Designated Survivor S01E03 Recap: 'The Confession'

Three weeks in (not to mention after a confidence-boosting full-season pickup, Designated Survivor is starting to find a nice groove. Not only has it successfully avoided the pitfalls that other shows often face when they get bogged down with procedure or unnecessary details, but it's found a rhythm that makes it fairly unique in a genre that has sort of been overly serious, ironically, since Kiefer Sutherland's last political intrigue drama.

What I appreciated the most about this show, particularly in this week's episode, "The Confession", are not the twists, the intrigue, the political machinations or even the guaranteed one scene where Tom Kirkman unleashes his inner Jack Bauer on an unsuspecting general, but instead the moments of levity. Perfectly sprinkled throughout "The Confession" are these cutaways to characters like Aaron, Emily and Seth as they comment on whatever mistake President Tom is making now, whatever new kerfuffle puts a dent in their plan to pick up the country's pieces following the devastating terrorist attack that took out the entirety of government.

And I know that those are two ideas that are fairly difficult to juxtapose. On one hand, you have a country that's in shambles, a terrorist attack that rivals 9/11 and the immediate action that must be taken. On the other hand, what fun is a show that's admittedly sort of campy if we have to be constantly dour and can't have a little fun with it? The fact that the writers have actually managed to pull this off pretty well without hurting the flow or tone of the show is something that should be acknowledged. Especially considering how in "The Confession", those moments come during big dramatic moments like an interview where Tom gets called out for being fired the day of the attack, or at the former president's funeral. Yet Aaron and Emily trading quips already make me want the Designated Survivor spinoff where they inherit a bed and breakfast from a distant aunt they didn't know and have to co-manage that.

Co-managing President Tom won't be an issue for those two in the immediate future, however, because Tom picks Aaron as his Chief of Staff after he makes a big play. Seeing Tom reeling from confessing that he was fired, and then how the former First Son stopped him from delivering a eulogy at his dad's funeral as a political play (only to let Congresswoman Kimble take his place and do the same), Aaron goes behind Tom's back and leaks the obviously fake terrorist's video (delivered to the White House conveniently through a precision hack of Tom's computer) to the press, offering to resign instead of apologize when Tom confronts him. Tom, however, winds up seeing the value in someone who thinks differently than him, more political, so he gives Aaron the job and pleads with Emily to stay on.

Yet not everything is on the up and up with Aaron. We already know he has the general's ear in terms of taking some drastic action in case Tom doesn't do what they want, and while that doesn't advance this week, we end the episode as he takes some sort of potentially damning documents about Tom at a secret meeting, even getting asked whose side he might be on. Along with the massive amounts of gel in his hair, it paints a pretty sketchy picture of Tom, but I think it's all a red herring. I think Aaron is clean and he truly wants to help Tom, he just knows that sometimes you have to get your hands dirty to get the job done.

Just like Hannah did, when she asks a tech to forgo legally hacking the phone of a woman from the State of the Union as she was taking pictures. But it's necessary, because it'll help document a gap in time between when the feed cut and when the Capitol building blew up. Funny enough, it turns out the congressman who was discovered alive at the end of last week's episode disappeared from the scene in one of those pictures, indicating he may not have been there at all.

The plot here is slowly unfurling but I like all the little nuggets were getting from all sides. Aaron's arc may wind up being a distraction but it's a pretty good one. The main plot has wielded some great twists so far. Kimble is a good foil for President Tom. The general is wonderfully hateable. The only weak link on the show might be the family stuff, but that's to be expected with a show like this, and easily forgivable when the rest of the show's wheels are spinning nicely.

"The Confession" is another great installment of Designated Survivor. Three episodes in and the show's already found a nice groove. For that, it gets 8.5 onetime malicious cyber intrusions out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • Dammit Count: 1, when Tom realizes he forgot family dinner. We also get a son of a bitch!
  • I wonder if all White House Chiefs of Staff walk around with a resignation letter, just in case. Seems like a job with pretty high turnover.
  • So Alex finds Leo's drugs that he was selling, but keeps it from Tom for now. That's obviously going to come back to haunt everyone at some point. Question is if Leo was back in the house because he felt the need for normalcy, or to get more drugs.
  • Seriously, the general is the worst. But that's how it's supposed to be. Like the episode made sure to hammer home, we need a villain and he's a good person to put some hate on. Not like the show has a lack of villains though. Leo is annoying, who knows what Aaron is up to, Kimble is being a jerk...
  • Emily reveals that her boyfriend proposed. Aaron: "That's classic post-disaster acceleration."
  • "I would never want your job." "Well, that makes two of us."
  • "This is what you get for being honest in D.C."
  • "She's so political she doesn't even seem political."