Designated Survivor – The Traitor
By: Patience Kapfer
This week’s episode of “Designated Survivor” was full of twists, turns and major surprises. A day in the life of President of the United States is never an easy job, but for President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland), the stress does not cease. In the previous episode the president was confident and had obtained the approval he would need to have Congressional elections and had captured Majid Nassar, the leader of an African terrorist organization accused of the Capitol bombing. But President Kirkman’s presidential success didn’t last long, as we see in the very end of the previous episode. Not long after Agent Wells (Maggie Q) and Atwood (Malik Yoba) interrogate Nassar (Nicholas Massouh), he is found dead in his cell, opening a brand new can of worms for the president.
This is where we pick up in The Traitor, with the FBI agents learning valuable information about the real terrorist and as well as about the fate of Nassar. While the agents are left desperately searching to understand who murdered Nassar in such a short time, President Kirkman and First Lady Alex (Natascha McElhone) are enjoying a comfortable dinner with the Vice Presidential hopeful Peter MacLeish (Ashley Zukerman). Peter appears to be the perfect candidate for Vice President to Aaron (Adan Canto) and Emily (Italia Ricci), who desperately hope to speed up the vetting process with the FBI. Dinner is rudely interrupted by Aaron who has news of the death of Nassar. However, MacLeish is gracious (as we’ve come to expect) and tells the president he understands the duties of being the president while expressing his desire to help wherever the president might need him. Unfortunately for Agent Atwood, this means the president is now inclined to invite MacLeish to listen in on pertinent matters of national security. Little does President Kirkman know that these matters of national security concern MacLeish.
Agent Atwood puts himself in an uneasy situation by walking into the oval office prepared to tell President Kirkman everything he knows about Peter MacLeish and Majid Nassar. However, the surprise of MacLeish’s presence creates a situation in which Agent Atwood appears unprepared and untrustworthy. Luckily for Atwood and the viewers, President Kirkman is a just and fair president, believing that everyone deserves more than just one chance to succeed. But this does not by any means indicate that Agent Atwood is in the clear and safe.
Aside from the FBI’s endless investigation, there is seemingly a happier story for the president to focus on in this episode. We are introduced to Coach Brad Weston (Jeff Teravainen) and the American track and field team travelling to Russia to compete in an international competition. The happiness is short-lived though and soon we learn that Coach Weston was arrested as soon as he set foot on Russian soil. The cause? A doping scandal. President Kirkman and much of the audience are left in disbelief that someone who was portrayed as an American hero is now accused of a serious Russian offense. To make matters worse, we are soon briefed that Coach Weston is not merely an athlete, but actually a spy for the CIA and has been gaining intelligence for years. Weston’s main concern is no longer a possible lifetime prison sentence for doping, but rather a death sentence. The president once again finds himself in another kobayashi maru – every outcome appears to be the worst outcome.
While the president works tirelessly to find a way to extract Coach Weston from Russia, Agent Atwood is paid an unexpected visit from none other than Peter MacLeish himself. Atwood and the viewer are left suspecting that this was more than a friendly visit to speed up the vetting process. Providing the FBI with copies of every important document does little in this instance other than giving them further reason to suspect MacLeish of hiding something. Their time to speculate is cut short when Agent Atwood receives a call from his wife that their son is missing. We are left wondering if MacLeish is somehow involved and what he could possibly be hiding that he does not want the FBI to figure out.
The president works to negotiate with both the Russian diplomat as well as the ambassador from Saudi Arabia to make a trade to save Coach Weston. Russia is dead-set that they are willing to release Weston if the United States disarms one of the bases near the Russian border in Turkey, but this is both impractical and unsafe for the international community. My favorite part of the episode is when President Kirkman strategically makes a deal with both Russia and Saudi Arabia to give them both something they want from each other without having to make deals with the United States. Without the help of a Secretary of State, President Kirkman has to use his own understanding of the international community to successfully broker a transnational, three-way spy trade. Kirkman succeeds in bargaining with Russia and Saudi Arabia to send Weston back to the United States. The president and his trusted advisors wait on baited breath in the situation room for Weston to disembark from the plane, only to realize he was never on the plane in the first place.
The buildup about extracting Weston leads to the best part of the episode and perhaps the best twist I have seen in a while. Weston is, in fact, not just a spy for the CIA. He is a double agent and has been working for Russia collecting national security secrets of the United States. Poor President Kirkman can’t catch a break; it’s as if nothing can ever go right for the president. He finally captures Nassar only for him to be murdered while in prison and then he successfully negotiates a spy exchange only for the spy to be working against the United States. This entire segment gives the viewer an even greater sense of sympathy for President Kirkman. He is working so hard to try to help people and keep the nation safe, but to what avail? The audience is still wondering who the real terrorist is while the president is only making marginal headway on any of the tasks he wishes to complete.
Throughout the episode, Alex and President Kirkman are also forced to deal with the fact that Tom Tanner Buchanan) might not be Leo’s biological father. The president wishes to deal with the issue discretely, not only to avoid unwanted press, but because Leo doesn’t deserve to be in the public’s eye and to learn this secret from anywhere other than his parents. Seth proves he is not only a great press secretary, but also cares about the president when he approaches the press to give her a story about the real Tom Kirkman and not one about his son.
I am on the edge of my seat in anticipation for next week’s episode. Of all the issues facing the president and the other characters, I’m hoping that the FBI agents are finally able to tell President Kirkman what they suspect about MacLeish. But perhaps this will never come to fruition as now Agent Atwood is under the terrorists thumb. Maybe in the next episode we will finally learn the identity of the real terrorist. But until then, the audience can only wait and hope for the best for President Kirkman and his colleagues.