Designated Survivor Series-Premiere Recap: You Don’t Know Jack

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Kiefer Sutherland as Tom Kirkman. Photo: Ben Mark Holzberg/ABC
Designated Survivor
Episode Title
Pilot
Season
1
Episode
17
Editor’s Rating
4/5

Last we saw Jack Bauer, he was surrendering himself to the Russians so that Chloe O'Brian would be freed. This wasn't the first time Jack had to turn himself over to a hostile government, however. He knew the drill. It wasn't a matter of "if" he'd escape, more like "how" and "where he would go."

Tonight, we finally have our answer. In the greatest disguise of Jack Bauer's vaunted career, he simply put on some Warby Parkers, strolled out of a Russian prison, changed his name to Tom Kirkman, and became the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development on a show called Designated Survivor. He's got a wife, he has two kids, and he lives in D.C. But perhaps his biggest cover of all: He's pretending he's soft as shit.

Remember those moments when, after a full day of getting beat up, accused of treason, tortured by the Chinese, killing 93 terrorists, saving America, losing multiple loved ones, and then getting blamed for some epic tragedy, he'd flash that Jack Bauer "I'm tired, all I want is to go home" face? Designated Survivor is that, the entire time. Who knew he'd finally leave his past behind by simply being a normal?

When we first see "Tom Kirkman," he's in a room, drinking what appears to be a Tsingtao, wearing a Cornell hoodie, jeans, and white kicks, watching the president give the State of the Union address. His wife (played by Natascha McElhone) walks in with some popcorn, they have a phone chat with their young daughter (Mckenna Grace) about going to sleep because it's late, and then out of nowhere the United States Capital is bombed, killing basically the entire federal government.

ABC

The first scene ends with a bang. Literally.

After this, we go back 15 hours before America ended to see Kirkman-Bauer-Sutherland at his house, doing cool-dad shit. His wife is working on a laptop in bed, he's just trying to cuddle, and then he gets up and makes breakfast for everyone in a robe and his glasses. From there, the most important relationship in this entire show begins to play out, that between father and son.

This is father:

ABC

And this is son:

ABC

I don't know what the son's name is, but for the purposes of this recap, let's just call him Lil' Val Kilmer. Lil' Val is not trying to have an early-morning heart-to-heart with dad, but when pressured, he tells pops what he and his friend Caleb are up to. You may want to sit down for this:

"He's laying down a new dubstep track and I need to write program for him."

Oh, what was that? Designated Survivor just got renewed for the eleventh season? Yes, I thought so.

Anyway, this probably means Lil' Val sells molly at teen clubs, but who knows? Also, Jack is giving off very real stepdad vibes, almost as if he's trying to impress his new kids in front of their mom. But no, I genuinely think they're his kids. He's just acting like this because he's trying to hide the fact that he's Jack Bauer, a man who knows exactly where to shoot someone he loves above the knee so they will walk again one day.

Next, we see Jack and one of his advisers walking in D.C. She's pissed because none of the HUD talking points made it into the State of the Union. He's upset, but he knows what it's like to get the short end of the stick from the government — the Senate tried to send him to prison for life at the beginning of day seven.

They go take a meeting at the White House, and the news is even worse than expected. Jack is getting demoted. They want to give him one of those fake jobs, like Ambassador of Crate & Barrel, and Jack can't believe it. His three-piece suit with the slight flare at the bottom of the pant might have something to do with this, since he does slightly look like he's part of a KC & the Sunshine Band tribute band that performs on cruise ships.

He goes home and breaks the news to his wife, who is like "nah."

ABC

She wants him to stand up for himself, but he's pretty soft, because he's not allowed to go back to the old Jack. But the look she gives him is "I need Jack back, right now."

Alas, that man is long gone. He's decided to take the demotion and move to Montreal for the job. He'll commute between there and D.C. She storms out the room, in full "boy, bye."

He gets a call right at that moment, and all we see him say is: "What's a Designated Survivor?"

Which brings us back to the present. Jack is in that room, with his wife, because he is the evening's Designated Survivor, the one person in the presidential line of succession who must be elsewhere during the State of the Union, in case something terrible happens. Something terrible like a bomb going off at the U.S. Capital, killing everyone.

So yes, what you think is about to happen is about to happen. Within minutes, Jack Bauer and his wife are whisked into the White House (yes, he's still in a Cornell hoodie and jeans and white kicks) and he gets sworn in as president of the United States.

The rest of the episode is also what you'd expect. Jack doubts his abilities, as does every single person around him. A speechwriter (played by Kal Penn) trash-talks him in a bathroom stall, saying how the country is doomed with such a loser in charge, not realizing that he's right in front of the new president himself. We're also introduced to the classic American film general who, in times of distress, wants to push the button to bomb everyone. This guy takes it a sexy step further, however — he also wants to get rid of Jack. He doesn't outright say it, but it looks like the general is going to try to kill Jack Bauer. If he'd ever seen any of the eight seasons of 24 or the made-for-television 24 movie, he'd know that was impossible. But that never stopped anyone from trying.

Malik Yoba and Maggie Q are in the show, too. Both play FBI agents, and I have a weird feeling they might hook up.

Also, when the Secret Service rush to round up Jack's family, they can't find the son. Is it because Lil' Val wasn't really making dubstep tracks with his brah Caleb?

YES, IT'S BECAUSE HE WAS ACTUALLY AT THE TEEN CLUB SELLING MOLLY.

They do find him, though. Which is great, because now I can't wait for the episode where Jack yells, "You can't support this family by selling molly at teen clubs anymore, Lil' Val! I'm the president of the United States!" I hope it's the next episode. I hope it's every episode.

The pilot ends with Jack's preparation for his first presidential speech. And what's that? What do I see lurking behind the "Tom Kirkman" façade? If he's going to lead this country through this time of crisis, he can't put up this front as a cool, relaxed dad anymore. America needs Jack Bauer more than ever. Or maybe not full Jack, but somewhere in the middle. Like 50 percent Jack.

Designated Survivor: Tune in to find out what happens when people stop being Tom Kirkman and start getting Jack Bauer. As a disciple of 24, I could not be more excited for this show. Oh, and Kiefer? Feel free, just once, to bring back the clock.