Saturday, October 8, 2016

Designated Survivor Barely Hanging On

In the vast TV wasteland of potential attention-grabbers, there's the recent political TV show Designated Survivor, starring Kieffer Sutherland, of 24, better known as The Jack Bauer Power Hour, where he'd get into increasingly convoluted terrorist plots to save the President.  Only, this time, instead of protecting President Obama - er, Palmer, HE'S now occupying the role of the highest position in the land, and all the pressures and responsibilities that entails.  One of the faults of 24 was that, for all it's ambition of showing the minutiae of foiling massive thought-out terrorist plots laden with contingencies, the writers had no clear logical path towards their conclusions at the end of the action-packed day, and basically just wrote as they were going along.  (I found it a shame that Sherri Palmer was killed off too early)

Just as Tom Kirkman is facing the looming threat of being shuffled off from his perfunctory position of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a mysterious explosion at the Capitol renders his job relocation moot as well as the convenience of killing off all his political rivals.  But that's not the true mark of democracy.  You win an argument when you've made your point succinctly to the opposing side in the hopes of winning them over, not by having them knocked off by forces unforeseen.

If there's a glaring fault, it's that Designated Survivor telegraphs all its punches too easily.  You can practically see the impacts coming, which weakens their shots, which should be emotionally draining.
His wife reassures his shot down proposal by saying, "Well, you're not President of the United States," and then he is.  A speechwriter lays his lack of confidence in the sudden replacement to the man in the next stall... who just so happens to be the replacement President.  Who then instantly recruits him to write his next speech.  A zealous army general is making rumblings of wanting the sitting President to become more hawkish in times of turmoil, and actively seeks ways to change his mind, or replace him entirely, during a time when tensions are already running high.  The populace had already lost the majority of their electorates - forcibly changing the replacement wouldn't ease their worries much.

And the constant comparisons of the attack on Capitol Hill to 9/11 are annoying enough.  There's a capitol bombing, we get it.  Accept it and move on from there.

Then there's how Tom Kirkman approaches the position of President.  The premise that I got from an early article was that the script would focus on wanting nothing more than to pass on the role of President, and find ways to get out of doing his duty.
"This guy doesn't even want this job," said Sutherland. "Literally, through the first five episodes he's trying to find an exit."
But so far, that hasn't happened yet.  Tom Kirkman is still managing to reluctantly hold his own, even in the face of outright resistance.  If there was any sign of seeking an out, it hasn't been explored.  They've devoted more time to family squabbles and recapping themselves over the fact that their lives have changed forever™.  Further compounding the show's faults is the lack of mental or intellectual stimulation.  Apart from dealing with internal infighting and indulging in political trickery with troublesome politicians, there hasn't really been anything of substantial worth.  It's an amusing sideshow diversion, but not really considered binge-worthy.

All I could think of was that the premise sounded very reminiscent of a Frank Miller's satirical comics of Martha Washington; Give Me Liberty.  Frank Miller has been attacked for his recent comic output, but back then, he was one of the leading innovators of the field, and Give Me Liberty ranks among his strongest and best.  It helps that it's drawn by Dave Gibbons of Watchmen fame, who's more suited for showing moments of humanized facial expressions that are more varied than Frank's limited macho style.

In there, a low-ranking politician in a lowly cabinet position, Howard Nissen, suddenly finds himself thrust into the higher role of Sitting President, which he is vastly unprepared for.  In no time at all, he manages to rework the system to his liking, finding favorable solutions to the issues of the day, rerouting armies towards more suitable areas worth defending.

Unfortunately, that youthful idealism is undermined later during his term when he has to deal with political upheaval from both sides who've grown unsatisfied with him being in charge.  Amidst the internal squabbling of a staff that can't agree on which positions to take, Nissen starts indulging heavily in drink.  And that's even with how great things are going. There's just no pleasing some people.

We're never explicitly shown the criticism or reasons for the sudden blowback, but it shouldn't be considered too much of a stretch.  Every politician winds up being unpopular at one point of another, regardless of their efficiency.  And the position of President, for all it's lofty glory, can be an emotionally draining position.  Before and After photos of candidates show how haggard and aged they've become even during brief intervals of just four years.  Their hair becomes whiter, their skin droopier, and their overall demeanor becomes more exhausted.

One thing that Cerebus lamented about his role as Prime Minister was that the people under his charge would constantly second-guess his decisions, trying to weave their influence into him.  According to his rationale, the people chose him, so he should make the hard decisions.  If his advisors wanted somebody else to make their choices, shouldn't the populace have chosen them instead?

Curiously enough, in this pre-9/11 world of Martha Washington, the new President makes no move to retaliate against the terrorist force that suddenly plunged him into the rapid promotion he got.  (Though, 67
separate organizations claiming responsibility would make narrowing who was responsible somewhat difficult)  Rather, real chaos erupts after the replacement President (and rebellious staff) is caught in another insider explosion.  Only, this causes the country itself to become further fragmented and divided, seceding several states in the process.

Shifting attention back to the premise of Designated Survivor, it's a study in contrasts.  When the Capitol is bombed, an investigation is already underway to find out who's responsible.  The lack of credit puts strains the credulity of a lone investigator who figures this attack is just the start of something bigger.  There's reluctance to openly blame the first obvious choice, based on the scant evidence available.

Once there was a hacking done to leave a single video claiming credit for the attack, I immediately grew suspicious.  After much hemming and hawing over who to blame, a decidedly helpful shadowy source decides to help out by leaving evidence of who was responsible?  Questions could've been raised asking why this video wouldn't raise confirmations of responsibility.  I could think of three:

1.  Consider the source.  The video came only after someone mysteriously hacked into the White House, leaving all other records untouched.  Considering the damage they could've done, it seems like a lot of effort to just deliver this message on their doorstep, when any other method of communication could've done the job easier.  Not to mention that the supposed terrorists in charge chose doing this, rather than instantly taking credit upon detonation, when it would've been more effective.  And from an organization whose computer skills could be considered dubious at best.

2.  The Terrorist leader's words were so superficial and non-specific to allude to any definite information that could connect with the attack.  There's no details mentioned, no words said that could differentiate from any other attack carried out elsewhere, no timestamps to signify that this wasn't taken months ago, and alluding to anything else.  It was a boilerplate announcement intended to intimidate others through a form speech.

3.  Strange that this helpful piece of information should just happen to turn up while the new President is remaining steadfast not to move on until there's 100% certainty of who's responsible.  It's one thing if niche organizations take credit for random bombings they had no business with, piggybacking on the success of others.  But there was NO ONE taking credit for the Capitol Hill bombing.  It's almost as if someone wanted to draw attention back towards the most obvious choice.  If it WAS an inside job, then whoever's in charge is utilizing vast amounts of resources to convince the remaining leaders in charge to divert their energies towards an incendiary target.  Seeking a way to further fragment an already fragmented country.
Sadly, neither of these arguments were made in the process.  It's a sad thing when I have three thoughts when one is barely explored.  It's a wish fulfillment fantasy made in hindsight, that we didn't instigate the invasion in Iraq based on the flimsy premise of stockpiled weapons and a tenuous connection between the actual perpetrators and those the people in charge wanted to punish for past grievances.  If only we'd had somebody in charge to see past the glaring obvious holes in logic, we could've avoided this whole mess...

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