Designated Survivor Recap: The White House Gets Hacked

Kiefer Sutherland as President Tom Kirkman. Photo: Sven Frenzel/ABC
Designated Survivor
Episode Title
The Confession
Editor’s Rating

Spoiler alert: A teardrop actually formed in my left eyeball during this episode. Just putting that out there, so you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Episode three of Designated Survivor begins with what appears to be a glimmer of hope. In the rubble of the Capitol, someone is miraculously found alive. His name is Peter Macleish and he’s a young congressman, a war hero, and the only person (so far) to survive the attack that killed over 1,000.


We’ll get back to why something stanks about this “miracle” later.

At the White House, the president is being briefed on his day. The two big things: (1) the funeral for the slain ex-president, for which he must deliver a eulogy, and (2) a televised interview. Everybody seems pretty confident that all of this will go off without a hitch, which lets the viewer know that bad things are on the horizon. Neither of these things will go well.

Right then, a blackout. The entire White House goes dark. They quickly get the power back on, but the threat isn’t over. At first, the fear is that another violent attack might be happening, and that fear is correct — just not exactly how they expected.

The only thing worse that physical violence has just taken place: They got hacked.

Before we move on, a note on Jack’s Secret Service guy.


While not one of the main characters, Mike is a phenomenal character. He’s a nice mix of Curtis from 24 and Sinbad from First Kid. And in addition to being part of the son-who-sells-molly plot, he consistently gets to deliver the big lines that take the show to commercial. In the first episode, it was Yung Tootsie Roll who looks Jack Bauer in his bespectacled eyes and says, “You are now the president of the United States.” And in this episode, he gets to say, “The White House has just been hacked.”

Discussions on how to keep this away from the press take place, as well as yet another push to get Jack to name a chief of staff, which he again dismisses. Following this, we go to the FBI. After the first two episodes, it seemed as if Maggie Q would be nothing more than a secondary character, but very quickly in this episode, it is made clear she may be the show’s most important figure. Why?

Her character is Jack Bauer.


It all lines up. She’s on the inside, she feels like an outsider, her most unmatched skill is her instinct, she’s healthily skeptical when everyone around her thinks they’ve stumbled on an easy answer, she’s always down to ask for some extra clearance, and if it’s not given to her, I’m going to bet she’ll take matters into her own hands to get what she needs. For America.

Her question, to Malik Yoba: “How did Macleish survive?”

Yoba, after hearing Maggie’s confusion on his survival: “Sometimes things just defy logic.”

Nah, b. Not in Maggie Q Bauerland. After some convincing, she gets permission from Malik to get a statement from Macleish in the hospital. You can tell she knows something isn’t right.

Following this, we witness a huge development. This is the president’s desktop background:


This isn’t important in the show, but I’d never thought about a president’s desktop background before. Now it’s all I can think about. I feel like Barack’s is a photo of that time he made a jump shot. George W. probably had picture of Dick Cheney, something that wasn’t changeable, since only Dick Cheney knew the password to login to Dubya’s computer. Gary Johnson's desktop? Probably a map of the world, with each country labeled as “Lamp.”

I never want to stop thinking about this, but there’s still a lot of episode left.



She’s looking as Kimble as ever, by which I mean my trust in her decreases tenfold with every passing second. I know she’s a snake, it’s just unclear if she’s a political D.C. snake, trying to weasel her way into more power, or if she’s on Team Let’s Kill 1,000 People.

Masden wants to know what's going on. Kiefer’s two chief-of-staff hopefuls stress that nothing is out of the ordinary. And then they are immediately pulled out of the meeting for an emergency, pretty much confirming their lies.

The reason for the interruption? Something big was found in the hack. Nothing was taken, but something was uploaded to Kiefer’s dad computer: a video from the terrorist group that the Nuke General has been DYING to bomb, saying they were behind the attack.

To paraphrase the video: Aye. Aye, dog, aye. We did it. It was definitely us. Like, 100 percent so don’t even bother continuing to look at other possibilities. We’re the bad guys. Spooooooky.

But in this moment, President Kirkman taps into his old Jack self. He’s not soft anymore. He's not scared to go to war, he’s just rightfully skeptical. Like his spiritual daughter Maggie Q, he knows something’s not adding up right. Meanwhile, the general’s war erection is on his eyebrow, surer than ever that he’s finally going to get the green light to bomb places.

And then one of the advisers reminds the president that this group has falsely taken credit for other attacks in the past.

When General Nuke hears this, he damn near dies.


Imagine how he looks every time Kaepernick takes a knee during the national anthem — oh, wait, I can imagine it, it’s this exact look.

Bauer wants to know if anyone else has any theories, and everyone is quiet until Malik Yoba stands up and offers Maggie’s theory. Perhaps this terrorist group is a diversion, a way to distract them from actually finding out who is behind it all. As Malik is talking:


This is the look of a man forced to live through both schools and restaurants desegregating. Poor guy.

The overly trusting President Sutherland then shares the terrorist video with Kimble, which I’m sure will backfire. And then Maggie Q goes to the hospital to find this miracle congressman. He’s alive, talking, and looking quite Gyllenhaalian.


I don’t know. I feel like, when no one was looking, he crawled into the rubble and then fell asleep and then woke up and started wiggling around. Something’s up, and even after his heartfelt account of not remembering anything, Maggie’s still not convinced.

We then see a young man back at the White House. It’s the ex-president’s son, Tyler. I promise, this scene is important, but we’re going to skip it because THE PRESIDENT’S LITTLE DAUGHTER FOUND HER BROTHER’S STASH OF MOLLY, RIGHT IN FRONT OF MOM DUKES.


My mind is blown that we have made it this far into the season and that the sixth-most-captivating character is still MDMA. White FLOTUS takes them, and then opens a drawer and finds a fat knot of cash. Yes, First Lady, your son is in the business of moving that weight.

It's time for the first of Jack’s two big events: the interview. It goes well until the last question, when he's asked whether or not it was true that the president fired him the morning of the bombing.

While technically a demotion, this news was not public and certainly not what his camp wanted out. Especially not in a moment when he was already struggling to be taken seriously, internally and externally. He could have lied, but he ended up telling the truth in the interview.

This might have been real bad.

Back to Maggie Q, who is with her very own Chloe O’Brien. There’s a weird gap in time between the feed of the State of the Union cutting out and the bombing, and Maggie wants to know more. Of course, this involves getting some info that she’s not supposed to have access to, but that’s why she’s got her Chloe, this dude who is clearly terrified of her and doesn’t want to get his eyes scooped out with a spoon.

This is a very important story line, but we have to go back to the show’s main plot point: teenage drugs.

“I mean, she’s 8, she’s not stupid.”


This line was delivered by Lil' Val Kilmer Pusherman to his mom, when mom confronted him and yelled at him and brought up the question of what could have happened if his little sister ate one of the pills. Again, for those in the nosebleeds: “I mean, she’s 8, she’s not stupid.”

I can’t wait until he gets a spinoff.

Next, the day’s second event: the funeral for the ex-president. As they walk in, Bauer runs into the former president’s son. The son tells Jack that he saw the interview, heard that his father fired him that morning, and will not allow him to speak at the funeral.

Can’t lie, it was pretty real. But it wasn’t just that he wasn’t speaking — it was that he was replaced.



Jack is getting so played it’s disgusting. And then, to make matters worse, the terrorist tape (the one that he showed to Kimble and repeatedly said needed to stay private) leaked to the press.

The two of them have a standoff, which ends with Jack clearly understanding the intentions of Lady Hookstraten. She’s probably not straight-up evil, but she is certainly looking after herself, and probably absolutely wants to be president after him.

A lot happens in this episode, but while rounding the final turn, even more shit pops off. We learn that Maggie Q was dating a married senator who died in the blast. Jack confronts Aaron, the guy from the former administration vying to be the chief of staff, to tell him that he knows it was him who leaked the video, not Kimble. Aaron admits it, but tells him it was for the president’s sake, because the public is now focusing more on the video and less on the fact that he was fired. Jack doesn’t like the insubordination, but eventually realizes he needs someone to be the politician that he simply isn’t. Which is why he then name Aaron his chief of staff.

As if enough hadn’t happened this episode, Bauer and the ex-president’s son talk it out at the White House and Bauer tells a story about how the president stealthily went to the son’s piano recital, a recital the son thought he skipped. He even tells the son about how much his father spoke about him during Cabinet meetings. And bragged about him. (Update: This is where I started crying). And then Bauer pulls out the goddamn program from the recital, and gives it to the boy.

I’m a mess just typing about it. I’ve got to wrap this up. Basically, the last two crucial things that happen involve Maggie Q and Aaron.

Maggie’s hacker dude finally finishes downloading the images from a dead congresswoman’s iCloud, because of course. She wants to see if maybe the congresswoman took a picture that could provide clues, a.k.a. help explain how Macleish survived.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, he found two pictures of interest: One that shows Macleish in his seat, AND THEN ANOTHER, MOMENTS BEFORE THE BLAST, WHEN HE IS JUST GONE.



So, yeah. He knew that bomb was about to go off. I smell the insidiest of inside jobs. Or, like I originally thought, aliens.

Finally, to close out the episode, we see Aaron sketchily waiting outside at night. And then some sketchy lady walks up to him, sketchily, and hands him a sketchy folder. The name on the folder? Tom Kirkman.

This can go one of two ways. Maybe Aaron is bad, a mole, and he's getting close to Bauer so he can ruin him. Or maybe he’s keeping his eye on someone else — perhaps Kimble — and this has something to do with her and Kirkman. My hypothesis: Aaron got his hands on Hookstraten’s dirt folder because he wants to know what she’s up to.

Or, I don't know, maybe Jack Bauer blew up the Capitol.