Designated Survivor Season Premiere Review: Edgier Than Ever!

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Who says you can't revitalize a series? 

After a wildly disappointing sophomore season, a cancelation which left fans devastated, and a surprising save, Designated Survivor is back, and it's on Netflix and in top form. 

It seems the move to the streaming network was a smart one, as Designated Survivor Season 3 Episode 1 showed the series can become the political thriller it was always destined to be unfettered.

Kirkman is Back - Tall - Designated Survivor Season 3 Episode 1

There are many noticeable changes and a tone shift which could expand the potential for the series to spin out into new ventures but could also be something original fans of the series may lament if they followed the show to Netflix.

Related: Designated Survivor Season 2 Episode 22 Review: Run 

It's a younger-skewed audience, and since this is a series about politics, yeah, at first glance many may argue it leans toward liberalism but only if you discount the fascinating focus on Kirkman doubling down on running as an Independent in a country frustratingly steadfast in its two-party system.

This is going to be a fascinating election. I honestly cannot wait.


And that is at the crux of the premiere. The timing cannot be better for a season dedicated to the challenges Kirkman faces as an Independent having the audacity to run as a third-party candidate in hopes of winning.

New and Improved - Tall - Designated Survivor Season 3 Episode 1

With increased disillusionment with all things political and party focused, it's the most intriguing aspect of the series, and I'm happy the show is back to its roots and finding a semblance of order and focus.

By the end of the first season and throughout the second, the series was in an identity crisis not knowing what it wanted to be. This season has the potential to be chaotic, but there's a chance it's a more organized, intriguing chaos.

Part of that is shifting some of the key players in a way which works best for them. On Designated Survivor Season 2 Episode 22 fans were left wondering if Kirkman's most trusted friend, Emily, was a traitor.

A Concerned Emily - Designated Survivor Season 1 Episode 21

There were mixed feelings on the audacious move, and the premiere squashed them with the revelation Emily passed information under the order of the White House.

Yeah, it was a bit of a hand wave, but Emily works best as Kirkman's moral compass, and as evident by her suspicions about Lorraine during Designated Season 3 Episode 2, it's best to have her integrated into Kirkman's campaign to have his back.

She keeps him grounded.

Hannah: Sit down.
Emily: What the fuck is this about, Hannah?

The series also managed to do something about Hannah's dicey role as an FBI agent who interchangeably behaved as secret service and CIA when it was convenient to the plot.

Related: Designated Survivor Gets Season 3 Premiere Date at Netflix! 

Finally, Hannah is no longer the invincible agent who gets away with murder (literally), you guys! The top of the hour had Hannah threatening harm of Emily to confirm if Emily was a traitor this whole time, and then she went into a meeting regarding her behavior and was promptly fired.

Hannah has been skating on thin ice for the entire series, so no matter how much we love her and her going rogue to do what's right, it was necessary.

Saving a Life - Designated Survivor

The CIA recruiting Hannah is the best thing to happen for her. She worked within their purview anyhow. However, the six months she spent as an analyst was perfect. She needed to be humbled a bit before she went traipsing out into the field as an operative.

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She stumbled into a bioterrorism case involving a biohacker, and now she's on the path to investigating something thrilling. In that sense, the show is back to trying to balance the political with the suspense thriller, but there is a chance the two will dovetail into one another anyway.

How would you like to come work for the CIA?

Mystery woman [to Hannah]

It's too early to tell what direction this may go in, but for now, it works, and it's putting Hannah to better use and explaining her actions better than before. She has a new reluctant ally in Eli, the doctor who is aware of how close the US is to being plagued by a bioterror attack.

He already figured out there is a freaky avian virus sequence which caused the deaths of all those beautiful red Cardinals in Florida. The missing doctor was the one whose body was burned by the end of the second installment, but who got to him and what's their plan?

Hannah is Pissed

While Eli is cool, and Hannah looking into things on her own with this new scientist is fine, I miss Chuck. So far, he may be one of the casualties of the new season as he didn't appear once.

In addition to Chuck, there was no trusty and loyal secret service agent Mike. Lyor is also absent, and his role is presumably taken over by Mars Harper.

Hannah was someone who needed some tweaking, but so did Aaron. Most of us couldn't stop discussing how tragically underutilized and misused Adan Canto was in this series, particularly during the sophomore season.

New VP - Tall - Designated Survivor Season 3 Episode 3

It seems the series heard our cries, and Aaron had a much stronger presence. His position as the head of the NSA was suitable, and the fires he was putting out as the head of the NSA fell in line with his job description for a change, which was a breath of fresh air.

However, the second installment ended with feisty new campaign manager Lorraine seeing the potential in Aaron fans have, and he may consider her offer of putting him on the ticket as Kirkman's VP.

Kirkman: Seth, what do you think?
Seth: They're both right.
Emily [whispers]: Pussy.

Oddly enough, this may work. It also falls in line with the portions of Aaron's story that were of interest. Aaron was often someone torn between politics and his people. His position often conflicted with his heritage.

Aaron Tags Along - Designated Survivor Season 2 Episode 8

It was subtly peppered throughout the series before, but now, it's more prominent in a way that suits the overall tone of the series now. It's noticeable in his relationship with Isabel.

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Through his relationship with her, it's like Aaron has become more centered in his identity as a Latino, but he also seems to maybe struggle a bit with it too. Some of their jokes about him not being Latino enough or knowing certain things comes to mind or his hilarious position as un político guapo.

On the Trail - Tall - Designated Survivor Season 3 Episode 2

He was earnest and desperate in his appeal to Kirkman to make sure when they provided relief to Puerto Rico it was for the people, and not just businesses.

It was in part because of genuine concern, but also some pressure by Isabel, his boricua girlfriend. I don't know what to make of Isabel or the relationship between her and Aaron just yet.

I think childhood marriage is barbaric. The crown prince assured me they're working on reform. I can only urge them to work harder.


She along with most of the other new people are suspect, perhaps because of them being unfamiliar. It does appear Isabel is eager to please and be part of the team and inner circle of Kirkman's people, and with the information she could provide on the child-bride issue, she worked herself in there a bit.

The OG Trio

The whatever you want to call it, tension (?) between her and Emily is a bit unsettling too. Is Emily dismissive of Isabel for some petty reason? Is Isabel imagining it or making assumptions because of the brief flirtation Emily and Aaron had? I don't know.

But one of the best additions to the team is Dontae. The move to Netflix meant infusing some younger blood into the mix, and it works here due to the importance of Kirkman running as an Independent.

Related: Good Trouble Season 2 Trailer: The Coterie Crew is Back! 

Designated Survivor finally has the millennial energy it was lacking, and it's using it to reflect our current political climate authentically.

Campaign Trail Again - Tall - Designated Survivor Season 3 Episode 2

The episode titles are hashtags, and it ties into Dontae's new role as a social media consultant for the campaign. He was able to get #thesystemisbroken trending on Twitter in regards to Kirkman's controversial speech.

Dontae's tech and millennial savvy are how he can help Kirkman; he's able to help Kirkman reach the people most inclined to vote for him in the first place.

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Dontae's revelation of how he did not vote in the last election caught Emily by surprise, but it wasn't surprising for someone of his age, race, and sexuality who felt neither candidate spoke to him or represented his interest in the least bit.

Ask about things that are important.


When forced to choose between the lesser of two evils which didn't speak to you or your community in any way, many people abstain. It's unfortunate but true.

Kirkman is Back - Tall - Designated Survivor Season 3 Episode 1

The way the series intercuts the real videos from real life documentaries about voting and politics in our current climate is enlightening.

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It was a powerful image as Kirkman lost the buttoned-up look, and after being thwarted in his campaign attempts, he went to a local protest and listened and spoke to the people there. He had direct access to the people most inclined to vote for him -- the people who were fed up with the divisive politics and wanted results.

Kirkman's charm and appeal during the impromptu townhouse meeting of sorts during that rally were reminiscent of that of Beto O'Rourke. I wouldn't be surprised if that's who they were modeling Kirkman after during that scene.

Those qualities are what remain of the Kirkman we always adored, but he has a certain hardness -- and lack of damns -- given now which is causing a stir among all sides of the political arena.

Speaking for the Nation - Designated Survivor Season 2 Episode 8

Everyone wants him to come down hard on one side or the other, and they don't know what to do with him determined to forge a path of his own by any means necessary, win or lose. It's what cost him his VP.

Oh sweetie, this is politics! Even when you're not campaigning, you're campaigning.


Although, Darby had valid reasons for wanting to back out of her position. Not only does she want to run as a Democrat, but she was growing frustrated with Kirkman not listening to anyone around him.

Related: Suits Patrick J. Adams Returns For Final Season

Kirkman without Emily in his corner is often someone who is lost. He needs a true north; he needs someone to keep him on the right path and guide him towards the right thing. In the absence of his wife, Emily has been that more than ever for him.

He also relies heavily on Penny to keep him honest and accountable, and I like how the series has continued to cultivate that relationship this season. Penny is wise and aware.

Pretty Penny - Designated Survivor Season 2 Episode 11

I also enjoy how they're showcasing how in tune the youth are in politics and social issues as well. They cannot vote yet, but they pay attention and discuss things as much as the adults.

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Penny brings some of the conversations she has with her peers home, and she and Kirkman go over them and have in-depth discussions that aren't condescending toward her despite her age, and it's one of the best things they've shown thus far.

I have a really big ego, so I can confess when I'm wrong. Washington is an echo chamber; time and time I forget that.


No matter what's going on, and how unlikely it may be for Kirkman to win this election as an Independent, no one can deny there is something about him resonating with many who felt voiceless.

Campaign Trio  - Designated Survivor Season 3 Episode 4

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It's what caused Lorraine to jump from Moss to Kirkman. I cannot lie, Lorraine doesn't seem trustworthy, but she's also a blast of a character to bring into the mix.

She's brass and doesn't have a filter. She's a woman of a certain age with a potty mouth, who speaks her mind, asserts herself, marries and beds men younger than her, and she's unapologetic in it. She's amazing!

Lorraine - Tall - Designated Survivor Season 3 Episode 3

Lorraine is an opportunist and a hustler, so her motivations are sketchy at best. I like her, but I don't trust her. At the moment, she does seem genuine in wanting to give Kirkman a real chance of winning this election.

Despite her positions on Kirkman's focus on infrastructure and making sure incidents like that of the bridge collapse in North Carolina don't happen again, or not wanting Kirkman to come down hard and propose to make child brides illegal, it's politics and everything is strategic.

Emily: I want to move to the campaign.
Kirkman: With Lorraine? You don't trust her?
Emily: Do you?

Emily is idealistic and wants Kirkman to do what's right, but sometimes she misses the bigger picture. In the end, it's a political game, and they have to play ball whether they like it or not. Lorraine understands that.

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Even the issues the show has chosen to tackle and how they have done so are entertaining.

Kirkman doesn't want to go the traditional route of having the wrong people in his pockets with super PACs and all that pesky stuff, so investments by someone like Al Mufti's part in the council for Kirkman's infrastructure project make sense.

Personal Troubles - Tall - Designated Survivor Season 3 Episode 2

However, then Kirkman had to reconcile with the fact that this ally was someone with a 14-year-old child bride. It seems like a simple enough issue; no one should be marrying a person under the age of 18, period.

Kirkman's morality got the better of him, and he spoke out against it publicly in a way that caused incident and offense by allies. One of the best scenes was when Kirkman sat down with a female representative from Saudia Arabia to speak about their impressions of one another's countries.

Seth: I have a kid.
Emily: What? How? I mean I know how, but how?
Seth: You don't know how.

It could've devolved into the standard black and white moment where he, as an American, spoke of the lack of progression in Saudia Arabia. He could've broken down how their beliefs are archaic or not up to par to his standards as someone from Western Civilization.

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And he was respectful in the things he pointed out. He wasn't wrong about the role of Saudis in 9/11 or his presumptions about child marriage, and so on, but neither was she when she could spit back many ways where America isn't as progressive as it thinks it is either.

The verbal sparring between the pair was a highlight. Slavery was the foundation of our country's development; we do have an absurdly high incarceration rate and gun issue, and yes, we're not innocent of child marriage either.

It was surprising Kirkman, and the others were ignorant of the caveats of that in America, particularly in regards to religion/religious freedom.

It's disheartening to know Kirkman can't crack down on the things he would like to do while campaigning, and he had to face the disappointment of Emily and Penny, but it's the cost of politics.

Campaign Trio  - Designated Survivor Season 3 Episode 4

Mars Harper is another new character added to the series, and I don't know what to make of him. He's like Lyor if Lyor was a curmudgeon whose family issues may implode.

Mars came across as a hardass while at the White House, and he had his work cut out for him trying to rein in someone like Kirkman whose goodness and honesty is a liability in politics.

Why are there so many goddamn televisions in this goddamn place?


However, his battle with his wife Lynn (played by Lauren Holly), adds a softer layer to his character. Lynn's opioid addiction is a sad sight to behold.

Kirkman Is Back  Season 3 Episode 1

We don't know anything about their characters to know where it's headed. Will something of substance come of it? Is it a side storyline for the sake of being topical since we're in an opioid crisis?

Seth and Emily have their fair share of personal storylines too. It's something else which stands out for the series this year; they have professional and personal arcs.

Emily retreated to Florida post everything to take care of her mother, who is battling cancer. She's away from her mother and back in DC, but it doesn't stop her from trying to offer as much as support as she can while balancing out a high-stress job.

Boss Ladies - Designated Survivor Season 2 Episode 11

Meanwhile, Seth was on a path toward finding his parents, which didn't end well when he discovered they were dead. However, he found out he has a daughter, Stephanie Kapoor.

For some reason, it never dawned on me he was adopted. He also has a brother, and it never seemed he had some longing for a family in any way.

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Finding out the sperm he donated back in college when he was hard up for cash resulted in a 21-year-old daughter out there somewhere is a hell of a surprise. Emily talked him into reaching out, but I'm not sure if he needed to do so if he wasn't ready for it.

Campaign Trail Again - Tall - Designated Survivor Season 3 Episode 2

It's a complicated matter. It's a small storyline in the grand scheme of things, but it's something that could be interesting down the road.

Over to you Designated Survivor Fanatics! What are your thoughts on this new version of the series? Do you like the new characters and changes?

Hit the comments below with all of your thoughts and comments!

You can watch Designated Survivor online here via TV Fanatic!

#thesystemisbroken Review

Editor Rating: 4.7 / 5.0
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Rating: 3.7 / 5.0 (20 Votes)

Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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Designated Survivor Season 3 Episode 1 Quotes

Kirkman [on TV]: The system is broken, and you people broke it!
Kirkman: Wow. I really screwed that up, didn't I?

Why are there so many goddamn televisions in this goddamn place?