Did you hear about the unlikely POTUS who nonetheless found himself occupying the highest office in the land, only to be met by jeers of “Not my president”?
Such was the fate visited upon Designated Survivor‘s Tom Kirkman, upon being thrust by tragedy into the Oval Office. And as the genial politician struggles to rebuild a depleted government (Wednesdays at 10/9c, on ABC), FBI Agent Hannah Wells is bit by bit uncovering the shocking truth about who was — and wasn’t — behind the terror attack that felled the Capitol and almost everyone inside it.
TVLine invited Maggie Q to preview the FBI’s reaction to the latest twist, tease Hannah’s awaited introduction to President Kirkman, and weigh in on how the fall’s No. 2 new drama might offer up a national panacea during a trying time.
TVLINE | Majid Nassar just turned up dead in his cell. How are Wells and Atwood (played by Malik Yoba) going to react to this dead end?
I mean, there’s sort of this incremental roadblock that happens for them every step they get closer, so they realize that it’s so much bigger than they thought. It goes so much higher and is so above their heads that some decisions are going to have to be made about whether this gets pursued or doesn’t. I mean she’s a hard sell on that, but Atwood is thinking that this could be a lot more dangerous than they ever thought.
TVLINE | In fact, his family is put at risk in this week’s episode, right?
Yes. When it comes to this investigation, he’s always been a little more conservative knowing that he could open a box that they don’t want to get into. And he does have more experience than she does, so he understands that sometimes things go very high and you don’t want to know [the truth]. Hannah becomes less of a target in that she’s not the boss, so if anybody is going to want to stop them from digging any deeper, they’re going to have to stop the Director.
TVLINE | Is there anything at this point to keep the FBI from finally looping in the White House on their suspicions about MacLeish?
Well, Hannah’s sort of like, “Listen, if we have a serious hunch on this, we’ve got to tell our commander-in-chief (Kiefer Sutherland), because he’s got know what his options are.” Even if it’s theory, he’s got to know what is at play, because in the real world — and I trained with the FBI, so I asked them this specifically — if you had pretty pertinent information and you didn’t tell the president, they said it would be “professional suicide.” Hannah’s argument is that they should have told Kirkman from Day 1, but [Atwood] wasn’t biting because, first of all, their reservations were unfounded. And as he said in one of the episodes, [Kirkman] is a guy who was 11th in line [to be president], he’s up to his ears in [everything], so we bring him a conspiracy. If we feel that this is a possible theory, we need some hard evidence.
TVLINE | That’s what Atwood says, yes, but I’ve got to tell you — that makes me think that he’s in on it, that he’s stalling.
Right, right. Well, it’s interesting you say that because there’s some stuff coming up…. It’s very interesting you say that.
TVLINE | I’ve watch too much 24, that’s all.
I mean, it’s a volatile situation. [Atwood] was high up in the ranks, but because everybody including the Director was wiped out, filling those shoes was a very, very big deal. He wasn’t quite ready for it, so I think that he’s just trying to be careful, he wants to be right. But for Hannah, she’s like, “No, we don’t have to be right.” So in the episode coming up this week, she goes head-to-head with him and finally convinces him that it’s time.
TVLINE | You’ve obviously worked a lot with Malik Yoba, and you’ve done a bit of Virginia Madsen. Are we going to see you working with other major characters in the coming weeks?
I’ve got a scene coming up with someone in the White House, a very brief scene. As you can see in the episode that just aired, even in the editing of the show they’re really paralleling the president’s journey with Hannah’s, and [executive producer] David Guggenheim said he’s building to “the kiss.” The writers call it “the kiss” when Hannah and Kirkman finally come together, so we’re thinking of teasing a “kiss,” getting them in a room, very soon — and you’ll understand why after you see the next episode.
TVLINE | There were a couple of significant changes from the original pilot. Were you pleased that they dropped the “single-and-ready to mingle” aspect of Hannah, who was enduring a horrible blind date at the time of the attack?
I mean, you can’t complain about how this has worked out, for sure. The thing is, I liked the original storyline because it was originally a sister [that died], but then that would have involved a mother and the rest of her family and all that…. It got messy. I liked that they changed it to her lover because that’s very different from when you lose someone and can grieve openly. When you’re “the other woman”… it creates a whole other level of pain for you, because there’s no one to turn to, in that time.
And yet it was exciting for us [in the original pilot] to create a character that had different sides to her, someone who wasn’t on top of it in her personal life — which does happen very often with people who are professionally very competent. You’ve got to struggle somewhere. But once we edited the pilot together, there really was no room for that level of personality with her, we couldn’t justify it and so it all had to change — and I’m glad that it did.
TVLINE | Is Hannah poised to become the Jack Bauer of this story? Full of conviction and solid instincts, yet forever being challenged by higher-ups?
I love that comparison. I’ll take that! [Laughs] It does get a lot more intense for her, for sure, after you see what happens in the next episode. Things start to amp up and become so much more Jack Bauer for her, exactly as you’re saying.
TVLINE | To that end, does Hannah have Nikita-level skills within her? Can she deliver a smackdown if needed to?
Listen, everybody in the FBI has got to go through Quantico, so yeah, she that does have a level of training….
TVLINE | But no roundhouse kicks?
No roundhouse kicks in this one. [Laughs] I don’t think that’s going to happen.
TVLINE | Obviously, we’re living a country divided right now. Do you see an opportunity for Designated Survivor to serve as some sort of escape or…?
You know what, I’ll tell you exactly what I told a friend of mine the other day when it all kind of went down. I don’t think there’s any political climate in which people can believe in right now, so I think that this show can become a place of solace for people. The thing about Designated Survivor is that you’re watching what the actual challenges are of a president, and not just the circus that they’ve made into.
TVLINE | That’s what The West Wing did for us. President Clinton was going through all of the scandals, and that show kind of said, “Here’s a president to believe in again.”
That is exactly it — “Here’s political process that you can understand and that can work the way that you think it’s supposed to work.” All the stuff that this has become ever since Obama has been elected takes you out of the political landscape, because things start to get too personal or start devolving into things that aren’t really making sense. I feel like we’re not even talking about politics anymore. At least Kirkman’s challenges on the show are primarily policy based, and I miss that. I miss talking about the issues.