‘Designated Survivor’ Season 1 Episode 16 Recap and Review: Party Lines

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Designated Survivor star Virginia Madsen

Virginia Madsen in ‘Designated Survivor’ episode 16 (ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg)

“The bill is not about taking guns away. It’s about making sure they don’t fall into the wrong hands,” explains President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) at a White House press briefing in which he’s pushing to get a gun bill passed in the Senate on season one episode 16 of ABC’s Designated Survivor.

As the episode begins, Agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) presents the evidence she found on a drive from the now-dead Brooke Mathison to Mike Ritter (LaMonica Garrett), showing him the possible attack simulations of some of the country’s most visited and best known landmarks. Ritter informs President Kirkman of her findings while Wells and Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba) head back to the FBI.


At the White House, Alex Kirkman (Natascha McElhone) is getting ready to do a roundtable with victims of gun violence. She’s briefed by Seth (Kal Penn) and reminded she’s there to listen and not to make comments to the press.

Meanwhile, Aaron (Adan Canto) is advising Kimble Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen) she needs to take on Senator Jack Bowman (Mark Deklin) who’s looking to shoot down the gun bill and make a name for himself because he’s eyeing the presidency in the near future. Hookstraten thinks she should hold back and just play politics with him, but Aaron tells her she should push back hard while she still has the majority of the Republicans on her side. When she does meet with Bowman, she tells him he’s splitting the Republican party in two by fighting the bill, suggesting they need to unite the Republican party. Bowman responds by telling Hookstraten to either get on board with his fight or stand aside.

Back at the White House, President Kirkman meets with the Massachusetts senator to get her vote. He’s successful, but the problem facing them now is there are only 46 Democrats in the Senate which means Kirkman and his people have to get at least five Republican votes on their side for the bill to pass.

Former President Moss (Geoff Pierson) returns from a trip to help Kirkman. Moss tells Kirkman that although the writing and language of the bill needs work, it’s a step in the right direction and for him to push it hard. Moss even uses his influence on the senator of Texas to change his vote by threatening to run against him next election…and it works.

Wells continues her investigation into the Browning Reed company that appears to be a cover for those responsible for the attack on the Capitol. It seems during the Afghanistan war this organization was responsible for some questionable and offensive acts. Even though they were officially dissolved years ago, they’re still paying rent for key real estate properties including one in North Dakota. Wells gets Atwood and the two head out to North Dakota to check on the facility.

Alex does her roundtable which goes very well, and afterward she meets up with Tom to tell him how lucky she feels that he survived being shot after hearing all the heartbreaking stories. She admits him she’d be lost without him and says he has to win making this bill law.

Emily (Italia Ricci) meets Aaron for drinks at a bar and he offers to help her try to get the gun bill passed. He suggests the President should seek Hookstraten’s help. Emily asks Aaron what’s in it for Hookstraten to help Kirkman and realizes by the look on his face she’s aiming to be Kirkman’s Vice President.

The next day, Kirkman has lunch with an old friend who’s now a senator and tries to encourage him to vote yes on the bill. The senator confesses he wishes he could but he doesn’t like the verbiage of the bill and he’s not looking to rock the boat right now. A little later Kimble comes to see Kirkman and tells him she could use her influence to try to convince a few Republicans to vote for it, if she can tell them they can count on the President’s support come election time. Kirkman tells Hookstraten he can’t make any promises but she can tell them he would be extremely grateful. With that, Hookstraten goes out on television and encourages her fellow conservative senators to vote for the bill.

On the road in North Dakota, Wells and Atwood drive to the area where the Browning Reed facility is supposed to be and hike to that spot to find nothing but an abandoned open field. Later when they check in with Forstell (Reed Diamond), he tells them he used a satellite to take a look and saw a facility at the spot they were standing on but under the ground. Apparently it’s an old missile silo, so Wells and Atwood head back out to find its entrance.

Back in Washington, Kirkman and his people realize they are three votes short to get the bill passed and they have little time to try to convince their hold-outs to vote their way. Nonetheless, Emily, Moss, and Kirkman reach out to three senators to try to convince them to vote for the gun bill.

On the day of the vote, Hookstraten tells Aaron if the bill fails to pass they will need to distance themselves from Kirkman and not bring it up again. Aaron starts to mention the vice president slot and Hookstraten tells him she has no plans to tie herself to a falling star, referring to Kirkman.

In the Oval Office, Kirkman, Emily, Seth, and Moss – who brought pizza for everyone – watch the votes on the bill on television. At first it looks like the bill isn’t going to pass, with one of the three senators they tried to win over voting no. But to everyone’s surprise, a Republican senator who won her late husband’s seat who was very pro-gun rights votes yes on the gun bill for stronger and more thorough background checks. The bill passes!

Designated Survivor Episode 16

Maggie Q and Malik Yoba in ‘Designated Survivor’ (ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg)

In North Dakota, Wells and Atwood find the entrance to the underground missile silo and venture down into it to investigate the dark and spooky facility. (If this were a horror film, they would be the next victims!) As they work their way through and look at the abandoned equipment, Wells comments, “It’s like a Cold War time capsule.” A few moments later, Wells and Atwood discover bombs just like the ones used to blow up the Capitol. Astonished, Wells says, “There’s enough explosives here to blow up three Capitols.”

Designated Survivor Season 1 Episode 16 Review:

Intriguing and dramatic, episode 16 titled ‘Party Lines’ showed the hard fight in D.C. Kirkman and his staff had to go through to finally get the first bill of his presidency passed, focusing on all the party politics involved. It also revealed the creepy abandoned missile silo where the conspirators have stockpiled their bombs. But, is it all of them?

The stand-out performance in this episode goes to Virginia Madsen as career politician Hookstraten. Madsen perfectly captures the mindset and talents of the experienced senator who appears to be helping the president pass his bill while making sure to be able to distance herself if it should fail. The scenes between Madsen and Canto as he begins to see the kind of women he’s working for are extremely strong.

With the first big win for Kirkman’s presidency and Wells discovering the conspirators’ bomb storage facility, it should be interesting to see how the first season of this excellent political thriller ends.

GRADE: B



Kevin Finnerty

Kevin Finnerty

Professional film critic since 2003 and a member of the San Diego Film Critics Society. Host of “The Movie Guys” radio film review show from 2007 through 2013. Film and television critic for Showbizjunkies.com and a movie buff since 1973.
Kevin Finnerty
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  • Jenn

    Was loving this show until the last 2 episodes became so obvious of political party lines. Making one party the good guy and one bad guy. Just tired of real life politics and the fighting among them. Can’t we just watch TV?