Sep 7, 2018

[TV] Designated Survivor: Season 2 Review

Since I had run out of episodes of Madam Secretary to watch, I end up scouring our various streaming services for other political dramas to help scratch that particular itch in my brain. You know how it is - it's when you're most likely to give into the other shows or movies that Netflix suggests based on whatever it is you're looking at at the time.

Designated Survivor is one of those shows for me. It's not as fulfilling as some other political dramas but it'll do in a pinch when you want that sort of entertainment. And it's tricky to pinpoint precisely why this feels rarely feels like a first option to me versus other shows.

I guess it's the rather mixed feeling of the show since it's only partly a true political drama. The other half of the show is still stuck in the sort of saving the world sort of espionage that feels a little Quantico now that I think about it. But the two sides didn't quite balance out all that well and this second season really suffered from that internal tug-of-war.

Synopsis: Designated Survivor is an ABC American political drama created by David Guggenheim. ABC had cancelled the show after the seconds season however recently it has been confirmed that Netflix, who had been airing the show outside the US, had picked it up for a third season.

The season begins with Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) still retaining the American presidency despite the many efforts to question him and oust him in the first season. But he isn't out of the woods yet as he finds himself dealing with troubles both domestic and foreign as if the world is determined to test his presidency to the hilt. This causes him to take on Lyor Boone (Paulo Costanzo) as a new political consultant to help manage public opinion and later on Kendra Daynes (Zoe McLeilan) as the new White House Counsel.

At the same time FBI Special Agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) continues her investigation into the reasons for the attack that kicked off the series. She finds an ally in MI6 agent Damian Rennett (Ben Lawson). But time is on on their side, especially when Patrick Lloyd (Terry Serpico) emerges from hiding and threatens Washington, D.C. with another terrorist attack.

What I Liked: The ups and downs of Kirkman's presidency is probably what I enjoy he most in this show, especially with the addition of Paulo Constanzo to the cast. I suppose it was necessary given how the team had largely come together by the end of the first season and they needed someone to shake things up. His method was by being a know-it-all with a lot of old school Washington tendencies trying to balance a largely idealistic team that came to power under unusual circumstances.

This season also tried to bring in more international concerns, even if one episode just focused on Mexico as the nearby neighbor as a quirky example. The first season was largely domestic apart from a few efforts to have him sort of engage in a bit of marking territory among foreign leaders and this season tried to elevate that discussion a bit more with various conflicts and controversies.

What Could Have Been Better: I really didn't care for the tertiary story about Hannah Wells trying to be a super agent since it really isn't all that gripping. Things got even worse later on when there was a lot of questioning of the loyalty of characters and later even doubting the veracity of Hannah's investigation despite her being the special investigator tasked by the President himself. It almost feels like she was setup to fail since her mandate didn't really give her much to work with.

Spoiler alert for the next paragraph.

I'm really not keen on the narrative direction taken mid-way through the season. My initial reaction to the death of Alex Kirkman (Natascha McElhone), the First Lady, really felt like a "fridging the girlfriend" scenario. And they timed it just when she had a big win in terms of her narrative arc which made the death even worse. To add insult to injury, it wasn't even some big conspiracy or anything but instead of was a random traffic accident, further cheapening her death. WHY DID THEY DO THAT? Was there no other way to exit the actress from the show?

TL;DR: Designated Survivor is a rather confused show that really shines when it has clarity but juggled a lot to the point of messing things up in this second season. I don't know what a third Netflix season will bring but maybe this new lease on life will result in more focused storytelling. Thus the season gets a fair 3 moments when Kirkman's staff come together to pull out a win at the last minute out of a possible 5.

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