‘Designated Survivor’ Season 1 Episode 3 Recap and Review: The Confession

Designated Survivor Episode 3 stars Kiefer Sutherland and Natascha McElhone
Kiefer Sutherland and Natascha McElhone in ‘Designated Survivor’ (Photo by Ben Mark Holzberg / ABC)

“What if it’s..,” begins to ask Seth Wright (Kal Penn). “Another attack,” finishes President Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) as the lights and phones go out in the White House in episode three of ABC’s new political thriller series, Designated Survivor.

The episode starts off with the reveal of the identity of the survivor pulled from the rubble at the end of last week’s episode. It’s Congressman Peter MacLeish (Ashley Zukerman) who’s quickly transported to the hospital with FBI Agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) extremely interested in questioning him about what he saw.

At the White House, President Kirkman has gathered his people together to go over what needs to be accomplished, including choosing a new cabinet and naming his Chief of Staff. This is when the power goes out and everyone is afraid it’s another attack. It turns out that the White House has been hacked. As the tech guys and the Secret Service work on finding out who hacked the White House, Aaron (Adan Canto) and Emily (Italia Ricci) sit down with Congresswoman Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen) to go over Cabinet appointments. She’s more interested in the computer hack which she knows happened because she saw how quickly the Secret Service pulled out all the computers in the Oval Office. Before they can get anywhere with the list Aaron and Emily are called back to the Oval Office.

It seems whoever hacked the White House didn’t take anything but they left something instead. A video of terrorist Majid Massar taking credit for the attack at the Capitol. General Cochrane (Kevin R. McNally) tells the President he wanted more proof and now they have it, but Kirkman senses something is off about it and wants verification before going to war. FBI Deputy Director Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba) interjects about Agent Hannah’s theories that these clues, like the bomb and video, are being deliberately placed to lead them away from the real terrorists. Kirkman asks Atwood if he really believes that and Atwood admits he’s not sure but he does believe in his people. Kirkman decides to take the tape to Congresswoman Hookstraten and she suggests he should release the tape but tells him she will back him whatever he decides.

At the hospital, Hannah visits MacLeish, who doesn’t seem to know much other than he was sitting in his seat and the next thing he was in darkness unable to move. He seems to be riddled with survivor’s guilt.

Back at the White House the former President’s son, Tyler, has been brought in to talk to Kirkman about speaking at his father’s funeral. Kirkman asks a very shell-shocked young man about his father and Tyler makes it seem as though the two were very close. Meanwhile, little Penny (Mckenna Grace) accidentally discovers her brother’s stash of drugs that he has been selling and shows her mother, Alex (Natascha McElhone), not realizing what it is. (She thinks it’s aspirin.) Alex confronts Leo (Tanner Buchanan) about selling drugs and he doesn’t deny it. She points out that if Penny had taken one or two of those pills and Leo interrupts clearly upset with the idea, saying to his mother, “She’s not stupid.” “So what’s your excuse then?” snaps back Alex who is then called away by the Secret Service. She tells Leo they are not done talking about this.

Kirkman is scheduled to give an interview with a reporter about the attacks at the Capitol and about bringing the country back together again. At first the interview goes off fine but at the end the reporter hits him with leaked information asking him if it’s true the former President asked for his resignation the morning before the attacks. The new President excuses himself and steps outside to get advice from Aaron and Emily. Emily tells him to tell the truth and Aaron wants him to deny it. Kirkman goes back in the room and answers the question honestly, saying he was offered another position which he hadn’t decided if he was going to accept and that he was no longer going to be part of the President’s Cabinet.

Back at the FBI, Hannah is reviewing the footage of the State of the Union which cuts out 34 seconds before the bomb goes off. Looking closer she tells the data tech to get from the Cloud all the photos from a woman’s phone who was taking pictures as the attack happened. The tech guy is uncomfortable doing this before they get the right legal clearance, but Hannah tells him if they don’t play dirty they will never find out who is really behind this attack.

Kirkman is attending the former President’s funeral and is going to deliver the eulogy when Tyler tells the President he doesn’t want him to, especially after he saw the interview and found out his father fired him. Kirkman respects the young man’s wishes and just attends the service. This is when yet more politics comes into play as Tyler introduces Congresswoman Hookstraten to deliver the eulogy instead. Alex says to Tom, “This is not good,” and he tells her that’s what he gets for telling the truth in Washington.

It keeps being a very busy day for Kirkman when he hears that the video of Majid Massar taking credit for the attack has been leaked. Kirkman confronts Hookstraten asking her if she did it and she says no, but in all honesty it’s the best thing for his presidency. She tells him in a few hours no one will be questioning if he should be President but will be rallying around him to go after Massar. Kirkman asks her if she is trying to get his job as President and she says not now. He asks what about in four years and she says it will probably be two and half with a special election. On her way out she says to him with a smile, “At least I’m honest.”

Back at the FBI, Atwood reprimands Hannah for trying to get the woman’s photos while avoiding protocol. He also brings her up to speed on the list of the confirmed dead which includes a Congressman Hannah had been having an affair with. She opens up a bit to Atwood who’s more than just a boss but also a friend and mentor. She leaves and sits in her car and begins to cry when she gets a call…something has been found on the State of the Union footage.


At the White House, Kirkman calls Aaron over to talk to him in private and tells him he knows he who leaked the footage. Aaron admits he did it but to protect Kirkman. Aaron tells the new President that he wants him to have a long term and that he’s dedicated to making that happen, but if he wants his resignation he can put it into effect any time and hands him his resignation letter. Kirkman thinks it over and calls in Emily to talk to her. He tells her he’s making Aaron his Chief of Staff because he thinks differently than they do. Emily is obviously upset and disappointed, but Kirkman tells her he wants her to be “Special Advisor” to the President, insisting that it’s not a hand-out and that he needs her with him if he’s ever going to be President. Emily accepts but reminds him that she is not just his “yes” woman and if she thinks he or Aaron are wrong, she will tell them. She also says she expects to have an equal voice.

Later that night Tyler is brought to the Oval Office and is unsure of why he is there. Kirkman apologizes for trying to use his father’s funeral for a political moment. He then goes into a story Tyler’s father told him and many of the Cabinet members about one of Tyler’s recitals. Tyler insists that his dad was never there and Kirkman is mistaken but Tom just smiles and tells the young man that is father only took one Secret Service man with him and wore a baseball cap as he sat in the back. It was important to him that he not take the focus off his son. Kirkman also tells Tyler that his late father gave every member listening to his story a program of the recital and he hands it to Tyler. The young man, moved by emotion, thanks Kirkman calling him Mr. President and leaves with the program in his hands.

Back at the FBI, Hannah is watching the footage with the data tech guy who admits he thinks she’s a real badass. The footage shows that MacLeish was not in fact in his seat 30 seconds before the bomb went off.

Aaron is out walking when he gets a call from Kirkman who tells him he is making him his Chief of Staff and that his first order of business is to find the terrorist behind the attack. Aaron says of course Mr. President and hangs up. This is when a mystery woman walks up behind him and gives Aaron a file on Kirkman. “Anything good in it?” asks Aaron. “Depends on what side you’re on,” answers the woman as she leaves and Aaron walks off in the other direction.

Review of Episode 3 Titled ‘The Confession’

Dramatic and with a few interesting twists and turns, episode three titled “The Confession” begins to show a stronger and more decisive President Kirkman as well as a little softer and human side to agent Hannah Wells. Sutherland really shines as Kirkman who is direct and unwavering when he confronts both Congresswoman Hookstraten and Aaron on their shady political moves to better their situation. He also demonstrates Kirkman’s softer and likeable side as shown in the scene with the former President’s son who had a falling out with his father two years ago and is so moved to discover his father loved him and thought the world of him.

With Aaron looking to be playing both sides, FBI Agent Hannah seeming to be on the right track, and Kirkman about to go after a terrorist who may not have had anything to do with the attack, next episode should be very revealing and hopefully will unveil even more twists.

GRADE: B