Designated Survivor Season 3 Premiere Plot Summary:
The White House staff deals with the fallout of a disastrous State of the Union Address by President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland). Meanwhile, Agent Wells (Maggie Q) confronts Emily (Italia Ricci) about her treasonous actions.
Designated Survivorstruggled to find its identity almost from the very beginning. The show changed showrunners multiple times in the first season alone. Writing for the series became a balancing act of revealing information about who blew up the Capitol and developing the show’s novice President. The writers did a pretty good job doing that, though the terrorist conspiracy storyline was arguably the stronger part. However, they really fumbled the ball in Season 2, wrapping the terrorist storyline up in a rushed and extremely unsatisfying way. The new conspiracies that took the old one’s place didn’t cut it. There were some interesting parts of Season 2, for sure, particularly the guest appearance by Michael J. Fox in several episodes, but the show no longer felt special; it was just a political procedural.
Season 2’s cliffhanger ending seemingly revealing Emily as a traitor provided Designated Survivor an opportunity. So, it’s strange that the show isn’t all that concerned in addressing this bombshell, instead dedicating only a minute or so to it. The show is more concerned with Kirkman’s campaign. The series transformed Tom Kirkman into a capable and confident President too quickly, in retrospect. Compare that to the seasons that went into turning Walter White into an amoral drug kingpin in Breaking Bad. Maybe Designated Survivor shouldn’t have taken quite that long, but I don’t believe comparing a broadcast show and a cable show has to be apples and oranges. The old networks have to learn from cable and streaming if they want to stay relevant.
Designated Survivor, however, is no longer an ABC show. It’s now a Netflix production. It surprised me that, given its procedural nature, Netflix chose to save the series. Now that I’ve seen the first episode, I can say the transition is not as seamless as it could have been. For starters, Lyor (Paulo Constanzo) is absent. IMDb has him credited in this episode, but unless I missed it, he’s not in or even mentioned in this episode. Also, Netflix insists on Designated Survivorhaving stronger language and more titillation. This makes the new season feel like a different show. Designated Survivor, for all its political intrigue, has always had a Capraesque quality to it. The edgier content doesn’t mesh well with that.
The premiere maintains this Capra-esque quality the most in Kirkman’s campaigning. While his political adversaries have often come off as caricatures and the heart-to-heart moments hokey, there is something genuinely interesting about President Kirkman’s status as an Independent. Unaffiliated voters are an important part of elections and people are increasingly disillusioned with both parties. The individuals we hear from are actually real people voicing their opinions, as stated before the episode’s closing credits. Still, the show is naïve if it’s going to dismiss the infrastructure the parties provide for their candidates.
It remains to be seen just how exciting this season will be. The biological weapon threat the premiere teases could be a season-long storyline or just a couple episodes. We need answers about Emily’s loyalties, more importantly. But if I’m being perfectly honest, if I hadn’t spent so much time catching up on Season 2, I can’t say I’d be watching Designated Survivor. It pains me to say so, as a Kiefer Sutherland fan, but it’s the truth. Maybe Season 3 will surprise me, but I have my doubts.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10 (Passible Entertainment)