Designated Survivor Season 3

Designated Survivor Season 3 Review: #KirkmanForPresident

Designated Survivor, Reviews

This review contains spoilers for Designated Survivor Season 3. If you haven’t watched the entire season, turn back now!

Designated Survivor Season 3 is definitely feeling right at home on Netflix. The cursing fits into this world absolutely perfectly. I mean of course people in politics curse up a storm. How could they not? It’s a coping mechanism.

Overall, this is a solid season. 

The series does some course correction and focuses on the core team a bit more, which is fantastic to see. The interpersonal relationships of the White House staffers are also more prominent.

Seth: What does it say that her drink is manlier than mine.

Aaron: Everything really.

There aren’t that many disasters/issues of the week that Kirkman has to handle, which frees up a lot of time to focus on the campaign and more of the day to day life of those in the White House.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a fair share of crises during Season 3, but the series seems more comfortable straying away from that procedural element. It’s definitely for the best. 

There are some problems, but Designated Survivor Season 3 is a definite improvement from Season 2.

There’s so much to cover, so let’s dive in!

The Personal Lives of the White House Staffers

Hello, new people!

The newbies — Mars, Lorraine (technically she doesn’t work for the White House, but I’m throwing her in here for simplicity’s sake), Dontae, and Isabel — fit in well.

You almost instantly like all of them. They round out the team well, and it’s always good to get some fresh blood in the mix.

It’s a lot of fun to get to watch the newbies forge new relationships with our regulars.

Seth and Isabel develop a great friendship towards the end of the series. Hopefully, it doesn’t turn into romance because Seth and Aaron need to stop dating the same women. I mean, seriously.

Mars is a much better Chief of Staff, and it is a relief to hear that just because Emily is back does not mean that Mars is going anywhere. It’s also nice that Seth sings Mars’ praises, even though Seth has nightmares about the guy.

Mars: Why are there so many goddamn television sets in this goddamn place?

It would’ve been brutal to get introduced to the new guy only to have Emily swoop in and take his job. Also, it would have been pointless to make the introduction at all if he wasn’t sticking around.

One of the faults of Designated Survivor Season 3 is that it thinks we care enough about everyone’s personal lives to follow them home.

We don’t.

For the newbies, especially, it is really hard to get invested in what’s going on in their personal lives. We don’t know them well enough to care (harsh but true). Honestly, it feels like we were supposed to get to know them better, faster, by seeing what they do in their off hours.

But it’s too much. The newbies are forced down our throats, and it detracts from their likability because you want to be watching any other storyline but theirs. 

Designated Survivor Season 3
Photo Courtesy of Netflix

It isn’t just the newbies that we follow home, and just because we know Emily, Aaron, and Seth better does not mean that their side storylines were enjoyable.

They weren’t.

All in all, Designated Survivor Season 3 spends too much time on after-hours personal storylines.

It would have been fine to learn about Mars’ wife’s addiction and how he was coping through conversations and moments at work. We don’t need to see him struggle with that at home, nor do we need to watch Seth awkwardly hang out with his sperm child.

Seriously, why is that a storyline?

The focus should be getting to know everyone while they’re on the clock, and Designated Survivor Season 3 does do a really good job of giving us these personal moments while at work.

It’s a fun way to check in with everyone, and it doesn’t detract too much from the main storylines of the hour. Plus, who doesn’t have personal chats at work? It’s realistic.

Seth: I’m going to have nightmares of that man chasing me through the west wing with talking points.

Some scenes are fun, like Seth, Emily, and Mars in the White House gym. There are also some hard chats and heart to hearts.

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Honestly, this is what Designated Survivor has been missing. It’s something that The West Wing excelled at, and Designated Survivor couldn’t quite seem to manage up until now.


We gotta talk romance for a bit.

Isabel is good for Aaron. She pushes him and challenges him. But, man, is she right to break up with him.

You (or at least I) don’t really notice how dismissive Aaron is of her, but once she points it out, it’s hard to unsee it. She deserves someone who cheers her on and recognizes how incredibly talented she is. 

Aaron: I know you think that’s stupid.

Isabel: Stupid is the nicest word I’d use.

The pregnancy is a predictable twist, but it will definitely do the trick and shake things up once everyone finds out next season.

This could pave the way for Designated Survivor to focus on some interesting issues because Isabel doesn’t strike me as a woman who goes back to her ex as soon as she finds out she’s pregnant.

Aaron has to work to win Isabel back, and at this exact moment, I don’t see why Isabel should have to settle for him. A baby won’t change how he treats her.

And now, on to the Emily and Aaron side of this love triangle. I will not apologize for cheering when Emily and Aaron hook up because IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME!

It makes my heart happy. They were a huge part of Designated Survivor Season 1, and then they were forgotten about by the time Designated Survivor Season 2 rolled around. 

Lorraine: And, you know him. You fucked him.

Emily: Um, no, I didn’t, actually.

Lorraine: Really? You let that get by you? Ouch. Gotta be a regret.

The erasure of their relationship in Season 2 was a huge disappointment, and so it is so nice to see them actually interacting and acting like the friends we know they are during Season 3. Sex aside, their relationship returns from the oblivion, and it’s fantastic to see.

Plus, they have so much chemistry it is ridiculous. Sure, their timing is absolutely awful, but I’m still happy that it happened.

What are your thoughts on this love triangle? Who do you ship?

The Campaign

Yes, The West Wing vibes are still going strong, especially during debate prep. Was I the only one who immediately flashed back to Bartlett and team debate prepping in a barn? Good times.

The campaign storylines work really well.

It never feels jarring or disappointing to switch from the White House storylines to the campaign, especially since the storylines are so intermingled (as they should be).

What really helps the campaign storyline is the addition of Emily to the campaign staff. And soon after Emily arrives, Dontae joins the team.

Designated Survivor Season 3
Photo Courtesy of Netflix

It is a lot of fun watching her and Lorraine work together. They are complete opposites, especially when it comes to how far they will go to win the election. Their dynamic is fascinating.

Emily does start to drift off to the dark side of politics, like when she leaks the Alzheimer’s news, and there’s something really refreshing on Lorraine calling her out on it.

Emily may be Kirkman’s moral compass and may try to pass herself off as the gold standard of ethics, but she isn’t perfect, and Lorraine really enjoys pointing that out.

Speaking of Lorraine, she is such a fascinating character.

Lorraine: Shave that pretty face and put on your big girl panties. It is do or die time.

You want to root for her because she’s on our team. She’s working to get Kirkman elected. And yet, she is crossing so many lines.

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We are used to seeing Kirkman and his staff as these great, moral people, and so it is a little shocking to have someone like Lorraine in the mix, and I mean shocking in the best possible way.

She brings a different kind of energy to Kirkman’s team and the show, and she ends up being the bad guy that Emily sets her sights on catching (with Dontae’s help).

What are your thoughts on Lorraine and Emily? Did you enjoy the campaign?

Hannah Wells, CIA

One of the big issues with Designated Survivor Season 3 is that it keeps trying to hold on to remains of the suspenseful show it used to be back in Season 1.

Designated Survivor does this with Hannah Wells.

The problem is the conspiracy doesn’t really involve the president until the last couple episodes, so up until that point, following Hannah around is the most boring thing in the world.

There are far more interesting storylines at play than Hannah’s investigation, and every time we had to switch gears to focus on her, the momentum of the show halts a bit.

Look, I love Maggie Q and watching her in action has made me want to rewatch Nikita (if you haven’t seen it, it’s on Netflix. You’re welcome.), but she can’t carry an entire storyline that does not involve any other major characters.


The reason her storylines worked so well in Designated Survivor Season 1 was that she was investigating something that had direct ties to Kirkman and all of the White House.

That hasn’t been the case since then.

During Season 2, she was a little bit more connected with everyone else, especially Aaron, but her storylines still failed to captivate us.

When she’s fired from the FBI, there is this brief glimmer of hope that she could wind up working for the White House in some capacity, which would have been a great way to keep her involved with everyone else. We could have focused more on the Secret Service, maybe, which would have tied in Dontae’s boyfriend Troy a bit more.

Instead, Hannah joins the CIA, and we are forced to watch her investigate some threat with someone who isn’t Chuck. Dr. Eli Mays is a nice guy and all, but Chuck and Hannah were the dream team. Did anyone else really miss Chuck?

Eventually, Hannah’s investigation starts to affect the White House and the rest of the world, but it’s only after she dies.

Designated Survivor Season 3
Photo Courtesy of Netflix

Her death is shocking in the sense that that is how Hannah Wells goes out — alone, no dramatics, no life-saving heroics. Seriously?

Why bring her back if this is how she is going to be treated? Hannah Wells deserves better.

She should have not appeared at all this season, and we should’ve been left to assume that she is off being amazing somewhere where her talents are appreciated.

The only other thing Hannah does is sort of wrap up Emily’s involvement with Valeria that we learned about on Designated Survivor Season 2 Episode 22, “Run,” and by wrap up, I mean it is half-addressed and then never discussed again.

What are your thoughts on Hannah and her storyline? Did you enjoy them or would it have been better if she wasn’t in this season at all?

Where Do We Go From Here?

The decision to end the season with the results that Kirkman wins the election makes sense. It is a natural ending.

However, it is strange that the Moss issue isn’t wrapped up at all.

It feels really unfinished. No one knows about any of this, aside from Kirkman, Emily, and Lorraine. You know Aaron, Seth, and Mars will have a lot to say on the topic.

It would have been nice to have a bit more closure on the Moss issue before closing out Designated Survivor Season 3.

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But, it does set up on hell of a Season 4.

Lorraine is right when she tells Emily that she tainted this Presidential win. She did.

Designated Survivor Season 3
Photo Courtesy of Netflix

It will be a constant battle for them next season as everyone and the media learns about what Lorraine did. If Kirkman is struggling now with this decision not to share the recording, imagine how he will deal with learning everything that Lorraine did to secure him that win.

The issue isn’t black and white, which is fascinating and exactly how issues in political shows like Designated Survivor should be. Politics, and life, operate much more in the gray than I think anyone is comfortable with, but that’s just how it is.

Speaking of the recording, I don’t know about you, but I think Kirkman was right not to share it.

Emily doesn’t tell him how she got it (understandable), and the recording basically shows that Kirkman was wrong to speak on the Moss leak, which he had no idea where that came from either. 

Designated Survivor focuses more on the fact that Kirkman thought that sharing the recording would hurt his chances of winning instead of him being more concerned with presenting true, un-tainted evidence, but there’s a cause to be made that Kirkman wanted to be more careful with what he releases and publicly speaks on.

Kirkman: They say a presidential campaign is like an x-ray into your soul. This is just something I did, and this is who I am now. The next time I give a speech, there’s going to be some corner of my mind just whispering, “you are so full of shit.”

Kirkman definitely becomes more of a politician this season, and Designated Survivor Season 3 Episode 10, “#truthorconsequences,” shows us that he’s aware of it. 

It will be interesting to see if Kirkman tries to course correct or if he embraces this change as he continues to lead the country.

Stray Thoughts:
  • So, are we basically just pretending Leo doesn’t exist? There’s only ONE mention of him.
  • Sasha is a great addition to the story.
  • It’s annoying that Mars’ personal vendetta against the drug company is rewarded and not an abuse of office discussion.
  • Aaron finally opening up, owning, and sharing his history is such a fantastic moment/storyline.
  • The documentary footage really helps ground the show and is just a great addition to the series.
  • Chuck, please come back.

What did you think of Designated Survivor Season 3? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Critic Rating:

User Rating:

[Total: 15    Average: 2.6/5]

Designated Survivor is now streaming on Netflix.

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Allison Nichols

Allison is in a love affair with television that doesn't seem to be letting up anytime soon. Slightly damaged fictional characters are her weakness. She loves to spend her free time curled up with a cat and a show to binge-watch on Netflix. Currently, she's obsessed with From Dusk Till Dawn, Wynonna Earp, and she'll never be over her Gilmore Girl's obsession. In addition to Tell-Tale TV, Allison also writes for TVFanatic. Follow her on Twitter: @AllisonBlairN


  • Very disappointed in Netflix’ takeover of Season 3 of Designated Survivor. Too much cursing and a gay sex scene took a great series over the top. I’m wary of Netflix’s darker side and may be pulling the plug soon.

    • My husband and I feel the exact same way. We enjoyed the other 2 seasons and this one is in your face with language, the gay/transgender line, the weak role of Hannah who is the best character on the series. We may pull the plug as well. Really disappointed with the writers!

  • Quit watching after episode 3. Just not the same. Secret service is basiycompletely out of the show, Hannah is floundering, no real content except sex, cussing, more sex. Missed the action of the first two seasons, First season was definitely the best. Seems like the writers missed.i loved the thrill without the cussing and the sex.

  • What’s Mars’ crusade against the drug company a “personal vendetta,” or was it more direct personal experience that allowed him to become acutely aware of how immoral and unethical the drug company was operating?

    I tend to see it as the latter.

  • Love Designated Survivor. Was looking forward to Season 3 which has just begun on Netflix. One thing I and others are disappointed with is the unnecessary cussing (swearing) you feel you needed to add to season 3. I believe, as others do, that the strength of your ratings is on the great storyline, not the added (very noticeably added) cussing. Please consider taking this cuss out of future seasons. It is not necessary. Get back to how Season 1 and 2 were and you have a winner.

  • 4/5 stars! This season was great. Much better than season 2. They touch on all the major issues facing our country and the political divide in a smart and engaging fashion. Itaila Ricci gives phenomenal performances throughout the series that should earn her an award nomination this year. Wish there was more action and I will miss Maggy Q. But overall well done. Bring on Season 4 please.

  • Honestly, people getting bent out of shape about cussing and gay sex scenes? Amerika really is a reactionary dirtbag of a country. Which is why slime like Moss make headway with these frightened backwards yahoos.
    I want to see Chuck come back in some capacity, but I miss the “Homeland” aspect of the first two seasons. If it’s going to be all “West Wing,” I’m not sure I can hang on another season. S3 was a huge improvement over S2, though. So great to see Lauren Holly as Mars’ wife, I hope she runs for Senate!
    They also need to start addressing Medicare for All, the abysmal state of health care in this country, the cost of education, and the homelessness/housing crisis. Housing should be free for everybody. I can’t believe how many issues they actually raised that affect the working class, though. That has to be a record of any show in history. Now Kirkman just needs to deliver on it. FREE HOUSING – EDUCATION – HEALTH CARE – FOOD FOR ALL.

  • Quit watching during episode 4. If a person wants to be gay, that’s their business. However, I shouldn’t have to watch a gay sex scene. Sorry, that was the final straw. The language had already gotten filthy this season, and once they introduced the gay character, I was hoping they would let it stop there, but NO, they had to keep pushing the envelope. Well, congratulations! You pushed me right into turning it OFF! Won’t finish the season, and don’t care now.

  • I like all the new core characters: Lorraine fits the stereotype of a bullish no nonsense campaign director, refreshing among the genteel crowd of the old; Mars towards the end proves to be royal, strategic good guy; Isabel a spunky, smart and uncompromising Latino woman; Dontae a too good to be true digital guy; and the very cute and knowledgeable Dr. May.

    As the show rolls on, it begins to feel like a collections of crusades to all the social injustice issues on the Left — poor black neighborhood, racism and voter suppression, prejudices against gay and transgender, women not taken seriously for their work, child bride, and towards the end, the show even throws in a euthanasia case. Even though I am on the side of these issues, I thought it comes across like an activist show and maybe all a bit too much for a general audience. I wonder how the Republicans feel? Unless the third season is made just for the liberals?

    Among what I don’t like: The scene of two hunky black men having sex is jarring, Emily’s mother dying was heart broken but seems distracting to the whole show, the constant quarrel between Isabel and Aaron about their racial identity becomes tiring for those not Latino (me), and the arguments about illegal immigration sounds cliche, shallow and lacks illumination to the totality of the immigration crisis our nation faces.

    But most of all, after all that Hannah Wells has done for the United States, she is fired from FBI then killed in a most unnecessary way. A star on the wall at Langley is greatly underwhelming and insufficient Why are showrunners so reluctant to reward heroes? Like Jack Baer in 24. I got so disgusted with all of Jack’s last minute bad ending I boycotted the show.

    Heroes are often not appreciated in real life, let’s at least do that in a story!

    Likewise, after all that President Kirkman has gone through, he should have been given a clean victorious win. The way it is, he is possibly set up to be impeached in the fourth season, if not badly politically crippled even before his inauguration. What is Emily thinking, spying on Lorraine (what does it matter to Kirkman camp if she has a mole in Moss’s campaign?) and then illegally breaking into Lorraine’s computer? If Lorraine has done anything illegal, won’t it be better Emily or anybody else in Kirkman’s campaign not know? Instead, she took it to the President! I would not watch the next season if they try to impeach Kirkman!

  • Season 1 & 2 were great, looked forward to 3, wasn’t hopeful with Netflix taking it, and I wasn’t disappointed in that aspect. It is possible to have an enthralling, topic-hitting, highly rated show without dialing up unnecessary profanity, overly intimate personal life scenes (cue unexpected gay scene, the 1st actual sex scene in the season), and virtue signaling. I don’t care if someone wants to be gay, as that is a personal choice. It is NOT normal, no matter your argument, and should not be in a show unless it is EXPECTED to be in the show, for the viewer to decide to watch. I would actually prefer to not NEED ANY bed-squeakin, heavy-breathing, sex scenes for a political drama. Intimate is one thing. Caressing, leading an intro, and cut scene works just fine. Also, I get this isn’t real life, but the point of the show seems to be to draw on today’s real life political ecosystem, and to make viewers think. At least it does for me. However, if it’s based on real life, then it needs to get real life facts straight and the Kirkman admin needs to stop transitioning from a great middle of the road agenda, beholden to neither right nor left, sensibly working for the people, into a socialist, virtue signaling, leftist, entitled attempt at government. The former actually can morph into the real world as it is something needed in society, as a thought exercise, to keep our liberties and truly treat other how they should be treated, without being guilt-ed into capitulation. The latter is harmful to society, as it is based not on facts, but how people feel about things, and as humans, we get that wrong, daily. It doesn’t work. All that said, I’m out. Entirely. Another show bites the dust, and Netflix fails yet again.

  • I’m so glad to read these comments. So much swearing my ears were bleeding, then the open gay sex and transgender propaganda, anything else missing from this big salad? Disappointed to say the least.
    This series is very political …

    • What is wrong with highlighting gay relationships and transgender issues? I noticed you said, “gay sex” and not “gay love”. Sasha was a great character and did you not listen to the conversation she had with Kirkman, when he admitted that he understood her transgenderism intellectually, but not viscerally. That was honest. As for the swearing, well there you are. Normal conversation.

  • Oh I forgot assisted suicide.! Series 3 is all about the dark side and brainwashing it seems. It’s quite sad.

  • Too dark literally and figuratively. The video is so dark it’s hard to see detail or figure out which characters are onscreen. The sex scenes and cursing ruined a show I really enjoyed. Boo Netflix. Another substandard offering.

  • I loved it. Up-to-date, punchy, controversial, provocative and the characters really got going. Series 3 has really morphed into something very interesting and the new characters are good. I love that Kirkman has now surrounded himself with strong women – Lorraine, Isabel, Sasha and of course, Emily. Mars is a great addition also, as is Daonta. I love the inclusiveness – gay relationships, transgender issues. These are real in todays society and the series really helped to normalise them. My only criticism was the treatment of Hannah. There she was, out on a limb as usual, with Eli, uncovering a dastardly plot to genetically control non-white voters through synthetically produced viruses only to meet her end, unceremoniously in a brewery. It was so sad. Anyway, I thought the whole series was great and I look forward to the next one, especially after Kirman’s closing remarks, “you are so full of shit”. Brilliant.

  • Are there new writers? stupid 3rd season. Isabel storyline-real tiring. Mars–yawn. Sasha – a very likable character and great addition. question–where is the democratic candidate in all this? The star this season was Emily. Great performance with her mother.

  • I knew it was too good to be true for the hero of “24” to remain a man of character in a political series. The character demonstrated by President Tom Kirkman was my primary attraction to Designated Survivor but one season on Netflix destroyed that pipe dream. The stark contrast between ABC and Netflix was quite shocking. Although I enjoyed some of the new characters the blatant switch to unnecessary swearing, the in-your-face gay scenes and promotion of the transgender agenda, inclusion of assisted suicide and, last but not least, the fundamental transformation of Tom Kirkman into a typical politician guarantees this former fan will not be watching any more seasons.

  • I enjoyed the naivety of the first two seasons. I guess it was nice to see a president who wasn’t so tainted by the office he could almost be heroic. I also enjoyed not seeing so much of other people’s personal plot lines outside of the White House. It wasn’t so soap opera like. Now, it is boring. He plays the big proud man by saying Moss only changed his viewpoints to become elected and yet he did the very thing he accused Moss of doing in order to become elected. He is no longer a person with naive moral dilemmas. He is a fully formed and deceitful politician. They will need the soap opera to keep the show going, so I guess there will be more of that in season four. I don’t predict a season five, but who knows. This is the type of television that Americans appear to love.

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