"Sir, you are now the President of the United States” is the beginning and great premise of the future and destiny of a country. Tom Kirkman, the designated survivor, has automatically become the president during the most unprecedented situation in history. The capitol has been attacked and the entire congress and cabinet are gone in one day leaving Kirkman with no choice, but to enter office. He has survived the attack, but is this luck or is it just the start of a disaster? The TV series Designated Survivor (2016) will lead the audience to a new phase of political thriller.
It is the day of the State of the Union, but the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development cannot participate in it. He was named to be the designated survivor and was watching the State of the Union in his comfortable hoodie eating popcorn with his wife. It was just an ordinary day for an ordinary cabinet member, until all of a sudden the TV screens go dark and the Secret Service agents charge into the room. With a massive explosion outside the window, Kirkman realizes that the Capitol has just been attacked. With this in mind, he gets his presidential inauguration as soon as he arrives at the White House. In the blink of an eye, he becomes the President of the United States (U.S.) on the most unexpected day.
The atmospheric change from calmness to catastrophe is the brilliance of the opening scene of this show. The audience, along with Kirkman, feels a sudden rush of nerves trying to make amends of the turmoil. This feeling lasts throughout the first season and evokes the curiosity of the viewers. In addition to the shocking plot, there is the amazing casting of the main character. Kiefer Sutherland as president is presumably something the fans of Jack Bauer from 24 (2001 )—Sutherland’s previous show—were craving to see. The actor shows a different aspect of his acting as he plays an unqualified candidate barely working his way out to rightfully serve the country, whereas in 24 he was an unbeatable and strong character.
▲ Main Characters of the Designated Survivor. Provided by Deadline
Along the journey of his presidency, Kirkman has numerous supporters that make everything possible. Emily Rhodes, who worked with him even before he was president, as a Chief of Staff works in the best of his interest. There is Seth Wright who doubted Kirkman’s qualification as a president, but later believes in him to work as Press Secretary. Moreover, Aaron Shore and many other competent politicians are willing to help President Kirkman. Although Kirkman may lack political skills, he has the ability to embrace and convince people to join his dedicated, inspiring work to lift the country up from turmoil. Hence, his code name Phoenix, to which he is working hard to live up to.
This show deals not only with politics; the suspense ingrained throughout the episodes comes from the outside threat of terrorists. Under the pretentious brightness of Kirkman’s presidency, there is a hidden investigation going on conducted by Hannah Wells, an Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent. The level of intensity peaks as she furthers her investigation into who was behind the attack and works to stop further attacks on the Capitol. The coalition of government officials and agents shows a different aspect of the president that people tend to miss: the White House is not always about politics.
In addition to the political tension and secret investigations, the show does not forget to include the very human side of Kirkman. His family is the reason he has the strength to carry on with one of the loneliest jobs in the world. Eva Booker, the first lady, is the person who went through all the chaos with him. She is a strong, independent character that knows how to emotionally support him and truly believes in his presidency. Although not so much is depicted about his personal life, moments with his family remind the viewers that presidents are just like any other ordinary person.
What could have been a serious and intense politically inclined show of a heroic man saving the country from turmoil, proves otherwise with its touch of humor and romance in between. Instead of bombarding the viewers with political issues and conspiracies, it balances out the level of intensity by depicting familiar matters to stay realistic, distancing the story from what could be considered as a political fantasy. However, it also received criticism of dwelling on the common idea of an underrated person who manages to survive through the presidency. In spite of this, the build of each episode, filled with betrayal, conspiracy, and loyalty, evokes patriotism and empowerment that once was lost after the fall of the capitol. Throughout this recovery of the presidential spirit, Tom Kirkman was in the center of it all.
Designated Survivor is a portrayal of the worst nightmare that can happen in the U.S. government. It dared to create a dangerous hypothetical situation that managed to put realistic factors and thebehind-the-scenes of a president. It shows how difficult it is to live a life where every detail is scrutinized and publicized with no one to trust since anyone can be the next to turn their back around. It also painstakingly illustrates the little patience the government exhibits when handling sensitive matters that need to stay undercover. This serves as a reminder that transparency is not always the touchstone of a competent government.
Moreover, this sheds new light on the perception of heroes. Kirkman presiding over the presidency shows that heroes are not always the ones with superpowers. He is constantly pushed to resign but his explanation of staying is to fulfill the “civic responsibility.” Thus, a hero could be anyone that has the bravery to do something with faith in his convictions.
TV Series Information
Creator: David Guggenheim
Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Italia Ricci, Maggie Q, Natascha McElhone and more