SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details about the season finale of Designated Survivor.
It may be the last term for President Tom Kirkland. Unless those rumors about eOne shopping the series and Netflix picking it up provide another season, tonight marked the end for the struggling Designated Survivor.
Despite the ratings melting from season one to season two, there are still many stalwart fans of the show hoping to see this universe continue, a program which combines a bit of West Wing noblesse oblige with the macho action of 24, President Kirkman’s (Keifer Sutherland) former home.
The big question looming before the finale was whether a cliffhanger would leave fans twisting in the wind, presuming another season doesn’t materialize. The show did not learn of its cancellation heading into the season ender.
The season finale Wednesday night underlined what ABC president Channing Dungey meant when she noted that the program was canceled in part because there were several showrunners involved, making the creative path forward a big question mark.
Once again, it was a laundry list of problems of the week for noble Tom Kirkland to solve, aided by his merry support staff who live but to serve. There was also the subplot of rogue agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) protecting the daughter of counter-spy Damian Rennett, a young adult who was targeted for assassination by Valeria Poriskova, Damian’s Russian handler, because she knew too much.
The finale started by resolving one cliffhanger – Emily (Italia Ricci), who was shot in the penultimate episode, survived because the bullet grazed her. She was the lucky one, for Kirkman is about to take a few blasts of his own. The Attorney General is threatening to bring charges that agent Wells did all sort of illegal things at Kirkman’s request, charges which could lead to his impeachment and throw the county into crisis.
The former president Moss has already declared his candidacy, and the political pressure is on for Kirkman to cut a deal and declare that he won’t run again for the highest office in the land. If that’s the case, charges won’t be brought and this will all go away.
However, that bubbling cauldron of political intrigue has to take a sudden backseat to another crisis. Taurasi, a former US protectorate, has declared its independence. Seth (Kal Penn) and Lyor (Paulo Costanzo) are dispatched to see if they can bring them back under the US wing. But the governor is adamant. Taurasi wants economic independence.
Those haughty plans are suddenly thrown into flux when an offshore earthquake sends a huge tsunami into Taurasi. Lyor is okay, but Seth — who left his hotel shortly before the disaster in search of coffee — is missing.
There’s another issue: the devastation has left 1,500 US tourists stranded and about 800,000 Taurasians in dire need of supplies and medicine. Only the US can’t provide massive aid to a country no longer under their wing.
There’s also a third crisis, in that Kirkman son Leo has been accepted into Georgetown and Stanford. He really wants to go to the west coast, but feels enormous guilt about abandoning his Dad in a time of crisis.
Finally, Kirkman faces a more personal dilemma. Chief of staff Emily has committed a faux pas by confronting a Supreme Court Chief Justice at a funeral to lobby for an expedited hearing on a Kirkman request for Taurasi aid. That’s an ex-parte communication, and an angry Chief Justice demands her head as his price.
How does Kirkman solve all these dilemmas? Well, he doesn’t do the old trick of pulling out a $5 bill and asking, “What would Lincoln do?” But he comes damn close, channeling good intentions into some homespun, pure American goodness.
The problem with all of the problems and solutions is that there’s too many of them. Instead of an A plot and a B plot, we are confronted with a bunch of subplots akin to a Jerry’s Deli menu. Not that Kirkman takes a long time in his selections. Solving these thorny puzzles is just a matter of minutes for Kirkman. At one point, he notes, “I’m not doing this because it’s expedient. I’m doing it because it’s the right thing.” Which is fine and noble, but when it’s the answer to everything confronting him, it’s a tad boring.
In the end, Seth is found, aid is sent to Taurasi, Leo is told to follow his heart, Emily will always have a place at the Kirkman table, and a noble Kirkman takes a new path: he’ll run as an independent for President, confounding the party politicos. “I will continue to speak the truth,” he puffs, “because that’s what the American people deserve.”
Hannah Wells has a more direct approach to problem-solving. After confronting Valeria, who channels a bit of Dirty Harry by telling Wells that she has no jurisdiction in the UK and that diplomatic immunity will save her anyway, winds up shot to death. What about diplomatic immunity? “Not with me,” says Wells, doing her best Jack Bauer strut away from the body.
The dreaded cliffhangers in what could be the final program were relatively minor and won’t be anything to keep most fans up late at night. Wells, on the way back from the UK, sees a video that looks like Emily passing some documents to Valeria. And Kirkman takes a phone call from the Attorney General, who likely informs him that charges will be filed against the President in the morning. There’s also Amy, the Damian daughter, who is coming to America to live with agent Wells. Perhaps to put marmalade in her tea each morning?
Is all of that enough to convince a network to invest in Designated Survivor going forward? It may not bring it four more years, but certainly might gain it another one or two. After all, given that there’s still a fanbase, it’s the right thing to do.