Designated Survivor takes full advantage of its status as a story in a post-9/11 world where terrorist attacks can happen anywhere at any time. What happens when the president, his cabinet, and all of congress are killed in one massive act of terrorism? In such a scenario, a single cabinet member who’s specially placed far away during events like inaugural addresses and State of the Union addresses that require attendance of the country’s top leaders is known as the designated survivor, and is thus sworn in as the new President of the United States. Kiefer Sutherland plays Tom Kirkman, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who’s just been let go of his position and is chosen to be the designated survivor that evening for the State of the Union. Instead of a calm night, chaos ensues and Kirkman suddenly finds himself from being pushed out of Washington to suddenly becoming the leader of the free world. The series itself shows promise in its originality and Sutherland’s talent as a lead actor. ABC just might have a huge new hit on its hands.
We don’t actually see much of the attack itself, but the pace of the show suddenly shifts once characters realize what’s going on. Tom is dumbstruck—and who wouldn’t be? And of course, everyone is shocked that he’s suddenly the new president. It’s a surreal moment that’s successfully conveyed to the audience. It also helps that we see the terrorist attack from Tom’s perspective—he’s only able to see it from his window and from the reports on TV. We feel like we’re there with him, suddenly being thrust into this whirlwind of a new world.
Seth Wright is a White House speechwriter, and he’s upset that Tom is now the president. Tom ends up needing to take a moment to puke in a bathroom stall next to Seth, unbeknownst to him, and Seth then proceeds to talk about how he thinks Tom is the worst person to be president. It’s only moments later, when both are out of the bathroom stalls, that Seth realizes who he’s been talking to. It’s a fantastic introduction between two characters.
Naturally, as he’s suddenly being faced with the reality that he is (arguably) the most powerful man in the world, Tom feels a little unsure of himself. Earlier that day he wasn’t even sure if he was going to be staying in DC. Now that he’s the president, he faces the question of whether or not he should actually be the president. He talks about it with the only person he can completely confide in, his wife. Perhaps someone else might be better suited? Is his family safe, or will they now be targets? In the end, he stays strong and manages to push himself through to be what the country needs.
This is Tom’s first shining moment as the president. Iran is trying to flex some muscles and cause trouble while America is on its knees, but Tom stands tall as he tells the ambassador that Iran has three hours to pull their ships back, or he will declare war on Iran. The ambassador clearly thought he could walk all over Tom, and this is the first time we get to see a side of Tom that looks presidential. He’s not afraid to boldly fight back.
The general approaches Aaron, Tom’s Deputy Chief of Staff, suggesting that Tom needs to be removed as president. Aaron says this is straight-up treason and conspiracy, but the general doesn’t seem to mind. He thinks there needs to be a stronger leader in charge. Aaron doesn’t really respond, and that in itself is an interesting reaction. He’s now a potential shapeshifting character, and it’s not so obvious where his allegiance lies. And as someone who’s supposed to be a righthand man to the president… there’s a good chance he will take advantage of that in the future.
You can watch the premiere episode on ABC.