You get the sense with ‘Sting in the Tail’, the second episode of Designated Survivor’s new season, that the production team are trying to move on from the myriad tangle of conspiracy plotlines that the first season was constructed around, or at least moving the goal posts. You can’t blame them. David Guggenheim’s show has always balanced this tricky divide between pulp action thriller on the one hand, and political drama on the other, and the twain have never quite sat right together. While there’s no indication the thriller side is going anywhere, or indeed Maggie Q’s role as intrepid agent Hannah Wells is lessening, by the end of this one a major chess piece is off the table.
Namely Patrick Lloyd (Terry Serpico), really just a fairly underwhelming 24 baddie who stumbled into the wrong show, and given the writers wrote themselves into a bit of a corner with him, they decide to *literally* write Lloyd into a narrative corner aka a private missile silo/bunker in the American heartland where he plans to fire Sarin gas missiles on Washington.
Honestly, it’s all a bit Bond villain silly, even for such an earnest and daft show as this, given you know Lloyd is never going to actually fire what missiles he has. Writer Keith Eisner doesn’t seem much interested in Lloyd either, despite trying to humanise him last minute by throwing an estranged family his way, with his story far more interested in the Hobson’s choice President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) has to make.
Does he give in to the demands of a domestic terrorist who wants immunity, or does he potentially let civilians die? That one’s easy – it’s when a jobsworth Congresswoman tries to obstruct a planned drone strike on domestic soil, claiming it violates the President’s constitutional powers, does the drama flirt with being interesting.
Truthfully, it’s less a device making a powerful political point, and more designed as a way to introduce another new member of the White House team – Kendra Daynes (Zoe McLellan), a hard hitting lawyer who, in the time honoured tradition of Designated Survivor, is immediately given a job by Kirkman when she deliberately tries to cause him a headache. Honestly, his recruitment process is bonkers!
Anyway, Daynes looks like another ball breaker to add to the squad, and hopefully she’ll be as enjoyable to watch as Lyor Boone (Paulo Costanzo), who even with limited screen time is about a thousand times more interesting than copy and paste underwear model Aaron Shore (Adan Canto) and boutique shop assistant Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci); the writers don’t even seem much bothered about using them for much beyond exposition anymore.
They’re still gamely trying with Seth Wright (Kal Penn) though, playing him for laughs with Lyor questioning how funny his speech writing is (you know they’re doing this by the comedy trumpet over the score), but he seems to be developing a beard and that never ends well for characters on TV shows. Seth will either be evil or have a breakdown by the mid-season break the rate its growing.
You feel most sorry for Natascha McElhone, as First Lady Alex Kirkman, because she’s barely had a couple of scenes so far this season. There are rumours she may be jumping ship for a new series on Hulu and honestly, it wouldn’t be a surprise. She seems more and more surplus to requirements, even when they bring in her mother for a brief (but ultimately pointless) bit of jeopardy – though it was nice to see Bonnie Bedelia, best known as Bruce Willis’ ill-fated wife in Die Hard, in some kind of role again. Seriously though, writers, either use or lose Alex. Stop keeping the lovely Natascha hanging.
On the whole, fairly solid but unremarkable television. Designated Survivor is trying to move toward more character interplay, build new characters around the existing team, and play a bit more comedy, but its right now still being held back a touch by trying to be all things to all people. Hopefully now the main (dull) antagonist has been taken care of, the show may start spreading its wings into more balanced territory. The promise is there.
Designated Survivor airs on Netflix in the UK on Thursdays. Let us know what you think of the new season.