Designated Survivor Imagines an Accidental President


Accidental President Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) receives the nuclear codes in season 1, episode 1 of “Designated Survivor.”

The Netflix show Designated Survivor is built on the real concept of the ‘designated survivor’ implemented by the United States government. 

According to Roll Call, “The idea [of the designated survivor is] in the event of a horrific disaster or attack… a clear line of presidential succession is maintained. With members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, the cabinet and Joint Chiefs of Staff all in one room, one person is hidden away in a secure location to ensure that the government can continue if the worst were to happen.” 

For example, Energy Secretary Rick Perry was the real designated survivor during Trump’s State of the Union Speech in 2019. 

In the fictional world of the Netflix show, Robert Richmond (Richard Belkins) is President of the United States. He is delivering the 2016 State of the Union Address in the United States Capital. 

The designated survivor for the evening is Thomas (Tom) Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland). In the beginning of the show, Kirkman was the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He is in a designated safe and secure location during the State of the Union in case of catastrophe.

In the first episode, something does happen at the State of the Union. As Kirkman is watching the speech with his wife Alex Kirkman, the TV suddenly shuts off. Kirkman attempts to turn the TV back on, but before you know it, the Secret Service comes rushing into the secure room saying they have to evacuate him. 

President Tom Kirkman’s first task as President of the United States is to find who is responsible for this attack on the U.S. Capitol.”

Both Kirkman and his wife are confused and worried. Their kids, Leo Kirkman, 17, and Penny Kirkman, 11, are at home. Tom Kirkman knows something happened, and he runs to the one window in the room. He opens the blinds to see the capitol in flames. 

We soon learn that the capitol building has been bombed during the State of the Union. Everyone in the capital presumably died, including the President, his cabinet, Congress and the Senate. Tom Kirkman jumps in a car, is driven to the White House with his wife and is immediately sworn in. 

Immediately after the bombing, officials investigate the bombing. The investigation is led by FBI Deputy Director Jason Atwood, portrayed by Malik Yoba; FBI Agent Hannah Wells, portrayed by Maggie Q; and FBI Director John Forstell, portrayed by Reed Diamond.

Now, President Tom Kirkman’s first task as President of the United States is to find who is responsible for this attack on the U.S. Capitol. He consults with Army General Harris Cochrane, portrayed by Kevin R. McNally, to see what options he has as Commander-in-Chief. 

I do not want to spoil any more of the plot, but there are three action-packed seasons on Netflix including more than 50 episodes.

The strengths of the show include the realism of the writing and the White House set design. It makes viewers imagine what a “designated survivor” situation would actually look like, making the series a must watch.