‘Designated Survivor’ Season 1 Episode 17 Recap and Review: The Ninth Seat

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Designated Survivor Episode 17

Linda Purl and Kiefer Sutherland in ‘Designated Survivor’ episode 17 (ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg)

“I said take your seats now!” yells President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) to the senators arguing over the nominated Chief Justice as they’re about to leave the room. They’re taken aback by Kirkman showing his temper in season one episode 17 of ABC’s Designated Survivor.

As the episode begins, reporter Abe Leonard (Rob Morrow) is in Iraq being taken to see a terrorist leader at a secret location. During the interview, Abe shows him a photo of Lozano and asks if he knows him. The leader says yes and reveals that Lozano paid the terrorist group Al-Sakar to take credit for the Capitol bombing even though they had nothing to do with it.

In North Dakota, Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) and Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba) check in with John Forstell (Reed Diamond) and brings him up to speed regarding the bombs they found in the underground missile silo. Wells suggests she and Atwood look for clues in Driggs, the town closest to the silo.

Back in Washington, Kirkman has brought in his old supervisor from the university Julia Rombauer (Linda Purl), who is helping select names and get them vetted to become the new nine judges on the Supreme Court. She and Kirkman believe they have the perfect nine that both the Republicans and Democrats will agree on. However, when Kirkman meets with the senators to see if they are in agreement, Senator Jack Bowman (Mark Deklin) from Montana derails it by announcing that he and his party won’t vote for the nominated Chief Justice due to some “disturbing things” they have uncovered in his past. (It’s clear this is Bowman’s revenge for losing the vote over the gun bill.)

Kirkman takes on Bowman telling him that he will not let him hold their justice system hostage and he’s more than willing to hold a press conference revealing to the nation that is exactly what Bowman is doing. Just as Bowman is about to bear down and stand his ground, one of the other Republican senators asks if the President and his team could try to find another name for their consideration. Kirkman, always trying to be a reasonable and diplomatic president, says yes and leaves the room with Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci) following close behind.


Wells and Atwood arrive in Driggs and notice many out-of-state license plates, too many for such a small, in the middle of nowhere town. A man walks up and warns them storms are coming. Wells answers him by saying they haven’t been paying attention to the weather and the man quickly walks off. That’s when Wells and Atwood realize they just failed a test and have been most likely made as a threat. Wells takes a quick picture of the man’s license plate and of a blue book she sees on his dashboard titled Pax Americana.

Back in D.C., Abe confronts Seth (Kal Penn) after a press conference and tells him he knows that Al-Sakar did not bomb the Capitol. Seth starts to blow him off but Abe pushes, saying he has a source and he’s going with the story and wants a response from the White House by the end of the day. Seth tells Emily and suggests she run it by the president, reminding her that things are actually going well for the White House for once and that he doesn’t want something like this to derail them.

Meanwhile in North Dakota, Wells and Atwood strike up a conversation with a local bartender and ask him about all the out-of-towners. The bartender tells them he and the other locals call them the “True Believers.” Seems they visit the Air Force property three or four times a year and light up bonfires. The bartender goes on to say that he’s noticed a lot of trucks and helicopters going to the old base and he hoped maybe they were going to re-open the base but it doesn’t seem very likely. Wells and Atwood realize they’ve found one of the terrorist cells.

After lunch, Wells sees a man at a gas station with “NVWS” tattooed on his wrist, the same letters printed on the bombs she and Atwood found at the silo. Wells acts like a clueless tourist asking the man for directions and dropping a few items so she can get close enough to swipe his copy of Pax Americana. Looking through it later, she and Atwood learn the initials NVWS actually stand for “No Victory Without Sacrifice.”

Abe visits Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen) and asks her about trying to hold up the VP’s nomination. Hookstraten tells Abe she can’t comment on an ongoing investigation and he leaves. Aaron (Adan Canto) warns her that Abe is dangerous and she tells him, “That’s why I keep him close.” Aaron, not liking what he heard from Abe and Hookstraten, calls Agent Wells. However, it isn’t Wells who meets with Aaron but Fortstell who tells Aaron her calls go to him because she is on special assignment. At first, Aaron doesn’t want to talk to Forstell feeling distrustful toward him since it was Forstell who interrogated Aaron a few weeks earlier. Forstell reminds Aaron they are on the same side. Aaron tells Forstell about Abe and what he knows.

Forstell finds Kirkman to tell him they need to bring in Abe so that he doesn’t jeopardize their investigation into the terrorist cell, but President Kirkman refuses to lock up a reporter for just doing his job.

Abe’s editor isn’t that keen on his story with unnamed sources and no facts to back it up, so she tells him the paper is going to sit on it until he can pad it out with facts. Frustrated, Abe searches the web for Nestor Lozano conspiracy theories and a window pops up on his computer showing him footage of Wells firing at the would-be assassin of President Kirkman. It’s not long after that Abe senses he’s being followed around D.C. and tries to get a photo of the man following him with his phone.

Meanwhile, Aaron meets with Emily asking about the VP slot for Hookstraten since she helped get the gun bill passed. Emily informs him the president is grateful but he didn’t promise her anything. Aaron asks if she’s really going to play hardball on this and she says yes, reminding him she’s protecting Kirkman just like he would if he was still chief of staff.

Kirkman meets with Julia and asks if she’ll be the ninth name on the Supreme Court. Julia says she’s not a judge but Kirkman points out that she did clerk for Justice Gray and her decisions are studied in law schools. The Republicans would not turn her down. Julia tells Kirkman that she cannot accept and when he asks why, she reveals that she has early onset dementia. Shocked and upset, Kirkman tries to comfort Julia but she remains strong and tells him she wants to see the job through of helping him get his Supreme Court but she can’t be on it.

In North Dakota, Wells and Atwood head back to the site but are stopped and turned around by hunters who tell them they are on private property and need to turn around and go back. It’s clear these are terrorists not hunters, but again Atwood and Wells act like clueless tourists and drive away. They contact Forstell with their findings and he wants to send in a task force ASAP but Wells says not yet. She wants to get a closer look at what’s going on up at the old military base and plans to sneak up there under the cover of darkness.

Back in D.C., Julia tells Kirkman she has figured out a way to go around Bowman. At the next meeting, she and Kirkman decide to just go with eight judges who they all have agreed on already for the Supreme Court. It seems the number of judges isn’t dictated by the Constitution. Bowman and the other senators agree and Kirkman has his new Supreme Court.

Seth finishes another press conference and Abe confronts him telling him to have President Kirkman back off and that he knows he’s being followed. Seth tells him he’s delusional and should go get help.

When Abe arrives at his car, he finds a package lying on the windshield and opens it to find a cell phone. The phone rings and Abe answers. The voice on the other end tells him he’s the one who sent him the info on his computer about Wells and the shooter. The mystery voice tells Abe to meet him in one hour.

Later that evening, Kirkman is celebrating their win with Julia when she notices how late it’s getting and tells him she needs to head out if she’s going to make it tomorrow for her class in New York. As she leaves, Julia turns to Kirkman and says to him, “Remember me like this,” holding back tears. Kirkman starts to tear up and become emotional as one of his staffers, realizing he needs some privacy, closes the door to the Oval Office.

In North Dakota, Wells and Atwood sneak up and watch members of the terrorist cell who are not lighting bonfires as the bartender in town thought but actually creating landing strips. A helicopter lands and Wells watches as Nestor Lozano walks out of the chopper, looking very much alive and angry.

Designated Survivor Episode 17 Review:

Fast-paced and surprising, episode 17 titled “The Ninth Seat” records one more victory for President Kirkman as his new Supreme Court is confirmed and brings FBI Agents Wells and Atwood right into the nest of the terrorist cell. The stand-out performance once again goes to Kiefer Sutherland as President Kirkman who displays so many emotions in this episode from frustration and anger while fighting with Senator Bowman to sadness and grief as he realizes he has lost one of his idols and a trusted friend to a horrible illness. The scene where Julia tells him to remember her as she is while leaving for the final time and Kirkman begins to grieve is very moving.

With Wells and Atwood discovering Lozano is alive and Forstell on the trail of the traitor leaking information in the White House, the next few episodes should be both revealing and suspenseful – and maybe even shocking.

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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