Designated Survivor


The Capitol has been attacked. Eagle is gone. Sir you are now the President of the United States

ABC unveiled the premier of Designated Survivor last night. Within the context of the series, it was just another night, albeit the night of the President’s State of the Union Address, and Tom Kirkman, a member of President Richmond’s cabinet, drew the short straw, or maybe it goes by ranking, or some other formula to be the designated survivor for the night.

That means that when all the ranking members of the government are in one place, a designated survivor is named, then taken, by the Secret Service to a secret location, just in case the worst thing imaginable happens.

On this particular night, the United States Capitol Building was blown up, with the President, the Vice President, and all the members of Congress losing their lives. Yes, the worst thing imaginable, and this all before the opening credits.

Before the dust has settled, but the opening credits have been shown, we learn that just 15 hours ago, Tom Kirkman, was relieved or fired from his cabinet post and given a foreign posting, as in an ambassadorship which would be based in Montreal. Mind you, this was not the same as being named as the American Ambassador to Canada.

One could only see this as a step-down, a demotion, a kick in the ass, as well as a good riddance and goodbye. And while you absorb that, Kirkman has to give a speech to the American people (it’s just a few hours later) as well as take a tough meeting in the Emergency Situation Room.

The news coming out of the Middle East is that Iran wants to flex its muscles and make a run at the American Navy. Not likely an act of war, but certainly an act of both bravado and defiance. The thinking being that while in a state of disarray, let’s push the Americans buttons and see what the new guy is made of.

Now Kirkman has to deal with people who don’t think he’s Presidential material, as well as a hawkish Joint Chiefs General who wants to immediately unleash the dogs of war. But Kirkman is not quite ready to start WWIII, at least not on that night.

He says that despite the misgivings of the remaining Presidential staff, and that gung-ho General, he’s going to do things his way, and see how or if that works. If my way doesn’t work, then we can try yours.

So the Iranian Ambassador is summoned to the White House. He of course denies that the Iranian Navy is anywhere near the Straits of Hormuz , a strategic choke point between the Persian Gulf and open ocean.

Kirkman tells the Ambassador that he can go back to his embassy, and get in contact with his government, and if the American Navy does not report an Iranian naval retreat within three hours, tomorrow, the headlines on the front page of every newspaper in the world, will not only be the destruction of the American leadership and Capitol Building, but the full destruction of the Iranian Capital as well.


That’s about it for an intro to the series. Kiefer Sutherland has been cast as the emerging President, and just like what we saw in Madam Secretary, he’s got a family.

His wife is played by Natascha McElhone. I kept expecting her to speak with that lovely Irish lilt as she did playing opposite Robert De Niro and Jean Reno in the thriller called Ronin, but it never happened.

The hawk of this tale, General Cochrane is played by Kevin McNally who might remind you of Brian Dennehy as Sheriff Will Teasle from the first Rambo film.

Maggie Q is on board as a tough and smart FBI agent investigating the destruction of the Capitol Building. Malik Yoba is Maggie Q’s boss at the FBI.

Kal Penn plays a speech writer at the White House.

Adan Canto plays Aaron Shore, a surviving senior presidential aide.


The Iranian ambassador is played by Elias Zarou.

Okay, this episode, called Pilot, was pretty good. Yes there’s a lot of exposition as we do have to meet the characters and get the lay of the land. But the episode also had a few standoffs – Kirkman and the General was a real tough mano v mano right there in the Situation room. Kirkman and the ambassador involved some saber-rattling, so we did get to see that while the new President Tom Kirkman may have sat at the far end of the table in Cabinet meetings, and he had been fired from his cabinet post earlier in the day, he does has a bit of steel in him.

Initially Kirkman is set up to come off a nerd – he wears a hoodie Cornell sweatshirt, un-stylish glasses, and he owned a demeanor that wouldn’t frighten any one. But as we know, Sutherland can play the tough as nails guy convincingly.

I like McElhone who is cast as his wife. I think she will be an excellent first lady. She’s no Robin Wright (Mrs. Underwood) but she doesn’t have to be.

As for the villains  we’ve already met three, Adan Canto’s Aaron Shore,  Kevin McNally’s General Cochran, and Peter Outerbridge as Charlie Langdon, who most likely was the White House Chief of Staff.

He’s the one who fired Kirkman earlier in the day. About him, a nagging question hovers above his head. If he was the White Chief of Staff, why wasn’t he at the Capitol. Which sets up one of the series five main tent poles, which are:

Will Tom Kirkman be able to handle the Presidency?

Will Kirkman survive and keep his job. We’ve already seen General Cochrane discussing the removal of a sitting President?

Will Maggie Q and Malik Yoba be able to solve the bombing case?


What will happen to Kirkman vis-vis his family?

And of course, the weekly crisis of the week (think how well Madam Secretary did this).

I am looking forward to this series. I like Kiefer Sutherland, and while, I believe that this show will not even approach The West Wing, or House Cards, I think it will likely become a must-watch.

The Trailer:


6 thoughts on “Designated Survivor

  1. Suspects:
    During the presidents speech ” 1 percent of people own 90%. This is going to change” this the motive to take him out and Congress. Keifer’s so speech was taken out of pres. speech to keep him designated and not in capital. The attack was scheduled to design. Survival. To overthrow Keiser. Shore is orchestrating.

  2. Strangely enough we saw this series advertised on a commercial during our On Demand viewing of “Modern Family” because SOMEONE (I won’t name names) forgot to set up our favorite comedy on the new DVR box.

    Normally we fast-forward through commercials, but On Demand doesn’t allow for that, so we actually watched the preview for Designated Survivor. Normally Mrs. Snakes doesn’t like action shows, but *she* actually wants to watch this. So I recorded it and we’ll watch it later this evening. I am looking forward to seeing it now thanks to this review of yours. Thanks, Mike!

  3. My hope is that the series really focuses on the post-bombing politics more so than the bomb investigation. Obviously, both will be tackled, but there’s lots more potential for interesting storylines as related to the former. If the series becomes all about the investigation, then it might not take full advantage of its concept.

    Enjoyed the pilot and your review. Will keep watching.

    • Hi PB – thanks for the comment…

      I agree. There’s already an undercurrent of challenges facing Sutherland’s character Kirkman. The dueling with General Cochrane. the Michigan governor, plus the competition within the White House staff that seems earmarked to either curry favor, or bring Kirkman’s presidency to a quick end.

      So far about the investigation we appear to be viewing that through the prism of just two characters played by Malik Yoba and Maggie Q. There’s been a whole raft of discussion elsewhere about the implausibility of the US Capital being bombed. And we have no answers so far. Likely it was not a missile nor an air attack. More likely a bomb or bombs secreted within the Capitol building and detonated remotely.

      I don’t see it as a foreign involvement. More likely a coup of some sort.

      We shall see.

  4. I’m kind of picky when it comes to how the U.S. flag is displayed in different situations. The last episode “The Mission” where at the end of the show the casket with the dead Navy SEAL has the flag draped on it. It is incorrectly draped. The blue field should be over the left shoulder not the right. Someone should be checking for these details. As far as that goes, even the picture of the flag behind Sutherland at the top of this page is backwards unless he is standing in front of a window. The blue field should be in the upper left to the viewer. Love the show though.

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