that’s quite original for television: A way of ensuring you get what your opponent wants in exchange for what you want by bringing in a third party. It almost feels like a card game, but instead of trading baseball players or Pokemon, the players are trading spies.
This is the moment in which the terrorist conspiracy becomes more mysterious than ever before. The kind-yet-evil white woman suggests that this organization may be entirely domestic, and possibly anywhere at any given time. Kidnapping will make a parent do anything to get their child back, and unfortunately for Atwood, he’ll now have to make compromises as a deputy director of the FBI. And this is sure to spark conflict between he and Hannah.