Designated Survivor S01E05 Recap: 'The Mission'

Just in case the two weeks off since the last new episode of Designated Survivorhad made you forget, let me remind you that this show is sort of ridiculous. It's 24 and Homeland if those shows the little bit of nuance they had left at their most recent points, but not as confident as those shows are at owning the stories they put forth. It's The West Wing but without having found its footing, without that show's even keel or unprecedented writing. It's all of those things mixed with your typical ABC primetime soap.

Yet while those qualifiers may make most shows sound bad, their combination means that Designated Survivor somehow finds a way to work more often than not. "The Mission" is an episode of television which, in that regard, finds a way to work even though I could point to many objective flaws. But as I've stated in the past whilst reviewing this show, I don't care about the negatives, because the positives are more than enough to carry my admiration for what it sets out to accomplish.

But I'm a fair man, so I'm more than willing to acknowledge those flaws. In that regard, "The Mission" feels like if its writers forgot about their deadline to hand in the script, and decides instead to copy-paste pages from the script of Zero Dark Thirty into whatever they had already written. The president's struggle with the decision to go after the terrorists, the last-minute humanization of the Navy SEALs going into the mission, hell Maggie Q probably even borrowed a blazer from Jessica Chastain in order to prepare for her role as the agent on the cusp of breaking wide open this gigantic terrorist mystery. Everything about this episode felt borrowed from Kathryn Bigelow's excellent movie, right down to the night-vision mission to Algeria interspersed with Hannah telling Atwood about all the evidence she's gathered against Congressman Peter.

Where it feels a little schlocky is in how it's built around shocking the audience and keeping them in suspense, but that's par for the course when it comes to this show. Like I said, there's little nuance. It's pure entertainment, occasionally mixed in with unflappable ideas. But it works. Even though the feed cuts out before we get to see the resolution to the Mexican standoff with Nassar, I felt the tension as the president was witnessing his latest defining moment go down. And I burst out laughing (in a good way) when Hannah and Atwood's confirmation that Congressman Peter most definitely had to be a part of the terrorist plot was followed by Tom suggesting the congressman as the new Vice President.

Because of course this is where it's going. As the parts lifted from Zero Dark Thirty proved, this show doesn't really have much shame. It's willing to borrow from movies, from 24, from Homeland , but considering that, when you think about it, most shows and movies aren't really original, it should come down to what they make of the things they steal, and I truly think that there's value to how Designated Survivor puts its puzzle together. At worst, I'm distracted. At best, I'm thoroughly entertained. Thankfully this week my feelings lean more towards the latter.

The aforementioned mission to Algeria played out pretty well, despite some convenient hiccups with the video feeds and Kirkman's eyeroll-inducing need to go visit the troops before they leave (as if you couldn't see it coming from a mile away that at least one of them was going to die; no less tacky was how it was the commander, and he wasn't even supposed to be in the mission). Even Hannah, arguably the worst non-child character on this show, was firing on all cylinders this week, as she worked hard to piece together the mystery she's been working at since the pilot. She actually gets somewhere, too, when she deduced the conspicuousness of the room under which Peter was found. She forges somewhat of an alliance with Kimble to get the plans to that room, finding out all the contractors who worked on recent renovations have died, and that the room was reinforced to ensure Peter survived.

All that, as I mentioned, is intermingled with Tom and Peter buddying up in the situation room as Nassar comes in, each passing scene making Peter look more and more guilty, more and more nervous about Nassar being caught.

I'm not sure this is going to last too long. After all, if DS is going to be a more toothless 24, they're not going to go all out with a terrorist VP. Plus Hannah knows, Kimble will soon know, and if he's nervous about Nassar being caught alive that's just another hole he can fall through. But it's still a fun twist as Designated Survivor continues to prove it's willing to go to a lot of different places in order to entertain us.

That makes "The Mission" a good, fun episode, one I'm confident giving 8.5 Navy SEALs out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • Dammit Count: 1!! He said it!!
  • While killing off the commander still counts as cheesy, you sort of have to give the show credit for not making it one of the two very obvious other candidates, between Guy Who Just Had A Kid and Guy Who Sacrificed His Honeymoon For America.
  • In subplots I couldn't care less about: Leo might not be Tom's son.
  • Not only was that new general guy in 24 season 8, he was also Bubba in Forrest Gump!