Designated Survivor Recap: Day One

Natascha McElhone as Alex Kirkman, Kiefer Sutherland as President Kirkman. Photo: Ben Mark Holzberg/ABC
Designated Survivor
Episode Title
The First Day
Editor’s Rating

Last week, Designated Survivor gave us a hell of a pilot. Not quite Studio 60–level, but still very watchable. We were left with some big things to consider. The most pressing issues include:

1. That aliens, not terrorists, are to blame for the Capitol bombing.
2. That Designated Survivor will somehow cross paths with it's ABC sibling Quantico, à la The Flintstones Meet the Jetsons.
3. That Jack Bauer's son sells more than just molly.

Great? Great. Let's jump into episode two.


Jack Bauer is officially the president and the EAST COAST MEDIA ELITE are giving him a hard time. At the White House, Jack is obviously overwhelmed. How can we tell? When he's nervous, he walks through the halls of the White House like he's got marbles in his shoes, he's walking on coals, or he's dodging land mines.

The morning briefing did not go well, mainly because he has positioned himself as the single worst substitute teacher of all time. All of the presidential advisers are fighting with one another, yelling about what to do, and Kirkman's over here still trying to call roll.

Totally unable to get anyone's attention, Jack bounces to another room where eventually he's confronted by two people: the old chief of staff from his HUD days, and the deputy chief of staff for the former, now-dead, probably-killed-by-aliens president. They're both angling to be the new White House chief of staff. Jack yells at them both, demanding they focus on the task at hand. There's something about these two — they have some real tension. I think they hooked up at a Correspondents' Dinner after-party in 2013. Actually, yes. I know they did. I saw it. I was there.

Anyway, President Bauer-Kirkman-Sutherland wants to go to the bombing site. He wants to see what remains of the Capitol building.

Meanwhile, Kal Penn gets racially profiled by two white cops, one of whom is played by an actor who has definitely crushed many an audition as "Town Bigot" or "Dad Who Doesn't Want His Son Playing Football With Those Blacks."


Keeping with this theme, reports emerge that police in Dearborn, Michigan, are rounding up all Muslims. Bauer-Kirkman-Sutherland calls the governor of Michigan, assuming that they will come to an equitable solution to stop this. Instead, the governor basically says, "Nah, son, I told the police to do this because the police are bae and I run this Michigan, I don't answer to anyone, especially not you, you Moscot frames–wearing presidential appointee. Dearborn out!"

The governor of Michigan literally tells the president off and hangs up on him. There's just no way this will end well for him, Jim Harbaugh, or the entire state of Michigan. Once Kirkman transforms fully into Bauer, those 10 million people will be tortured with a single spoon.



She's a congresswoman and the Republican party's designated survivor, which means she's the only living member of Congress. Also, because she's a Republican, the show gives her the name Kimble Hookstraten, which loosely translates in Bridgehampton to "Inside Lily Pulitzer, Outside Vineyard Vines, Yacht Equity Wealth Yacht."

Congresswoman Hookstraten is being very supportive of the new president, eager to build up his confidence, which clearly means that she wants something and is playing the game. It might even mean that she bombed the Capitol. Actually, as of right now, she's my primary suspect. She clearly wants to be president and was probably pissed that she got demoted to designated survivor. YOU DON'T D.S. A HOOKSTRATEN.

Yeah, keep an eye on her. She definitely killed everyone.

More importantly, we finally get our first legit Jack Bauer moment. The president goes in the super-secret control room to learn that they've allegedly identified the terror group. When he asks how sure they are, they say 75 percent. That's not good enough for Jack, which annoys the Duke Nukem general, causing him to say something in a tone that insinuates yet again that his commander-in-chief is being too soft.

He shouldn't have done that. President Kirkman snatches off the Warbys, morphs into Jack Bauer, and starts throwing verbal grenades:

"You think I don't want to strike back against the people who did this? I lost colleagues, friends, people I love. I want to find every single person involved in this attack, from planning to execution, and rip them limb from limb.


"Which is why I need to know EXACTLY who did this. Come back to me with more than 75 percent and I'll launch the damn missiles myself."

The general, visibly shaken because he just realized that Kirkman is Jack Bauer, squeaks out a single question in response: "… How much more?"

This pisses Jack off to no end, of course. While storming off, he screams in true Bauer voice, "TWENTY FIVE, DAMMIT." He's back.

It's time for President Kirkman and the First Lady to head off to the Capitol. Before they leave, though, we get a full family scene that includes the show's best character, the molly son. Let me tell you why he is the best: Even in the aftermath of a national tragedy, he is trying to see which of his clients are still alive so he can keep flooding the streets with that product.

Mom and dad say good-bye, hop in the motorcade, and head over to the Capitol.

Along the way, Alex looks at her husband and tells him it's been "a hell of a day." My mind was blown at that exact moment. I thought that line would be followed by a laugh track, since it's the funniest joke in history, BECAUSE MORE TIME HAS PASSED IN 1.37 EPISODES OF DESIGNATED SURVIVOR THAN AN ENTIRE SEASON OF 24. HELL OF A DAY MY ASS, THIS IS THE EASIEST DAY OF JACK BAUER'S LIFE.

If you ignore that absolute truth, however, she's right. Because look at the Capitol.


Being the great guy that he is, the president borrows a megaphone to do his best Bill Pullman impression. One thing, though: Pullman never had to worry about people ruining his timeless, inspirational moment because they were glued to their phones by real-time updates of attacks against Muslim-Americans. Sure, he had to deal with aliens with technology far beyond the scope of humankind, but Kiefer's speech got interrupted because Michigan is out of control. Personally, I think the journalists could have waited two minutes for the speech to wrap up — he was clearly turning that corner to bring it home — but then I remembered that even in this moment of crisis, content is king.

Oh, and then someone charges at the president and Secret Service think he has a gun so they rushed him and the First Lady out of there while securing/beating the guy. Oh, and allegedly it wasn't a gun — it was a phone. We know this because it is pointed out by the bystanders, who want to make sure that the guy isn't being treated unfairly by the police. Oh, and also, everyone is white.

What I'm saying is, Designated Survivor really packed a lot of topical shit in this one scene. I'm not mad at it, but I'm so mad at it. I just hope that someone said the phrase "white lives matter" while they were writing, filming, and/or editing this scene.

But I digress. A few other things to note before the episode comes to a close:

1. Maggie Q is still in the show, and she has a theory that the FBI is targeting the wrong terror group. No one takes her theory seriously, however. Not even Malik Yoba, who fails to mention Maggie's theory when he briefs the president.

2.  The molly son was supposed to be at the White House watching his little sister, but leaves after he gets a call — probably about how to sneak molly water into the White House — which allows her to turn on the television and watch a live feed of her mom and dad nearly get shot by a guy with a cell phone-shaped cell phone.

3. In the last big scene, Kirkman finally gets the governor of Michigan on White House Skype. The governor continues to try and boss the president around, which works until he goes into full-on Jack mode and just starts threatening him. Some of these threats are true, and some are completely made up.

The Governor is SHOOK. Much like the general, it just hit him that he is talking to Jack Bauer.


The governor agrees to the president's terms with his voice, while his eyes plead to not shoot him below the knee because he'd like to walk again. Then, with the quickness, Bauer hangs up. It is his first big political play, and it finally gains him the respect of his advisers. Also impressed: Kimble Hookstraten, who is getting very, very close and clearly is a terrorist.

The episode ends with Jack wanting to go back to the Capitol and thank everyone, but without all the cameras. And with his cute parka. So that's what he does.


Jack Bauer is a great president.