‘Designated Survivor’ Season 1 Episode 12 Recap and Review: The End of the Beginning

Designated Survivor Episode 12
Adan Canto and Virginia Madsen in ‘Designated Survivor’ episode 12 (Photo by Ben Mark Holzberg / ABC)

“We’re living in a different world today than yesterday,” says Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) to Emily (Italia Ricci) after she tells him about Aaron (Adan Canto) and her fear that he could be a traitor in ABC’s Designated Survivor season one episode 12.

As the episode begins, Kirkman is listening to Agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) as she brings him up to speed about her investigation into Peter MacLeish (Ashley Zukerman) and how his survival at the Capitol bombing was planned. “He was involved from the very beginning. What a monster,” says Kirkman as Wells continues to explain that MacLeish is not in cahoots with Al-Sakar but that the actual masterminds are most likely much closer to the President. She tells Kirkman that Charles Langdon, the former president’s chief of staff, is still alive.

Alex (Natascha McElhone) arrives and Wells says what she has to say is for the President’s ears only, and Mike Ritter (LaMonica Garrett) agrees. After the First Lady steps back out, Ritter advises Kirkman they have no idea how far or wide this conspiracy goes in their own government and that he needs to close ranks and tighten up his inner circle.

Meanwhile, Vice President MacLeish schedules his own press conference, justifying it by explaining he wants to reassure the American public that their President is getting stronger and he has things covered. The press secretary tries to get a script from the VP but he brushes him off saying his people have it covered. Both Emily and Aaron give Seth grief about the press conference but he reminds them the VP can schedule a press conference on his own.

Back at the hospital, Kirkman wants out and Alex tells him about what Emily discovered going through Aaron’s phone records. Tom is bothered that Emily talked to the First Lady, believing she should have come to him. Alex suggests to Tom that he doesn’t confront Aaron about it until he talks to Emily and knows more.

Wells brings Internal Affairs Chief John Forstell (Reed Diamond) into the loop of what’s happening to survey the evidence she has on MacLeish to see if there’s enough to arrest him. He says there isn’t, especially now since he’s the VP so Wells heads out to collect more evidence. She talks to Atwood in prison to try to convince him to take back his confession and come clean about his son being kidnapped. She tells him his son, Luke, never did come home which upsets Atwood. He responds by saying if she really wants to help him, she needs to find his son.

Desperate to get evidence on MacLeish, Wells meets an army veteran named Joyner who served with MacLeish. She questions him under an alias about the last mission he served with MacLeish on and he gets noticeably uneasy. Wells thanks Joyner, saying she just needed to dot a few “I”s on the case and leaves. She gets in her car with Forstell and says, “Tell the President it’s game on.”

Back at the hospital, Emily reveals to Kirkman what she discovered about Aaron and his calls on the night of the Capitol bombing. “You don’t really think he’s a traitor, do you?” she asks. Kirkman says no but he needs to be sure before he can bring him into the inner circle.

Back at the White House, Congresswoman Kimble Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen) visits Aaron and tells him she has to see the President. Aaron reminds her he’s still in the hospital and tells her it’s not possible right now, but he’ll try to fit her in.

At the hospital, MacLeish visits the President telling him why he held the press conference, explaining he wanted to reassure the country that everything is under control. He also explains why he had the shooter executed instead of being brought in alive. Kirkman thanks him and says he would have handled it differently but that he understands how hard it is making life and death decisions. After MacLeish leaves, Kirkman tells Ritter he wanted to strangle him and Ritter tells the President he hid it well. (Guess Kirkman is starting to become a true politician after all.)

Aaron also visits Kirkman in the hospital and Tom tells Aaron he had Emily double-checking his phone records at the request of the Secret Service because he needed to double check everyone on his staff after the Capitol bombing. He apologizes and Aaron tells the President he understands. Later, Aaron finds Emily playing the piano in an empty room back in the White House and reveals he talked to the President and understands why she couldn’t talk about looking into him. He half-heartedly apologizes to her and says he’ll see her later.

The following day Hookstraten is back, demanding to see the President. Aaron can’t make it happen right now and she says she wants to know why the shooter was killed instead of being taken into custody. Aaron says he can’t talk about it. Hookstraten tells Aaron she’s been keeping an eye on MacLeish and wants to know if he ordered the kill shot. Aaron hesitates and she tells him she’ll form a congressional committee to investigate. Aaron confesses that it was MacLeish who gave the order to kill the shooter, even though he tried to talk him out of it.

Vice President MacLeish is out doing PR appearances and is in the car heading back while talking to his wife on the phone when he sees a big white chalk slash on a mailbox. His face and demeanor change almost immediately. Arriving back at work, he makes a call when he’s alone in his office and the voice on the other end tells him Joyner was approached by the FBI and says he needs to speak with him. Uneasy, MacLeish agrees to see Joyner in “the usual meeting spot” later that evening.

Back at the hospital, Kirkman gets his reluctant doctor to sign off on his checking out and Alex gets a little upset with him about it. She knows there’s something he’s not telling her and once again she’s having a very hard time accepting the fact her husband is now the President of the United States and will not be able to share some things with her, especially when it comes to national security.

MacLeish’s wife, Beth (Lara Jean Chorostecki), is concerned about his meeting with Joyner and suggests he should just be “taken care of” for safety’s sake. MacLeish won’t stand for that, saying Joyner’s one of ‘his’ men and he has to see him. “We pledged ourselves to a higher cause, remember?” he says. “And now he becomes another casualty of war. No victory without sacrifice, remember?” replies Beth. MacLeish remains adamant about meeting with Joyner.

Forstell informs Atwood they have found his son. The next scene is a terrible one where they take Atwood to his son’s dead body. Atwood collapses at the sight of his boy’s lifeless body.

MacLeish meets Joyner at a United States military cemetery to try to calm his nerves and to see if he can still count on him. What he doesn’t know is Wells and a few other agents are listening after being clued in on Joyner’s importance when Wells talked to him. Joyner talks about how they lied and he keeps seeing their dead fellow soldiers’ faces. MacLeish admits he lied to Congress and says, “The government’s not interested in truth. It’s the government that lies. They sent us into a slaughterhouse, and then they covered it up. They used us, so we use them. I lied to congress…” and that’s what Wells and the others have been waiting to hear.

Wells moves in and instructs MacLeish to freeze, telling him he’s under arrest. He makes a run for it and she fires a shot near him, warning him the next bullet won’t miss. He turns and smiles, reminding Wells he’s the Vice President of the United States and she’s just a cop. That’s when MacLeish is shot dead from behind. Wells sees his wife, Beth (who had been trying to call her husband because she figured out it was a trap), holding a gun. Before Wells can do anything to her, Beth turns the gun on herself and pulls the trigger.

The episode ends with a short montage of Emily once again playing the piano, Aaron looking at his computer, Atwood at home consoling his wife, and President Kirkman leaving the hospital.

Designated Survivor Episode 12 Review:

Shocking, suspenseful, and fast-paced, episode 12 titled “The End of the Beginning” saw the investigation into MacLeish come to a dramatic and surprising end after Beth shot her husband and then turned the gun on herself. The stand-out performance in episode 12 was delivered by Ashley Zukerman as MacLeish. Zukerman had to run the gamut emotion-wise, displaying fake concern for President Kirkman, to real concern and doubts about moving forward with the conspiracy, and then disgust and refusal to murder a brother in arms who he served with in the military. It’s the first episode to show just how complex MacLeish is…or rather was.

With both MacLeish and his wife dead and no other current leads, how will President Kirkman and Agent Wells find the traitor in the White House and who can they really trust? As Secret Service Agent Ritter said, “Time to tighten up your inner circle, Mr. President.”