Designated Survivor Season 1 Episode 1 Review: Pilot

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Tom Kirkman is not prepared to be President.

It's not a job he sought, it's not a job he wanted, but on Designated Survivor Season 1 Episode 1, it's a job he's thrust into after a terrorist attack on the Capitol during the State of the Union address kills everyone inside.

It's an intriguing concept, right? What would happen if most of the federal government got wiped out and we had to start over? No more games, no more deadlock, no more business as usual?

It sounds like a dream, but in Tom Kirkman's world it just became the reality, because he's the "designated survivor," and his life just got turned upside down.

President Kirkman

How will this somewhat average-Joe deal not only with the upheaval in his personal life, but also the political pressures of being the leader of the free world? 

It's hard not to root for Kirkman. Right off the bat, he shows us what a warm-hearted soul he is in how he interacts with his family. He's funny, he's loving, he's a decent kind of guy. It makes you wonder what a guy like him is doing in Washington in the first place.

He doesn't seem like he fits in and when he basically gets fired earlier in the day, he blames it on the fact that he didn't play along, because that's not who he is. He may be inside Washington, but he's not a Washington insider.

Alex: They've never respected you. That's the real problem.
Tom: No. The real problem is I never played Richmond's game.

Despite that fact, Kirkman still knows what's going on. When he's in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center being thrown all sorts of information left and right, he throws out his own little nugget that he has been paying attention during Cabinet meetings and knows a thing or two about some of this military stuff.

I like that Kirkman knows things. It allows him to make level-headed decisions and not be intimidated by trigger-happy fools like General Cochrane. 

What do you want me to do, General? Declare war? Why not? They just showed me the nuclear football 40 minutes ago. I guess I've had it long enough to try it out.


You get the feeling fairly quickly that at some point Kirkman is going to kick ass. It's not just that he's being played by Kiefer Sutherland who went around and kicked everybody's ass as Jack Bauer on 24, there's just something about Kirkman that tells you he's a little more than you might think.

Maybe it's the way he shot down General Cochrane by refusing to go to war. Or maybe it was the way he deftly handled the Iranian ambassador. The guy may be kind-hearted, but he's definitely got gumption.

There's a Superman hiding behind those glasses, for sure. 

Penny: Is dad scared?
Leo: Are you kidding? Dad's not scared of anything.

It's rather amazing how well Kirkman is handling all this. I don't think I could be as calm, cool, and collected as he is. Granted, he made a beeline for the bathroom in the first ten minutes of his presidency, but I chalk that up to beginner's nerves.

Besides, he learned a lot while in that bathroom. It had to be disappointing to hear his speechwriter rip him to shreds, but Kirkman handled it like a true professional.

It had to be disarming for Seth coming out of that stall and facing the man he just criticized. But in that moment he also learned a lot about Kirkman.  He may think it's not very presidential to be disarming and kind, but Kirkman is a different kind of guy and this is a different kind of Washington. There are no rules to play by at this point, because there are barely any players anymore.

Tom: You really think I should step down?
Seth: I do.
Tom: You might be right, but for now, I'm all you've got.

Which brings me back those Superman glasses. At first I was rather annoyed at the whole the glasses "aren't very Presidential" thing as if wearing glasses is a wimpy thing, but now I see that the glasses do indeed have more significance. They represent change.

He might not have worn his glasses for his first Presidential speech, but his glasses are still part of him and who he is. While the people around him may try to change him to conform to the old ways, he may be the one who will change everyone else to the new ways. 

Seth and the rest of his inherited staff aren't the only people Tom has to worry about. He's got a crazy General who wants to do him in and a deputy chief of staff who might be in on it. While I can see Cochrane going all the way with his plan to get Kirkman out of the way, Aaron wasn't so sure.

He saw something (like Seth did) when Tom was with the Iranian ambassador. I'm going to guess that while Aaron may play along with Cochrane, he's not going to follow through with it at the end.

In fact, I wouldn't mind seeing Cochrane fall into a pit somewhere and never come out. With all the good this pilot accomplished, General Cochrane wasn't one of them. I understand the need for an antagonist, but did he have to be so cliche? 

While the main plot focused on Kirkman and his issues, there's also the issue of finding out who is responsible for this horrific attack. This responsibility falls on the shoulders of FBI Agent Hannah Wells played by Maggie Q. While finding out who did this is an important point, and I love Maggie Q, I thought this storyline detracted a bit from the main story.

What happened?! - Designated Survivor Season 1 Episode 1

Perhaps as we move through the series, things will mesh better and not act like such an interruption. I think it's going to be interesting to see if Hannah is on point with her theory that the bombers aren't done yet. That's a scary thought!

Designated Survivor was a gripping and compelling hour that in the end left me quite breathless. It's a scary thought to think that what happened in this pilot could happen in real life, but at least we know the government's got it covered. I can't wait to see what President Kirkman has to say in his speech and how the rest of the series will progress.

How about you? Will you be watching Designated Survivor?

Now that you've taken the poll, share your thoughts in the comments below!

If you want to relive the excitement, you can watch Designated Survivor online right here via TV Fanatic.

Pilot Review

Editor Rating: 4.8 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.7 / 5.0 (58 Votes)

Lisa Babick is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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Designated Survivor Season 1 Episode 1 Quotes

Pancakes for everyone!


Alex: Tom, you can't do that. You can't make promises you won't be able to keep.
Tom: We're in Washington. They're the only promises you're allowed to make.