“You ever get that weird feeling when you think someone is lying to you?” asks Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) to his wife, Alex (Natascha McElhone), about the deputy director of the FBI after a meeting where he failed to inform the President of any real new leads in the death of terrorist Nassar in ABC’s political thriller series, Designated Survivor.
As episode seven of season one begins, Agent Wells (Maggie Q) and her boss, Atwood (Malik Yoba), are at the crime scene still dealing with the shock of Nassar’s death. Both know it was murder and have agents collecting evidence, but doubt they will find anything.
At the White House, President Kirkman is delivering a speech about the Yankees playing baseball after 9/11 and how it helped the country take a break from despair and grieving, and how importance it was in helping the nation start to heal. With that in mind, he’s decided to send the USA Track & Field team to Moscow for an international competition. After the speech, Kirkman pulls aside Coach Weston for a private conversation on leadership and how Kirkman is a big fan of Weston’s. The coach reminds the President that real leaders aren’t born but made.
Just as Kirkman is really starting to enjoy himself, he’s pulled away to have dinner with MacLeish (Ashley Zukerman) and his wife. The dinner is going well when once again Kirkman is pulled away by Aaron (Adan Canto) to deal with a situation. Aaron informs the President about Nassar’s death and about the FBI investigation. Then comes word that Coach Weston has been arrested by the Russian police for a possible doping scandal involving the whole team. Not believing the charges, Kirkman orders the State Department to investigate.
At FBI headquarters, Agent Wells is telling Atwood that MacLeish is getting very close to being the Vice President, and the president has asked them to vet him. She points out that MacLeish is closely linked to the bombing and he needs to tell the president what they suspect. Atwood makes an appointment to see Kirkman.
The next day when Atwood walks into the Oval Office to meet with the Commander in Chief, he’s unpleasantly surprised to see MacLeish there as well. The president asked him to sit in on the meeting and Atwood, realizing he can’t discuss the details now, basically goes into bureaucrat mode and stays vague with his answers, saying to Kirkman, “We’re still looking into things, sir.” This annoys and confuses Kirkman who was under the assumption the FBI had some real leads as to who killed Nassar. He tells Atwood to reschedule with him as soon as he has some progress – and it better be soon.
MacLeish shows up at Atwood’s office later, offering him the last seven years in tax returns and other papers to hopefully help speed up the vetting process. Atwood thanks him but tells him the FBI will do its job of checking everything about him. The two men give each other looks as though they both know the other is on to them. This is when Agent Wells reaches out to a CIA contact friend of hers and drops the name “Catalan,” which causes him to get very concerned. He tells her for her own sake to drop it and leaves.
Back at the White House, Kirkman meets with the Russian ambassador to try to find a solution. The meeting goes nowhere after the ambassador asks for an impossible trade of nuclear base weapons for Weston. The CIA reaches out to the president and informs him that they need to get Weston back because he’s actually a spy. (And the hits just keep on coming!) Kirkman finally comes up with a solution that should work for everyone. He offers the Russian ambassador and a Saudi Arabia representative a “transnational three-way-trade” which everyone agrees to. Crisis solved? No, not just yet. It seems Weston elects to stay in Russia and surprise, surprise, it turns out he’s really a double agent.
Meanwhile, Seth (Kal Penn) keeps asking for five minutes with the president to go over something personal. After getting blown off by Aaron twice, he stresses that it’s not personal for him – it’s about the first family. He gets his five minutes with Aaron, Emily (Italia Ricci), and President Kirkman and brings them up to speed about the young reporter who wants a statement about the first son NOT being Kirkman’s son but rather Alex’s boyfriend from just before Tom and Alex started dating. Kirkman finds out from Aaron that the first lady already knows about this issue and told Aaron she would speak to Tom about it. This causes a small fight between Tom and Alex about her not telling him and Alex saying there was never the right time. Soon, however, Tom admits Leo has the right to know who his father really is. Alex hugs him and says over and over again that Tom is his father. (Tom never took a test when Alex got pregnant because he didn’t want to know and just accepted that Leo was his own son.) Alex even goes to the prison to see her old boyfriend to get him to stop and he says he will if the president gets him early parole.
Thankfully, Seth is able to make a deal with the reporter appealing to her decent side by saying that the first family are good, decent people and that Leo doesn’t deserve to have his world turned upside down. He also offers her an exclusive story about a recent spy incident the president handled, and she’s ready to forget her sleazy story.
Kirkman meets once again with the Russian ambassador and congratulates him on his win by tricking him about Weston. As the cocky Russian is leaving, Kirkman says to him, “There’s nothing more dangerous than a pawn that thinks it’s a queen.”
Atwood gets a call from his wife upset that she can’t find their son, and he tells her to call the police and to go home in case their son shows up. Atwood leaves work and searches the town for his son, calling Wells to tell her he suspects whoever is backing MacLeish just kidnapped his son. This prompts Wells to reach out to her CIA contact again, telling him she needs whatever he can get her on Catalan. The contact tells her he’s a very dangerous traitor and to drop it, but she’s adamant. He tells Wells he’ll see what he can do. Later in the parking garage of the FBI, Wells finds a package in her car that contains the identity of Catalan. His real name is Nestor Lozano and she remembers seeing him back at the fort where Nassar was being held. She calls Atwood but the call goes to voicemail.
The last scene of the episode is with Atwood checking the park for his son. He’s approached by a mysterious woman who tells him his son is being held captive, and she shows him a photo of him on her phone as proof. She tells Atwood that she’ll let him go unharmed but only under a few conditions. First, he tells no one about it and, second, he will make an appointment with the president and do whatever it is she instructs him to do. If he doesn’t agree, his son dies.
Designated Survivor Episode 7 Review:
Dramatic, engaging, and with two interesting twists, episode seven titled “The Traitor” heightens the tension in the political thriller series while broadening the domestic storyline of the Kirkman family. The surprise that Coach Weston turned out to be a double agent and that Kirkman had been played by the Russians was a creative and smart twist to what seemed to be a simple international misunderstanding.
The stand-out performance in this episode goes to Malik Yoba as FBI Deputy Director Atwood, the victim of two blindsides. The first occurs when he enters the Oval Office prepared to bring the president up to speed on their suspicions of MacLeish only to discover he’s sitting in the room and has to play dumb. The second blindside comes when he discovers his son is missing. The panic and fear he shows when he finds out his son has gone missing. Yoba really does shine in this episode, and the panic and fear he displays when he learns about his son is genuinely heart-wrenching to watch.
With Atwood’s son in the hands of whoever is behind the attack on the Capitol, MacLeish getting closer to becoming VP, and Agent Wells finally with a solid lead, things should get very intense and deadly in the next few episodes.