Why Designated Survivor is the best show on television
Tonight is the Winter Finale of the hit television show Designated Survivor.
Designated Survivor has been an intriguing show thus far. It tells the story of Tom Kirkman, a fictional Secretary of Housing and Urban Development who becomes President in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on Washington D.C.
The brilliance of the show is it gives viewers the mystery and suspense it craves while providing education and insight on political theater. It’s a rollercoaster civics lesson with Kiefer Sutherland.
The designated survivor actually happens in real life. The entirety of the government cannot be at any single location at once for continuity of government purposes. With events like the State of the Union address where Congress and other prominent politicians come together, one person from the President’s cabinet is designated as a survivor and remains in a secure location.
This ensures that any significant event such as a horrific natural disaster or terrorist attack cannot destabilize the government. The continuity of government is important in these devastating situations.
Designated Survivor plays this scenario out when the capital is bombed, wiping out the President and his cabinet, as well as all of Congress.
As farfetched as the scenario itself might be, the entire premise is thought provoking. If you think you’ve seen political theater and partisan intrigue, wait until a situation like this rocks the capital.
Kiefer Sutherland’s portrayal of Tom Kirkman is solid and the part is well written. Kirkman isn’t your charismatic, overconfident politician. He comes across more as an everyday American who is at times unsure of himself and of the problems he faces. He’s truly a low level politician instead of a fist-fighting political brawler who can get dirty in the game. He has character and morality.
In other words, unlike most television shows, this protagonist isn’t a perfect hero. He’s an actual human being.
Kirkman immediately is thrust into the hot seat and the show captures many political issues of our day perfectly, including Islamophobia and terrorism, political theater and partisan politicking, as well as his own personal drama.
For instance, when the Michigan Governor begins targeting Muslims, Kirkman is faced with possibly using the National Guard against him and making an already tense situation in America worse.
America has precedent for a racial roundup in a time of war and unrest with Korematsu v. United States, when the Supreme Court ruled that Japanese Internment was constitutional. Thus, there would technically be legal basis for Michigan’s roundup, as the World War 2 era Supreme Court case has never been overturned.
What ultimately happened? It made for a good couple of episodes as this unfolded.
The show also touches upon capturing terrorists, mirroring the raid that led to the capture of Osama bin Laden by having Kirkman preside over such an operation. He also had to battle a general all too eager to go to war, whereas Kirkman was favoring a more restrained approach.
In other words, problems our country has actually faced and continues to deal with.
The show also touched upon the issue of whistleblowers, which is an important topic given the imprisonment of Chelsea Manning and the exile of Edward Snowden. The issue at hand involves a government worker who escaped with a load of confidential documents and holed up in an embassy, something that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has been doing for a few years in the United Kingdom.
Where is the line between legal enforcement and pardoning legitimate whistleblowers? What is important information requiring release and what is damaging information that serves no purpose?
These are all critical questions for the viewer to ponder. It’s presented in a way that is solid entertainment, but also has a layer of intelligence on top that makes it seem real and plausible.
It’s all difficult for Kirkman, given he was just a low level cabinet member prior to becoming President. A reoccurring problem that plays into the show well is the questions of his ability to lead. His improbable rise is quite the leap and many government officials, mostly competing interests and partisan opponents, refuse to take his leadership seriously viewing him as unqualified.
How many politicians view partisan opponents as more than just different, but actually unqualified for office? There is much intense and bitter partisanship.
Designated Survivor is tackling that question and presenting a doomsday scenario for American’s in a terrifying world. It does so in a thought-provoking manner with depth and suspense to keep the viewer on target, while attracting those who are pondering deeper questions about our society in a post-9/11 world.
It speaks in a lot of ways to the country we’re living in now.