Boxset Binge: Designated Survivor – Season 1 Review

The first season of the political TV drama Designated Survivor is both an explosive thrill ride and a thoughtful insight into the current state of the political landscape of Western civilisation.

The first moments of the opening episode is up there with some of the strongest I have seen in recent memory and sets the tone perfectly. Independent politician and former Cabinet member Tom Kirkman (in a magnetic leading performance from Kiefer Sutherland) has been named the Designated Survivor, meaning he is transported to a top secret location during a big political gathering. Immediately there is panic, as special forces come into the room and, through a window, the camera zooms on the burning Capitol building. The vast majority of politicians and senior officials, including The President, have perished in a horrific terrorist attack. From the music to the script, to the brilliant acting from Sutherland, these first moments are arguably the strongest of the season and I knew that I was going to enjoy the rest of it.

As an Independent, Kirkman is completely alone at the head of the government for the first half of the season, without any Republican or Democrat support. One thing that this show does very well, and is very topical based on the current American political landscape, is presenting the majority of politicians as human beings with multiple layers and motivations beyond their party affiliations. This can be perfectly encapsulated by the characterisation of Congresswoman Kimble Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen), who at first seems like she will be a thorn at Kirkman’s side, but ultimately shows that she wants what is best for her country and has strong morals. The representation of other characters follows this template, besides one or two stereotypical Republicans, who are demonised as a result.

Whilst this season is predominately focused on Tom Kirkman and the challenges he faces to unite the country, I found the secondary narrative just as enthralling. This plot strand follows FBI agent Hannah Wells (an excellent Maggie Q) as she searches for answers as to who was responsible for the atrocity and why they did it. You would think that this would run out of steam in a 21-episode season, but I actually found myself wanting to see more of this narrative, such was the strength of the writing and acting. As the political sub-plots start to flatten out in terms of impact, this takes command of the season and the subsequent finale and cliffhanger to Season 2 means several questions have been left unanswered.

The debut season of Designated Survivor was my first true foray into a political drama, but the solid acting performances from its leads and the constant developments of the investigation into the Capitol bombing help prevent the pace from going stale. I will definitely be watching and reviewing Season 2 soon, so stay tuned for that in the near future!

Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

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