‘Designated Survivor’ Season 1 Episode 21 Recap and Review: Brace for Impact

Designated Survivor star Kiefer Sutherland
Kiefer Sutherland stars in ‘Designated Survivor’ season 1 episode 21 (ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg)

“Get back or I’ll blow it! Put your guns down,” yells Agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) to the armed officers as she gets back into the van which houses a bomb set to go off in just a little over 3 minutes in the season one finale of ABC’s Designated Survivor.

Attempting to save innocent people targeted by the bomber, Wells speeds the van out of the parking garage and flies down the road yelling for motorists to get out of the way. She drives the van right into the Tidal Basin in front of the Jefferson Memorial, diving out just before it hits the water and explodes. She doesn’t even have time to get up before FBI agents are pointing guns at her and commanding her not to move.

As Wells is telling the lead FBI agent that she was trying to save everyone and the plans they found in her apartment were planted there, John Forstell (Reed Diamond) shows up and demands the Feds release her immediately. They start to give him the “she’s a suspect in an ongoing investigation” speech when the lead FBI agent’s phones rings and hes told that the White House needs to see Agent Wells right away. Wells tells Forstell that the conspirators killed Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba).


Wells and Forstell head to the White House and bring President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) up to speed on their investigation. Reed informs the President they’re looking into cells created by what used to be Browning Reed and suspect Patrick Lloyd (Terry Serpico) is the brains behind the Capitol attack. President Kirkman requests Wells and Forstell bring in Lloyd for questioning.

Wells and a team of agents arrive at Lloyd’s ranch but quickly discover he’s escaped by using a secret tunnel they weren’t aware of.

Back at the White House, Abe Leonard (Rob Morrow) tells Seth (Kal Penn) he has a story he’s running about the former FBI Assistant Director Atwood being arrested for murder and wants a comment from the White House. Seth delivers the news to the President who tells Seth to schedule a meeting for him with Abe.

Meanwhile, the mole in the White House – Jay Whitaker (Richard Waugh) – plugs back online to get rid of more evidence of Browning Reed and any connection it may have to the White House. What the mole isn’t aware of is that Chuck (Jake Epstein) has been monitoring the activity and sees the same code used earlier on a major hack. He tracks it and discovers the mole created an ID for someone.

President Kirkman brings Aaron (Adan Canto) into the Oval Office and thanks him for defending him earlier on a political program on television. Aaron tells him that he’ll always defend him because he knows what kind of man he is. Kirkman reveals to Aaron there’s a traitor in the White House and asks him to go over all his old files for clues as to who it might be. Aaron, of course, agrees.

After more digging, Chuck discovers the ID was created for Lozano so he could access the Pentagon. He informs Special Agent Ritter (LaMonica Garrett) and Wells starts calling over to the Pentagon to shut it down. They are already too late because Lozano is in the Pentagon dressed in a military outfit and accesses the building’s servers to download some information into his own briefcase computer.

Aaron visits General Cochran (Kevin McNally) and Cochran provides him with a list of anyone involved in selecting Kirkman to be the designated survivor during the attack on the Capitol. One of them will be the traitor. Aaron hands the list to the President.

Wells is headed to the Pentagon when she spots Lozano driving by. She quickly turns her car around and an exciting high speed pursuit begins with Wells and Lozano slamming their cars into one another trying to drive the other off the road. Wells manages to broadside Lozano’s car and now he’s off running on foot. She chases him into an abandoned building under construction. Lozano gets the drop on Wells and manages to knock her gun away. The two engage in hand-to-hand combat with Lozano winning at first using his size and strength against her and slamming Wells into several walls. Wells finally gets a decent shot in at Lozano who ends up falling down a floor and impaling himself on iron pipes. As he lies there dying he says to Wells, “It’s not over.”

At the White House, Abe meets with President Kirkman and tells him right away that he doesn’t care how many goons he puts on his tail, he won’t back down from the story. Kirkman assures him he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and that he won’t allow the FBI or any other agency to use bullying tactics on the press. Kirkman asks Abe to hold back on publishing his story. Abe asks if it’s because it’s not true and Kirkman tells him that it is incomplete. Kirkman says it’s a matter of national security and he needs him to trust him. Abe is hesitant so Kirkman shows him a photograph of his favorite President, FDR, and asks him when the photo was taken. Abe says pre-WWII and Kirkman tells Abe the press didn’t publish it until after he died because it showed him in his wheelchair and at that time during the war they respected the need to help the President seem strong and not point out his physical weakness. Kirkman goes onto to say the nation is at war right now and if he prints the story, he would be hurting them. Abe tells the President he’ll think about it.

Wells meets with Chuck who’s taken aback and is concerned when he sees her wounds. After checking to see if she’s okay and if she wants him to stay, he heads out to report in to Forstell. On his way out, Chuck tells her that there are over a hundred emails for her and one of them is from Atwood. Wells checks Atwood’s email and, surprise, he sent her the recording he took of Patrick Lloyd and Jay Whitaker talking about the conspiracy to blow up the Capitol and kidnapping Wells.

In the White House, Whitaker’s walking down a hall when Ritter appears asking to speak with him for a minute. He turns to see Wells and Forstell standing behind him. The mole is caught.

Abe confirms with Seth that he’ll respect President Kirkman’s wishes. Seth’s truly surprised and confesses to Abe he doesn’t know what to say. Abe tells him that’s not good for the White House Press Secretary as he walks away, smiling. He lets Seth know this doesn’t mean he’s going soft on them.

President Kirkman brings Seth, Emily (Italia Ricci), and Aaron in on what has been going on and apologizes for not being able to tell them everything earlier, which they all of course understand. Kirkman tells them he wants to address the nation and asks them to set up a joint session. As Seth and Emily. leave Kirkman asks Aaron to hang back a minute. He asks him what his plans are and Aaron says he doesn’t know. Kirkman reveals he wants him back, but Aaron says that Emily is doing a great job as Chief of Staff. Kirkman agrees and says he will create a position for him and won’t take no for an answer. Aaron agrees to work for Kirkman once again, saying, “I serve at the pleasure of the President.”

President Kirkman addresses the nation and congress and reveals everything. He confirms Al-Saqar wasn’t behind the attacks and that it was actually an act of domestic terrorism by Patrick Lloyd and his followers. He continues, talking about the love of country and the strength of America and how the followers of Lloyd believed the best days of America had come and gone but that he sees a strong, dedicated and never yielding America that will lead the way in the years to come. It’s a stirring speech which is met by a standing ovation.

Moments after finishing his speech, Kirkman is told he’s needed in the Situation Room for an update on Lloyd’s whereabouts. It turns out Lozano hacked into the Pentagon and gave Lloyd access to the Defense Department’s highest classified server, allowing Lloyd to sell the information to the highest bidder.

Designated Survivor Season 1 Episode 21 Review:

Action-packed, suspenseful, and inspiring, episode 21 titled “Brace for Impact” brings the first season of ABC’s political thriller to a close. The episode finally revealed the identity of the mole in the White House and found the mastermind of the attacks on the Capitol on the run. It also left viewers with a major national security crisis revealed as the cliffhanger.

The standout performance again goes to Kiefer Sutherland showing just how effective Kirkman as President can be. Sutherland’s especially effective during Kirkman’s one-on-one with Abe as he tries to convince the cutthroat reporter to do what’s best for his country and not necessarily his career. Sutherland also nailed the scene in which Kirkman addressed the nation and informed them of the reality behind the attacks on the Capitol while inspiring Americans to remember they’re still the strongest in the world and that their best days are still to come. He captures both the decency and strength in Kirkman perfectly.

With Lloyd on the loose with top secret access to the Defense Department’s classified server, here’s looking forward to a worldwide manhunt for the most wanted American terrorist in season two.

GRADE: B

More on Designated Survivor:
Designated Survivor Season 1 Episode 20 Bombshell Recap
Designated Survivor Season 1 Episode 19 ‘Misalliance’ Recap
Designated Survivor Season 1 Episode 18 ‘Lazarus’ Recap
Designated Survivor Season 1 Episode 17 ‘The Ninth Seat’ Recap