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"A designated survivor is an individual in the presidential line of succession, usually a member of the United States Cabinet, who is arranged to be at a physically distant, secure, and undisclosed location when the President and the country's other top leaders are gathered at a single location."
— Definition according to Wikipedia
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Designated Survivor is a 2016 terrorism/conspiracy drama airing on ABC.

Kiefer Sutherland plays Tom Kirkman, the United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. On the night of a State of the Union he is informed, in short order, that the president has removed all mention of Tom's programs from his speech, he's on the verge of substantial demotion, and that he's been tapped to be the White House's Designated Survivor — kept away from the event itself in order to preserve the line of succession in the event of an attack killing everyone else, but also meant to simply keep him out of the way. Thinking little of it, he and his wife Alex (Natascha McElhone) watch coverage of the session on television... thus witnessing the House of Representatives getting blown up in an act of terrorism.

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Forced to deal with such immense responsibility in the face of national panic, it's up to Tom — now President of the United States Thomas Kirkman — to help hold the nation together. Meanwhile, FBI Agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) takes the lead on the investigation of the attack, discovering a conspiracy that goes much deeper than it seems.

It also stars Kal Penn and Malik Yoba in supporting roles.

Due to good ratings/reviews, the show was renewed for season 2 with the first episode airing on September 27, 2017. The latter half of Season 2 began airing on February 28, 2018. The show was canceled after two seasons on May 11th, 2018, with its series finale to air on May 16th.

On May 17, 2018, eOne announced that they were in discussions with other networks to have it air on another TV channel or over a streaming service. Netflix picked up the show, with the show becoming a true "Netflix Original" in June 2019 (series one and two were also on Netflix, but were only considered Netflix Originals outside of North America). The entirety of the show's third and final season was released onto Netflix worldwide on June 7th, 2019. While the show was complete, it was mentioned before that the cast and crew are open to do the show again in the future, but they're entirely busy with new TV/Film projects.

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A South Korean version of the show titled Designated Survivor: 60 Days is set to air in that country (and in some other countries on Netflix) starting July 2019.


The show provides examples of the following tropes:

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    #-F 
  • 20 Minutes into the Future:
    • The first season began airing in September 2016, while the Capitol bombing occurred somewhere around the start of President Richmond's second term, most likely in January 2017.
    • The second season began airing in September 2017, while in-universe, after a Time Skip, the mention of being "about a year" since the Capitol bombing, combined with Halloween coming up and then Christmas, sets the start of the second season in late 2017.
    • As of season 2, episode 21 ("Target"), which aired in May 2018, it is 16 months to Election Day, placing the episode somewhere around late June or early July 2019 in-universe.
    • The thing is, early in season 1 Kirkman comments that there could be three years left of his presidency, and Hookstraten replies that it's more like two and a half considering the primaries, so doesn't that place us in early 2018? It's the only way there's between 2 1/2 and 3 years left to the 2020 election. And in season 3 Kirkman says he's been president for two years, which would be a fair way to round it, and it would also allow him to run for president in 2024, even if the extra few months would rule it out in real life.
  • Aborted Arc: The subplot involving Leo Kirkman being involved with dealing drugs does not get much mention after episode 2, being replaced by the new subplot that Kirkman may not be his biological father.
  • Absence of Evidence: That Congressman MacLeish has nothing of note on his record during the vetting process just makes Atwood and Wells more suspicious of him, given that his survival during the attack on the Capitol Building was intended.
  • Ad Hominem: After Emily reports their campaign manager for spying on Moss, she claims Emily is no better because she slept with someone else's man, leaked info about Moss's possible medical future, and "couldn't even kill her mother" without trying to revive her.
  • Adult Fear: Atwood and his wife are panicked when their son goes missing. He's worried that it might have something to do with his investigation into MacLeish's true loyalties. It turns out his son was kidnapped by the conspirators who perpetrated the Capitol attack and they'll kill him if Atwood doesn't follow their orders to the letter. They also threaten his wife for good measure. Atwood follows the conspirators' demands, and they still kill his son in "The End of the Beginning".
  • Affectionate Nickname: Kirkman refers to Penny, his daughter, as "Little Pea".
  • African Terrorists: The primary suspect in the bombing is Al-Sakar, a fictional offshoot of Al-Qaeda based in North Africa. Specifically in Algeria, making them ethnically Arab-Berber most likely (and confirmed by what we see).
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Seth doesn't want the press putting out a piece about Leo possibly not being the President's biological son and pleads with Lisa to hold off. Fortunately, a better story comes around to replace it.
    Seth: Look, I know it doesn't look like I'm begging, but this is me begging.
  • Alphabet News Network: Several fictional news networks appear in the series:
    • CNBS (Capitol News Broadcasting Service)
    • AAB (All America Broadcasting)
    • ANM (American News Media)
    • WQTA
    • Forster-Simons News Network
  • Alternate History:
    • The show's backstory implies that after the presidency of George W. Bush concluded, Cornelius Moss was elected President in 2008 for one term (2009 to 2013) before leaving politics, and then Robert Richmond was elected in 2012, re-elected in 2016, and killed in the Capitol bombing around the start of his second term in the winter of 2017.
    • A picture of Barack Obama appears next to Richmond's in one scene. Perhaps in this reality, he ran but lost, or didn't run, just remained a Senator, or became Governor of Illinois. In any case, in this reality America has not yet had an Afro-American president.
    • Moss claims to have been the 44th president, which lines up with the above if Bush was still 43rd in-universe. Since Richmond followed Moss, Tom Kirkman is thus the 46th President of the United States.
  • Analogy Backfire: When Cochrane orders the deployment of Air Force fighters to Algeria without presidential approval, he defends his actions to Kirkman by stating "when a snake is in your kitchen, you don't invite it to dinner, you cut off its head". Kirkman immediately responds that the PEOC is his kitchen, and Cochrane the snake, and fires him on the spot.
  • Antagonistic Governor:
    • James Royce, the Governor of Michigan. He actively undermines and refuses to acknowledge Kirkman's legitimacy, and proceeds to commit civil rights violations against Muslims after the Capitol Bombing with the help of the state police. He even gets the state National Guard to take his side, preventing Kirkman from restoring order by federalizing them. It takes the drastic action of having him arrested for treason in order to put the state back in check.
    • Chris Nichols, the Governor of Arizona. At the governors' summit in episode 6, she encourages the majority of the governors to refuse to nominate senators (effectively preventing Congress from being restored) unless Kirkman agrees to temporarily halt all immigration into the country.
    • Rivera, the Governor of Florida. Despite agreeing that 300 refugees from Syria could be resettled in his state, he does a 180 after the Capitol Bombing and shooting at the White House and refuses to let them off the plane when they arrive. Even after going head to head with the First Lady, he remains adamant on his position, only allowing two of the 300 to leave (a pregnant woman in labor and her husband).
    • Averted with Governor Mennuti and Governor Balen of Missouri. The former, a close friend of Kirkman, takes his side during the hostile summit and the latter agrees to take in the 300 refugees that Governor Rivera refused to let into Florida.
  • Arc Words: "No victory without sacrifice."
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    Kirkman: How safe is Danny Fayed feeling tonight?
  • Artistic License:
    • When acting as the designated survivor, Tom is placed in an FBI building with a clear view of the Capitol. In real life, the designated survivor is often taken to a location far away from where the rest of the cabinet and President are stationed (i.e. not the same city), so in the case of a large-scale attack (such as nuclear), continuity of government can remain.
    • It is very unlikely that after a bombing of the US Capitol Building that the designated survivor would be taken to the White House, as it is located within close proximity and could serve as a second target. A more likely response would be to take them either to a bunker deep underground or aboard Air Force One.
    • In episode 6, it is implied that Governor Rivera of Florida made the agreement to take in 300 Syrian refugees after the Capitol Bombing took place, not before. It is only after the much smaller shooting at the White House that he refuses to let them off the plane when they arrive. Given the large amount of hysteria and suspicion that would be rampant in the aftermath of the Capitol Bombing, it is very unlikely that any state governor would risk their political career by agreeing to take in refugees from the Middle East.
    • There is an unofficial but well-known rule in media circles: the President's children (ones that are not adults and living in the White House at least) are off-limits. Politicians and journalists from both sides of the political spectrum know that crossing that line would get universal condemnation. No respectable journalist, such as those in the White House Press Corps (a fairly prestigious assignment), would try to ask questions or run a story saying the President's son might not be his biological son, with only the word of a convict currently in prison as evidence.
  • Artistic License – Chemistry: Deputy Director Atwood tells President Kirkman that the explosive residue found at the Capitol is "RDX mixed with a plasticizer," and that RDX is a fingerprint of Al-Sakar. RDX is a military explosive compound that has been commonly used since World War II in various mixtures. Straight RDX mixed with a plasticizer is commonly known as C4, which narrows down the list of suspects to anyone.
    • A similiar plot development occurred on The West Wing, in which the use of C4 was proof that a specific terrorist was behind an attack.
  • Artistic License – Ships: Season 2 Episode 6 "Two Ships" has a crisis focused on the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Verona after it collided with a garbage barge in the territorial waters of Kunami. While the writers Show Their Work by having Kirkman rattle off that the Arleigh Burke-class have double-spaced steel armor and Kevlar spall liners, there are still a couple of inaccuracies:
    • The US Navy's convention for naming destroyers is to use the names of individuals associated with the sea services (e.g., Navy, Coast Guard, or Marines). Verona isn't a surname but rather the name of over a dozen communities found throughout the US (all named after Verona, Italy), meaning it would be found on a cruiser, not a destroyer. This may be intentional in a ship version of No Celebrities Were Harmed as there cannot be a destroyer named the USS Verona.
      • "Verona" can be a habitational surname — a family name taken from a community. USS Verona may be named for an Italian-American sailor or marine.
    • When the Verona starts sinking faster, Lieutenant Griffin explains that he ordered the bulkheads and torpedo tubes opened to make sure that the surrounding Kunami ships couldn't take it back to port as a prize. Opening the bulkheads to the already flooded compartements would increase the rate of sinking, but the Mark 32 Surface Vessel Torpedo Tubes are placed on top of the main deck and do not provide an opening into the hull of the ship. By the time water reached the tubes, it would already be too late to save the ship.
  • Assassination Attempt:
    • You know, on the entire United States government. The only survivors are the people who weren't there, and Congressman MacLeish, whose survival was planned.
    • Kirkman gets shot by Catalan on the day of Vice-President MacLeish's swearing-in. But thanks to Wells' interference, the shot ends up being nonfatal.
  • Bad Liar: Agent Wells.
    Wells: Well, the man is a hero and a patriot. I would love to see MacLeish get a medal.
    Atwood: Oh, yeah? That's exactly why I never gave you an undercover assignment... because you are a horrible liar.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • When Seth attends the memorial for the attack, he's spotted by a police officer. Seth resignedly steels himself for another hostile profiling episode... and the officer asks if he lost anyone. (It appears to be the same officer who harassed him that morning.)
      Seth: Yeah. I lost everyone.
    • A truly great example occurs in Season 2, as Hannah seems convinced that Andrea Frost is The Mole behind the various hackings, even arguing with and defaming her in a cafe. Kirkman tells her she's going too far, and fires her in the Oval Office. Hannah reaches out to Kirkman's old friend, tech genius Dax Minter, telling him to have lunch with Frost so that Hannah can check out Frost's residence. We see Dax and Frost having lunch as Hannah breaks into a house and Chuck tells her to hurry up, with Hannah swiftly finding slews of computers and evidence of the hacks inside. At the episode's end, it turns out she was inside Dax's house the whole time. The entire "firing" of Hannah was a ruse as Kirkman had discovered a bug inside a gift Dax had given him, while Dax was trying to force Kirkman out of office so that his successor could loosen government restrictions on Dax's corporate work. Frost also helped by acting with Hannah, since Kirkman knew if Dax figured Hannah suspected Frost, he would go for a Frame-Up to deflect suspicion from himself. Instead, he's confronted by Kirkman and Hannah and arrested in the Oval Office.
  • Batman Gambit:
    • Kirkman manages to lure Governor Royce to his own arrest via an appeal to Royce's desire to be on the right side of history.
    • Kirkman, Wells, Russink and Frost all contribute to luring Dax Minter into incriminating himself in the hacks in Season 2; Hannah, Tom and Andrea create a false pretense for Hannah to be "fired" from the White House in the bugged Oval Office so that she can "go rogue", and Dax overextends himself trying to pull a Frame-Up on Andrea and gets arrested instead after Hannah covertly searches his house to obtain hard evidence.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: As the other survivor of the attack on the Capitol Buildling, Congressman MacLeish had to be sent to the hospital to be treated, but when he was found, his hair was neatly in place, and he only had minor injuries considering the blast leveled the chamber and killed everybody else inside. It turns out he was hiding out in what was essentially a bomb shelter when the bomb went off, the reason he survived at all.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Peter MacLeish. He initially appears as a humble young congressman and a symbol of hope after he miraculously survives the Capitol Bombing. However, it later transpires that he intended to survive all along, hiding in a secretly built bunker minutes before the explosion, and is likely to be working with those responsible for the bombing.
  • Blackmail: Alex's ex in prison threatens to tell the world that he's Leo's biological father if the President doesn't secure his release. Kirkman's bluff to the governor of Michigan about three of the Muslims arrested in Dearborn being undercover Homeland Security agents counts as well.
  • Blunt "Yes": A serious example in The Results. When a reporter asks Seth if it's true that Nassar died in prison, Seth confirms it, much to the shock of everyone present. It turns out Kirkman had expected the news to come out sooner or later, and had told Seth to be honest when inevitably confronted about it.
  • Brick Joke: Mike joked that if Kirkman didn't want a convoy when he leaves the White House, the other way is to wear a baseball cap and a jacket. He took Mike's advice at the end of "First Day" and "The Mission".
  • Bullying a Dragon: The Iranian government has the bright idea to send ships into disputed waters even though it will be seen as a clear provocation by the US government. President Kirkman tells the Iranian ambassador that if they do not withdraw within a few hours, the US military will bomb Tehran.
  • Cannot Keep a Secret: Kirkman's entire administration. Kirkman was about to be Reassigned to Antarctica on the day of the bombing? Leaked. Majid Nassar and Al-Sakar might be behind the bombing? Leaked. Leo might not be Kirkman's biological son? Leaked. Majid Nassar was killed in custody? Leaked. Acting President MacLeish issued a shoot-to-kill order on Catalan? Leaked. This ends up being justified: it is strongly implied that most of the leaks come from The Mole.
  • Cavalry Betrayal: Courtesy of the Michigan National Guard, whom Emily thinks is going to escort her past Governor Royce and the state police.
  • Clothing Switch: Before he meets with the Iranian Ambassador to the UN and addresses the nation, Kirkman swaps his hoodie and jeans for a White House staffer's suit.
  • The Chains of Commanding: It's not easy being President, especially when Kirkman has to deal with many people who reject his authority and the aftermath of the bombing that killed nearly every high-ranking government official in D.C.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In the fourth episode, Kirkman federalizes the Michigan National Guard. This was referenced in conversation with Tom and Alex in the second episode where Alex mentions that John F. Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard to get their governor to integrate schools.
  • Cliffhanger:
    • "The Oath" ends with an attempted assassination of Kirkman. As it turns out, Kirkman does end up wounded by the bullet.
    • "Brace for Impact" ends with Lloyd having escaped and stolen a great deal of classified information on the US military.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Made possible in season 3 onward thanks to Netflix's more relaxed standards regarding its content. The standout is Seth's reaction to a conservative TV commentator's transphobic, racist rant:
    Seth Wright: Son of a bitch motherfucker piece of shit cunt!
  • The Coup:
    • Before the pilot is even over, General Cochrane is plotting to seize control from Kirkman in light of the emergency situation, and is trying to recruit Aaron to help him. Kirkman fires him before he can put it into action, however.
    • Governor Royce explicitly attempts to secede in "The Enemy", recruiting the local police and even part of the Michigan National Guard to his side.
  • Code Name:
    • The codename given to President Richmond by the Secret Service is "Eagle", which is mentioned when Ritter receives confirmation that Richmond died in the Capitol bombing.
      Mike Ritter: Eagle is down.
    • As HUD secretary, Kirkman's codename was "Glasses". As President, it changes to "Phoenix."
  • Continuity Snarl: The goals of the conspiracy. In the first half of the season, Beth MacLeish mentions that she and her husband are going to make the United States an empire again, but later, when their ostensible boss Patrick Lloyd is introduced, his ideology is revealed as a radical populist and isolationist stance that eschews foreign wars fought for the rich and powerful, which hardly goes with being an empire. Finally, in the finale, the show resolves to just take potshots at Donald Trump and his policy of 'making America great again'. The fact that the show went through three different showrunners over the course of the first season neatly explains this snarl.
  • Cover Drop: The image of Kirkman walking away from the camera in the opening logo is taken from the end of episode 5.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Played with. Kirkman seems out of his depth from the start, struggling to assert himself and vomiting due to the pressure. However, during his meeting with the Iranian Ambassador, he shows he is able to be a President Iron when he focuses, even if he has to support himself against the Resolute Desk due to nerves afterwards.
  • Decapitation Strike: The US president and most of his staff are killed by a terrorist bombing, promoting the eponymous protagonist to the presidency.
  • Daddy DNA Test: Defied. Tom refused this when Alex was pregnant with Leo because it doesn't matter to him if Leo shares DNA with him. He does eventually get one, if only to give Leo some peace of mind and get the press off his back. It turns out he is in fact Leo's biological father.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Seth Wright, on multiple occasions.
    • First, when he is harassed whilst on the way to work by two MPDC officers due to his brown skin and has to give them his ID.
      MPDC Officer: Seth Wright? That your real name?
      Seth Wright: According to my mother, yeah.
    • Then he responds to Kirkman's dislike of his standing up whenever he enters the room:
      President Tom Kirkman: Sit down. You don't have to stand up whenever I enter the room, I'm not the Queen.
      Seth Wright: No sir, not even a close resemblance.
    • And even as Press Secretary of the White House he keeps at it:
      Journalist: You can't keep pivoting to talking points.
      Seth Wright: Watch me. Jordan?
  • Didn't See That Coming: Defied by Seth, who points out that a situation such as this is exactly why the 25th Amendment is in place.
    • In the season 3 premiere, Kirkman is blindsided when Vice-President Darby resigns to run for President herself under the Democratic Party banner.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: Catalan is set up as the apparent Big Bad, being The Heavy of The Conspiracy. However, it eventually becomes clear that he's just an Elite Mook, and after he fails to kill Kirkman, Acting President MacLeish orders the FBI agents chasing him to shoot to kill, to keep him from talking.
  • Divided States of America: Very narrowly averted so far. In the second episode, Governor Royce of Michigan decides that with the majority of the federal government wiped out, he doesn't have to listen to Kirkman, effectively seceding. Fortunately, Kirkman is able to bluff him back into line, but this does not last; a couple of episodes later, Royce is right back to rounding up Muslim citizens and all but imposing martial law. Kirkman is forced to have Governor Royce arrested for treason to end the crisis and discourage anyone else from trying the same thing again.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The scenes where Kirkman visits the ruins of the Capitol to meet with the first responders is strikingly similar to George Bush visiting the ruins of the Twin Towers after 9/11.
    • The Naruban mission is a reminder of failed interventions by foreign countries and the UN/NATO such as Bosnia, Cambodia, and Rwanda.
    • The incident of a US Navy destroyer colliding with a civilian ship "Two Ships" is one for an incident for actual incidents where various military ships have made controversy for colliding with civilian ships.
    • The Verona being in custody of Kunami is a reminder of the Pueblo being captured by the North Korean Navy in the Cold War.
    • The mistreatment of the Ocheole First Nations is a reminder on how colonialists have negatively affected native populations in the Americas and Africa in the long run. Both Canada and the US have apologized for the actions of their ancestors.
    • The Han Chiu arc and Chairman Kyung Kim's aggression towards its democratic neighbor has stark reminders of Kim Jong-Un rant towards the rest of the world.
  • Double Agent:
    • Agent Sarafian was an American informant in Al-Sakar and risked his life to secure Majid Nassar's location.
    • The American government thought Brad Weston was spying on the Russians for them, but it was actually the other around. Weston, at the direction of the Russian ambassador, pretended to get arrested to trick Kirkman into starting a three-way spy exchange with Saudi Arabia.
    • Damian Rennett, MI-6 agent, is one of these for the Russians until he is found out by Hannah Wells.
  • Driving Question: In-universe, the FBI and Kirkman are trying to determine who was the mastermind for attacking Washington D.C.
  • Dropping the Bombshell: In Season 1 Episode 9, "Blueprint", President Kirkman discovers that someone in the US government used threat assessment simulations of the Capitol's destruction to plan the attack.
  • Emergency Presidential Address: The pilot episode ends with President Kirkman beginning his first address to the nation. We hear snippets of it in the second episode, but the country as a whole isn't impressed.
  • Enhanced Interrogation Techniques:
    • An enraged government official suggests that such techniques should be used on those responsible for the Capitol Bombing, going as far as suggesting to use their families and children as leverage. Both Emily and Aaron are appalled by the suggestion.
    • In "The Interrogation", Atwood argues against torturing Nassar for information, reasoning that it doesn't work because he'll just say what they want him to say.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Kirkman literally watches as the entire US government, including the president, vice-president, cabinet, Supreme Court justices, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the majority of Congress, is vaporized in a violent, fiery explosion, leaving him the only survivor.
  • Exact Words:
    • Lisa uses this with Seth, saying that he only asked her not to push the issue of Leo's paternity.
    • Kirkman uses this when he faces a Sadistic Choice between attacking a terrorist convoy that contains American hostages or let the convoy reach their destination where they would potentially murder hundreds of thousands of people. He strikes a deal, promising to not attack the convoy if the hostages are released. Once the prisoners are secured, he orders drone strikes on several bridges and other choke points, adding almost a week to the terrorists' journey.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!:
    • Hannah and Chuck are at his apartment checking over information. Hannah notices an odd smell.
      Chuck: Yeah, there was a gas leak in the building earlier. A guy from DC United checked it out, said it was fine.
      Hannah: Chuck, DC United doesn't check out gas leaks. The fire department does. Out, now!
      [cue explosion]
    • In season two, tapes of Kirkman's private therapy tapes are released, making people worry about his decision making abilities. Lyor is talking to various Cabinet members but no one returns his calls and grouses about them ducking him. His secretary tells him how she's heard the Cabinet is busy with the Vice-President. Lyor openly wonders why the Cabinet would be meeting the VP in total secrecy...then it hits him. He races to the Oval to warn the President, who calls in the VP who confirms the Cabinet is planning to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Kirkman unless he can prove his competence.
  • False Flag Operation:
    • One of Wells' theories in Season 1. She believes the reason the second explosive didn't go off was because whoever actually bombed the Capitol wanted it to be found, so all the government resources would focus on tracking down Al-Sakar instead of the real culprits.
    • In the season 2 pilot, Kirkman realizes that an airplane hijacking is actually a put-up job by the Russians to try and manufacture a casus belli for a Ukraine invasion.
    • In the season 2 episode "Fallout", Kunami hires a terrorist to set off a dirty bomb in D.C. and frame East Han Chiu for it, in order to start a war they can profit from by selling black market weapons to East Han Chiu. Then the following episode "Overkill" ups the ante by revealing that the attack, and the trail leading back to Kunami, was actually engineered by the country's ambassador to the US and a rebel leader in order to give America a reason to go to war and overthrow the emir.
  • A Father to His Men:
    • When President Kirkman finds out that Seth was harassed and racially profiled by the police on his way to work, he offers to have the Secret Service drive him home. He also refuses to carry out an airstrike on Al-Sakar until a missing operative assigned to infiltrate them is located.
    • Commander Max Clarkson, leader of the S.E.A.L. Team, speaks very highly of, has utmost confidence in, and is intimately familiar with the lives of the people under his command. When one of his men is injured, he takes his place on the mission.
  • Fictional Counterpart:
    • The fictitious Capitol News Broadcasting Service (CNBS) seems to be an amalgamation of CSPAN and CBS.
    • The Washington Recorder appears to replace the real life Washington Post; however, in "The Confession", Seth states that "the Post" has published a story on how Richmond wanted to fire Kirkman.
  • Fictional Country:
    • The African country of Naruba was featured in "Commander-in-Chief". It's a neighbor of Ethiopia and is extremely poor.
    • There is also a very hostile emirate called Kunami which has been seen to support terror against America similar to Iran, who serve as the Villain of the Week in "Two Ships". They reappear later in "Fallout", being responsible for a dirty bomb attack in D.C..
    • And there's also an equivalent to the Korean Peninsula called Hun Chiu, divided between an impoverished military dictatorship in the east and a prosperous, modern American ally in the west, located in Southeast Asia. They feature in "Summit" and "Fallout".
  • Field Promotion:
    • With most of the high-ranking government officials perishing in the Capitol Bombing, their underlings/deputies who survived are promoted to Acting CIA Director, Acting Secretary of Defense, and Acting Secretary of State respectively and meet with Kirkman in the PEOC.
    • Mike Ritter goes from leading the small Secret Service detail of a low-ranking cabinet member to being in charge of the Presidential Protection Detail once Kirkman is sworn in.
    • Averted with Deputy Director Jason Atwood. Although the FBI Director is confirmed to have died in the Capitol Bombing, it does not appear as of "The Interrogation" that he has been appointed as the successor, with everyone still referring to him with the "Deputy" prefix.
  • First-Name Basis: When Alex is talking to Seth Wright, she asks him to call her by her first name. He flat-out refuses, reminding her that she is now the First Lady of the United States, and he can't possibly do so.
  • For the Evulz: The Conspiracy kills the son of Director Atwood. This seems to happen purely to show how evil they are, which by then has been well established. It serves no purpose and is, in fact, counterproductive to their goals, because they no longer have leverage on Atwood — unless they felt he had served his purpose in their plans by that point.
  • Frame-Up:
    • The conspiracy tries to pull this on Hannah in the season 1 finale, having her waking up in a van filled with explosives at FBI headquarters. She manages to get the van into a river with agents arresting her as evidence was found at her home to make it look like she was planning this. What they don't know is rather than being a rogue agent, Hannah is working for Kirkman and all it takes is her immediate boss and one White House call for her to be let go.
    • Dax Minter tries to pull this on Andrea Frost when he thinks that she has fallen under suspicion of the cyberattacks throughout Season 2; he's wrong in that Kirkman and Wells have deduced that Dax is the true culprit, and while he tries to incriminate Frost, Wells searches his house for evidence and Minter is arrested shortly thereafter.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • When Tom first enters the White House, he passes several framed photos of the former President meeting with various world leaders, including Vladimir Putin.
    • At the end of the second episode, a brief glance at a news page on a computer provides the first showing of former President Richmond's first name: it's Robert.

    G-L 
  • General Ripper: General Harris Cochrane. With the Joint Chiefs either dead or missing, he jumps on the chance to try and declare war on Iran (even though there's no proof they're responsible for the attack), despite the Acting CIA Director and Acting Secretary of Defense reminding him he doesn't have the authority to order such maneuvers. When Kirkman overrides him, he almost immediately starts plotting a coup. Cochrane finally oversteps his authority in "The Enemy" by ordering jets into Algerian airspace, and Kirkman fires him on the spot.
  • Get Out!: Once Wells offers to help Atwood make the conspirators pay for killing his son, he sits up and utters those words, forcing her to leave.
  • Gilligan Cut: In the pilot, Tom gets out of bed and joyously announces he is going to cook breakfast pancakes for the entire family. Cue a cut to a small pile of burned pancakes and Tom making scrambled eggs instead.
  • The Glasses Gotta Go: Zig-zagged. Kirkman sports thick framed glasses for the majority of the pilot. However, moments before he is due to give his Emergency Presidential Address, Wright tells him he should take them off, as they "don't look presidential". By "The Interrogation", he's replaced them with contact lenses, but following episodes show that he sometimes dons glasses and sometimes doesn't. In public appearances and speeches, he forgoes the glasses. His actual code name was Glasses before becoming president, suggesting that the Secret Service might have seen him as kind of a nerd.
  • Government Conspiracy: The Capitol bombing. While it initially appears that the Algerian-based terrorist group Al-Sakar were behind the attack, more and more evidence is confirming that it was in fact an inside job.
  • Gunboat Diplomacy: President Kirkman uses this to the Iranian Ambassador to the UN in order to get Iranian Navy ships to leave the Strait of Hormuz.
    President Tom Kirkman: Mr. Ambassador, dock your destroyers, or the story on the morning news will not be about the attack on our capital, but the devastating attack on yours.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: Averted. Although Atwood asks Wells this when she shows him the evidence of the conspiracy, he is not a part of said conspiracy and justifiably worried that the wrong people will find out about Wells's investigation.
  • Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee:
    • In "The Blueprint", then-Congressman MacLeish goes before a House committee for hearings on his nomination for the vice-presidency.
    • In "Capacity", Kirkman is brought before a hearing composed of his own Cabinet to prove his fitness to remain President.
  • He Knows Too Much/You Have Outlived Your Usefulness:
    • Majid Nassar was poisoned by the time Director Atwood and Agent Wells go back to his cell to interrogate him, and they later find out that Catalan was responsible.
    • Similarly, Vice-President MacLeish orders the FBI agents hunting Catalan to shoot to kill, mainly to prevent Catalan from being captured alive and in a position to spill information about The Conspiracy.
  • Heroic BSoD: Director Atwood is forced by the conspirators to confess to a murder he didn't commit in order to get his kidnapped son returned, but they kill his son anyway. Some time after the funeral, Wells finds Atwood huddled alone on the couch in his house, inconsolable about all of the events that transpired and his throwing 20-some years of training out the window for nothing.
  • Hollywood Beauty Standards: Lisa, a reporter for The Chronicle in Season 1. Seth is immediately enthralled when he first sees her at a White House dinner.
  • Hollywood Law:
    • Kirkman has Governor Royce arrested for treason when he blocks his adviser from getting off a plane in Michigan, plus possibly having the National Guard refuse Kirkman's orders. These are crimes, but hardly treason. Under American law, this is defined solely as levying war against the USA or giving aid to its enemies. Kirkman must know treason is a rare charge to make that will not stand up in court. He could already have him arrested for violating the civil rights of Muslims by having them detained without charge (though the Governor, Smug Snake that he was, pretty much made it clear that as long as Kirkman was acting President he would disobey any order to a point short of actual secession, so there is that).
    • In Real Life, only the Vice-President can actually become President through succession; anyone stepping up from further down the line would be the Acting President until the end of the term they succeeded to. That said, In-Universe there is nobody else constitutionally eligible to occupy the office for the remainder of the term so long as Kirkman remains eligible, so the distinction in this case is semantic only.
    • When the Vice-President and Cabinet threaten to invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment in episode "Kirkman Agonistes," the outcome is presented as an immediate and permanent removal from office. However, the amendment expressly gives the President the right to challenge the removal and retain the office. If the VP and Cabinet invoke the Amendment again in response, then the VP is made Acting President in the interim and the case is adjudicated in Congress right away to resolve the dispute. Even if the President is found by Congress to be incapacitated, at no point does the President cease to be the President; only the "powers and duties" of the office would devolve onto the VP as Acting President, not the office itself. Also, the President can theoretically issue an unlimited number of challenges to regain the powers and duties of the office for the remainder of the term, as the Amendment does not specifically limit how many times the President can do so.
  • Honor Before Reason: Quite often, Kirkman will refuse to sink to moves that could help him because he considers them too underhanded for both himself and the office.
    • In season 2, members of the Cabinet are trying to pull off a move to remove Kirkman from office. It requires a hearing before the Cabinet and Lyor pushes Kirkman to fire at least two of them and replace them with supporters, but Kirkman refuses as he knows how bad it looks.
      Lyor: Sir, your enemies aren't showing scruples. Why should you?
      Kirkman: Because I'm the President. And I respect the office.
  • Hypocrite:
    • Governor Royce of Michigan. He claims that his actions (getting the state police to round up and arrest innocent Muslim residents in Dearborn) are to "protect" the citizens of the state. However, the vast majority of the Muslims, including Danny Fayed who dies from injuries inflicted by the police, are themselves US citizens and have lived in Michigan their whole lives, while there's no evidence any of them did anything wrong. So who will protect them from him?
    • Governor Rivera of Florida, himself the child of immigrants, goes along with Arizona's governor in caving to xenophobic and nativist sentiments about branding all prospective Middle Eastern refugees as possible terrorists.
    • Former President and former Secretary of State Cornelius Moss justifies all his leaks of classified and confidential information from the White House under the guise of patriotism and love for America. Love of ruling it himself, in reality.
  • I Have Your Wife: Director Atwood's son was abducted, and the kidnappers threatened to kill him if Atwood didn't obey them. He followed their every instruction, and they killed his son anyway.
  • Immigrant Parents: Governor Rivera of Florida mentions to the Kirkmans that he is the son of immigrants. It doesn't stop him from refusing to allow 300 refugees he previously greenlit for asylum off a plane and into the state. He also sides with the majority of the governors in forcing Kirkman to temporarily halt all immigration into the United States.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Emily notices Seth drinking a lot on the night prior to MacLeish's appointment to the Vice-Presidency, and he replies that "60 news-hungry journalists clamoring for information about Nassar's murder" is the reason.
  • In Medias Res: The first episode starts with Tom watching the State of the Union address when the attack happens. The episode then goes back fifteen hours, showing his day leading to that point, and then continues on.
  • Internal Reveal: In "The End of the Beginning", Agent Wells finally makes it to Kirkman and informs him of the conspiracy and MacLeish's betrayal.
  • Irony:
    • Kirkman is selected as the designated survivor for the State Of the Union address in part because he is basically expendable politically. And he's the only one that doesn't die as a result.
    • In the Season One Finale, former President and current Secretary of State Cornelius Moss lampshades this, remarking how he once thought the role of designated survivor was once a joke position. Now, Kirkman naming him his designated survivor during the first mass gathering of the nation's government can't be considered anything other than a great honor and show of faith.
  • It Has Only Just Begun: Wells warns that since no one has yet taken credit for the attack, more attacks should be expected.
  • It's All My Fault: Kirkman feels intense guilt when Commander Clarkson is killed during S.E.A.L. Team 6's mission in Algeria, saying he should have waited until a better time so Clarkson's death could've been avoided. Kirkman has to be reminded by Alex and another member of the team not to blame himself and that it's possible there wasn't another opportunity to apprehend Nassar.
  • It's Personal: Kirkman's reaction to learning that MacLeish is a traitor, since he named him Vice President thinking he was a great guy. Kirkman later admits that despite his pacifist nature, he wanted to strangle MacLeish for killing so many people and then pretending to be a patriot.
  • The Judge: With all the Supreme Court justices, including the Chief Justice, presumably perishing in the Capitol bombing, a DC appellate judge administers the presidential oath of office to Tom.
  • Jurisdiction Friction:
    • Between the state government of Michigan and the federal government in "The First Day". After the bombing of the capitol, the Governor of Michigan decides that since the federal government is basically wiped out, he is the highest level of authority in the state. He then refuses to communicate with President Kirkman and orders the state police to commit civil rights violations against the Muslim residents of Dearborn. He only backs down when Kirkman lies and tells him that three of the Muslim men arrested were undercover DHS agents, and if he refuses to release them he will be arrested for obstructing a federal investigation.
    • Assumed to happen between the Michigan State Police and Michigan National Guard after Kirkman federalizes them. However, after the soldiers arrive, their leader announces to Kirkman they are refusing to federalize, viewing Governor Royce as their rightful commander in chief.
  • Karma Houdini: In the wake of prejudice due to the bombing of the Capitol Building, Governor Royce orders Michigan police to round up Muslims in Dearborn. Those who protest are beaten, including a handcuffed teenager who later dies from internal bleeding. Royce is eventually imprisoned for ignoring the President's orders, but that does little to make up for the boy's death and the wrongful arrest of many innocent people. The police who were involved haven't faced any accountability for their actions.
  • Lack of Empathy:
    • Despite the fact that the President, Vice President, Cabinet, and the entire United States Congress are killed in an explosion at the heart of the country, most of the characters and news reporters are considerably less emotional throughout the pilot than one would expect. However, this can be attributed in part to pure shock and awe that this could actually happen in the first place.
    • Averted in the second episode, where various government workers are shown to be in tears, not knowing who they report to anymore as everyone was killed. The episode ends with others gathering around a memorial for those who died and mourning their loss by lighting candles outside the White House.
  • Lady Macbeth: MacLeish's wife appears to be involved in the conspiracy, and unlike him, she is fully devoted to its goals, constantly pressuring him about sticking to the plans.
  • Lampshade Hanging: As Kirkman adjusts to his new life as President, he asks if they'll need his fingerprints and eye scans for the "nuclear football". No, they answer him, it's only like that in the movies.
  • Let No Crisis Go to Waste: If Kirkman's administration is facing any pressure at all, however minor, expect somebody to exploit it, either in Congress, in the media or in international relations.
    • In the immediate aftermath of the Capitol Bombing, the Iranian government sees it as an opportunity to send their navy into disputed waters in the Strait of Hormuz, believing the US to be too crippled to be able to threaten a successful retaliation. It proves unsuccessful, with President Kirkman making it clear the US is still in a position to fight, threatening to bomb Tehran into ash if they don't call back their ships within three hours.
    • Governor James Royce of Michigan uses the bombing of the Capitol to justify the unlawful arrest and detention of innocent Muslim residents in the city of Dearborn. He also uses the fact that the majority of the federal government is dead to declare himself the highest level of authority in the state.
    • In the aftermath of the Capitol Bombing, surviving Republican congresswoman Kimble Hookstraten aims to undermine President Kirkman and present herself as a better alternative, so she can run against him in the next election and place her party back in power. The fact that the rest of Congress was killed in the blast also helps, as it ensures there are very few potential competitors for her to overcome when she announces her candidacy.
    • With the courts closed after the Capitol Bombing, it is revealed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement are taking advantage of it to deport immigrants who have yet to make a formal appeal. By the time the courts are reopened, the time period in which to appeal will have passed. Thankfully for Maria, one of Alex's former clients, her attorney is now the First Lady of the United States, and is able to secure the release of her and her children via help from the President.
    • The majority of governors of the 50 states realize they have considerable leverage over Kirkman because they can effectively cause the destruction of the USA simply by holding up Senate and Congressional rebuilding. So they waste no time going along with forcing Kirkman into a Faustian bargain that sacrifices human rights on the altar of expediency in getting the federal government up and running again.
  • Literal Metaphor: Subverted and bordering on Accidental Pun. In the Pilot, when discussing with his wife how he should realize his agenda, he objects "at the end of the day, I am not the president of the US." Well yeah. Guess what he is at the end of the day.
  • Loophole Abuse: In "Commander-In-Chief", the President is forced to make a deal with an African warlord, promising not to attack him and his troops in exchange of the freedom of several American hostages, even though he knows the warlord is poised to brutally murder his way through his country's capital. However, as soon as the hostages are safe, the President realizes that this does not prevent him from ordering the destruction of critical infrastructure, the loss of which forces the warlord's troops to halt their advance for long enough for the President to get the United Nations' Security Council to send peacekeepers in.
  • Love Triangle: Two of these shape up in the second season:
    • Hannah Wells and her MI-6 counterpart, Damian Rennett, are very obviously attracted to one another, which irritates Chuck Russink to no end. Ends with the Death of the Hypotenuse when Rennett is gunned down in a drive-by shooting, but Russink still doesn't mention anything to Hannah while she is Oblivious to Love.
    • Emily Rhodes and Aaron Shore still have their own UST from the first season, but then Emily and Seth Wright share a Big Damn Kiss in "Two Ships". By the later second season, Emily and Seth appear to have broken up, while Emily and Aaron get another round of Ship Tease.
  • Luke, I Might Be Your Father: Leo might be the biological son of Alex's ex-boyfriend. Tom didn't want to get a paternity test when he was born and doesn't care if Leo might not share his DNA. The ex-boyfriend is trying to blackmail the Kirkmans into getting him released from prison early. As it turns out, Leo is indeed Tom's biological son.

    M-R 
  • Made of Iron:
    • While en route to MacLeish's Congressional hearing, Hannah Wells' car is wrecked, resulting in her getting some rather grisly injuries and being knocked unconscious. Her assailant tries to suffocate her, and she manages to fight him off and escape, but at the cost of losing some important evidence. The very next day, after some glue and bandages, she's back on her feet.
    • In the season finale, during a high-speed car chase with Lozano, Wells crashes her SUV into his sedan. The collision scene looks just as bad as the one Wells was involved in, but Lozano manages to get out of his car fine, flee into a nearby building, and be a match for Wells in hand-to-hand combat.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: A rare villainous example, in which the supposed Big Bad appears in public for no good reason. Apparently, Catalan took the job of poisoning Majid Nassar into his own hands. This eventually results in his biggest asset — the fact that almost nobody even knows he exists — becoming compromised, because Agent Wells saw him in disguise and thinks she recognized him. It comes back to bite him in "Warriors", when he also personally takes on the job of shooting at Kirkman, whereupon he is tracked down by the FBI and shot dead on MacLeish's orders, or he would have been if it hadn't been a Death Faked for You.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": All of America, naturally, when the Capitol is blown up. The consequences and aftershocks continue to be felt in national politics in-universe.
  • Meaningful Name: Kirkman's new Secret Service code name after he becomes President is "Phoenix." Fitting for a man who has to rebuild the government out of the ashes.
  • Metaphorgotten: Seth compares Emily to sliced bread, but assures her that there is nothing bread-like about her.
  • Middle Eastern Terrorists: Wells mentioned ISIS and Al-Qaeda as primary suspects, but says that intelligence didn't pick up any chatter.
  • Moment Killer: In "The Blueprint", Seth walks in on Aaron and Emily and hastily offers to come back later.
  • Morton's Fork: Kirkman is forced into situation where both options to solve a political situation would either be bad or be very, very bad.
  • Monumental Damage: Half of the Capitol building was blown away in the attack.
  • Murder-Suicide: When Wells corners MacLeish, intending to place him under arrest, his wife comes behind Wells and shoots him, and then herself.
  • Never Going Back to Prison: A variation. Part of "The Enemy" follows a refugee from Honduras who cannot return to her country because she and her children will most likely be in danger there.
  • Newscaster Cameo: Elizabeth Vargas makes one in "The Confession".
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The series was released in September 2016 but starts in January 2017 (just after the reelection of President Robert Richmond). By the first half of the second season, it is nearly the end of 2017. See 20 Minutes into the Future.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: The conspirators are revealed to have arranged for Kirkman to be the designated survivor during the Capitol bombing, presumably because they considered him a pushover or easy to remove after-the-fact. Fortunately for the protagonists, Kirkman has been proving that was a terrible choice.
  • No Communities Were Harmed:
    • The terrorist group the FBI initially believes to be responsible for the attack is Al-Sakar, a fictional offshoot of Al-Qaeda based in North Africa.
    • Averted with Dearborn, which is an actual city in Michigan with one of the highest Muslim populations in the country, and the highest Arab-American population.
  • No Party Given: Mostly averted.
    • In the second episode, it is revealed that Kirkman and his predecessor aren't Republicans, as Kimble Hookstraten, the rival party's designated survivor, is identified as a Republican.
    • No party is given for Peter MacLeish, although his hometown (Eugene, Oregon) has been Democratic for decades, so one can guess he's a Democrat.
    • Kirkman later says that he himself is a registered Independent.
    • Washington, D.C. mayor and new Vice-President Ellenor Darby's political affiliation has not yet been mentioned, but considering just where she was elected mayor, it's extremely likely that she's a Democrat (much like real-life current D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and her predecessors back to 1961).
  • No Periods, Period: Averted. Penny gets her first one in season three, by discovering blood on her sheet, making viewers realize this show is scared of nothing.
  • Number Two: The second-ranking position in the government is a constantly revolving door under Kirkman's presidency.
    • Initially, there is none, until a new Congress is elected and Kimble Hookstraten, the Republicans' designated survivor, ascends to the position of Speaker.
    • Next, Peter MacLeish, who had taken a pass on the Speakership, impresses Kirkman enough to have him sworn in as Vice-President. This doesn't last long, as he is in league with The Conspiracy, and once they are found out, his wife pulls a Murder-Suicide to eliminate them both since He Knows Too Much.
    • With the Vice-Presidency vacant, Speaker Hookstraten was once again next-in-line after President Kirkman, until she was forced into resigning by a Kangaroo Court in Congress, touched off by a revived dozen-year-old scandal over a trade mission supposedly tied to an arms deal.
    • In the wake of that, Secretary of State (and former President) Cornelius Moss is the next highest-ranking official that we know of, until he takes a leave of absence in the early to mid-second season after his affair with a murdered British MP comes to light, and then Kirkman finally fires him for abusing his authority in "The Final Frontier".
    • Finally, after her strong performance in a massive power outage gripping Washington, D.C., Kirkman nominates Mayor Ellenor Darby as his Vice-President. Dialogue a couple of episodes later indicates that she was successfully approved by Congress.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: FBI Director Atwood takes his time vetting Congressman MacLeish for vice president since he and Wells have evidence that MacLeish is working with the people responsible for the Capitol bombing and don't want him to be a step away from the presidency.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • In the bathroom, Seth rants on how Kirkman is terrible and totally wrong to be President and should just step down. He steps out of his stall to discover the man he's just talked to is Kirkman.
    • The reactions of Tom and Alex when they realize Tom is now the President. Alex has her own when Seth refuses to call her by her first name and it hits her that she's now First Lady.
    • Atwood and Wells react this way when they discover that Nassar was poisoned, knowing that someone in the prison was responsible.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted in "The Traitor": when Seth is taking questions from the press, the journalist who asks about Brad Weston's status is also named Seth.
  • Only Known By His Nickname: President Thomas Adam and First Lady Alexandra Jane. The rest of the family also have nickname-sounding names: Sasha, Leo, and Penny.
  • Outliving One's Offspring:
    • The whistle-blower from "The Blueprint" lost his step-daughter, whom he raised since she was a baby and thought of as his own, in the Capitol attack.
    • Atwood and his wife are heartbroken after their young son is murdered by members of the conspiracy and dumped in a river.
  • Overly Nervous Flop Sweat: While this isn't very easy to see, Lisa names this trope when she points out that Seth is much more composed than the previous Press Secretary, who fled the room when questions from the press were too much for him.
  • Papa Wolf: When Atwood is confronted by an operative of the Capitol Bombing conspirators bringing news of his abducted son in "The Traitor", the very first thing he does is draw his service weapon and point it straight at the Smug Snake in question, though ultimately it doesn't help the situation at hand.
  • Police Brutality: The main focus of "The First Day". As a response to the Capitol Bombing, the governor of Michigan orders both state and local police to Dearborn, a city with one of the highest Muslim populations in the country. They begin rounding up the Muslim residents without formally charging them with any crimes, and those who protest are violently beaten. One victim, 17 year old Danny Fayed, later dies of his injuries.
  • Post-9/11 Terrorism Movie: The series is very much 24 were Bauer a liberal and not a conservative. Tom tries to seek a political solution to another 9/11 attack instead of a military one, high tensions with America and the Muslim world, with the country teetering on the edge between uniting as one and tearing themselves apart over the presidency and trying to protect their people from the suspected terrorists.
  • Product Placement: A blatant example in "Lazarus": Wells uses her phone to turn on the FBI's Ford, while standing ten feet from the car (so there was no reason to start it remotely). There are lingering shots of the car's interior, the startup screen with the Ford logo, and the "Ford Fusion" lettering on the back. Incidentally, the person Wells and Forstell just questioned and the conspirators drive Fords as well.
  • Precision F-Strike: In the season 3 premiere, Emily asking "what the fuck are you doing here" to Hannah shows how the series has shifted majorly from ABC to Netflix. Free of network censors, it's not long before the rest of the show starts dropping more cursing.
  • Profiling: After the attack, Seth is harassed by two MPDC officers on his way to the White House simply due to his dark complexion and the fact he is carrying a rucksack. A more extreme example is the governor of Michigan ordering the state police to round up and imprison the Muslim population of the city of Dearborn, without charging them with any crimes.
  • The Quiet One: Kirkman is a mild-mannered former academic who struggles to adapt to the immense power thrust upon him. When he first enters the PEOC, he has to rely on Aaron Shore to get everyone's attention.
  • Qurac: The small Middle-Eastern nation of Kunami is introduced in "Two Ships" after a US destroyer collides with a garbage barge in its territorial waters. It appears to be a fusion of Yemen and Iran as it is described as having a shaky regime with numerous sanctions imposed on it, including one for a nuclear enrichment program. But then Iran is namedropped in the previous season and in the same episode on is willing to support Kunami if the US attempts a rescue mission by force. A map shows that they're located next to Saudi Arabia from the northeast next to the Persian Gulf and shares a land border with SA.
  • Rank Up:
    • In addition to the Field Promotions listed above, in "The Enemy" Seth gets promoted from scriptwriter to White House Press Secretary.
    • His very short lived predecessor is also an example of this. Carter Dunn was the third deputy to the previous Press Secretary, so by default ascends to the position after the secretary and other deputies are killed in the Capitol Bombing. His inexperience shows, as he is unable to tame the press corps and walks out of the Press Briefing Room after less than a week on the job.
    • Admiral Chernow, who is appointed as the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff after the former is killed in the Capitol Bombing.
    • Kimble Hookstraten, as the senior surviving Representative, ascends to the position of Speaker of the House once special elections are concluded.
    • Peter MacLeish leaps over Hookstraten's head to become the Vice-President (by design, of course).
    • While it has yet to be mentioned in the show itself probably the most extreme example is Penny Kirkman, Tom's preteen daughter who technically becomes the youngest First Lady in American history when Alex, her mother and Tom's wife, is killed in a car accident in the middle of Season 2 leaving her as the President's closet living female relative.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • When Hannah orders an FBI technician to hack into one of the State of the Union attendee's cloud storage without an Order To Compel, she is reprimanded and given a formal warning by Atwood for violating the Fourth Amendment.
    • General Cochrane's War Hawk tendencies and disrespect for Kirkman ultimately results in him attempting to order an attack on Algeria without authorization from his Commander-In-Chief. Kirkman relieves him of duty on the spot.
    • With nearly the entire federal government wiped out we see the new members of Congress elected are a mix of younger ideologues who have little practical government experience and are not willing to compromise with others, and much older politicians who had retired from public life and brought in because literally no one else was qualified for the job.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In season 3, Seth goes off on the entire press corp when they insist on pressing a fake news story about Kirkman having Alex killed as he rants on how they put tabloid journalism ahead of actual reporting.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica:
    • The day before the attack, Kirkman is told he's being "promoted" to an ambassadorship with the International Civil Aviation Organisation by the Richmond Administration. Although the Chief of Staff plays it up as a promotion, Tom immediately realizes it is simply a polite way to get him to resign from the cabinet so he can be replaced for Richmond's second term.
    • A small variation after the assassination attempt on Kirkman has Seth on the phone to one of the news networks threatening them with having to do their stand-ups (reports from location usually done with the White House or Mall in the background) all the way from Guam due to the way they are covering the story.
  • Reassignment Backfire: A short-term version; Kirkman was only picked to be the Designated Survivor to get him out of the way during the State of the Union address... and is then suddenly thrust into the Presidency.
  • Recycled In Space: Inverted, in a very literal sense. A low-ranking and soon-to-be-dismissed Cabinet member suddenly becomes the President due to the deaths of the rest of the administration at the hands of a sudden, vicious, unprovoked, and meticulously plotted attack on their home soil. Are we talking Designated Survivor here, or Battlestar Galactica?
  • Renegade Splinter Faction: Al-Sakar, an offshoot of Al-Qaeda, is initially suspected of the bombings. Hannah suspects they're being scapegoated, however.
  • Right Behind Me: A variation; when speechwriter Seth Wright rants about how he doesn't believe Kirkman has what it takes to lead the country to the guy in the toilet next to him, he doesn't realize that said guy is Kirkman himself. To his credit, after the initial Oh, Crap! wears off, he sticks to his guns and honestly tells Kirkman that he believes that he should step down.
  • Right-Wing Militia Fanatic:
    • One of these infects 20 poll workers in a city with anthrax, one of whom dies. He's white and belongs to a generic Tea Party group. Why does he want to kill thousands of voters? We're not told. It feels like equal-opportunity terrorism.
    • It is revealed in the second half of the first season that The Conspiracy is a fascist organization which framed Al-Sakar for the Capitol Bombing. It is led by a man named Frank Lloyd, and which has as its motto "No Victory Without Sacrifice".
  • Ripped from the Headlines:
    • In this universe, the terrorist bombings in Paris and Brussels still took place, as Hannah Wells mentions she was on site during the aftermath of both.
    • Mike Ritter, the Kirkman family's Secret Service bodyguard, jokes about using the NSA's PRISM surveillance program to track down Leo.
    • "The Mission" features a team of Navy SEALs going on a risky helicopter-borne overnight raid into Algeria to track down and apprehend Majid Nassar, the head of the Al-Sakar terrorist organization and the alleged chief mastermind of the Capitol attack. Remind you of anyone?
    • "Family Ties" makes strong references to the coup in Turkey and implications that a democratic exile living in America is suspected of being implicated in the attack with Turkish threats to leave NATO.
  • Rousing Speech:
    • Of sorts. Kirkman gains the confidence to stand his ground with the Iranian Ambassador and address the nation after overhearing Leo reassuring a concerned Penny that "Dad isn't afraid of anything".
    • After his initial address has very little effect in calming the nation, he tries again by addressing the workers at the Capitol Building ruins; for a moment, it seems like he's getting through to the nation... and then news breaks out of the anti-Muslim atrocities in Michigan, and the whole crowd turns on him.
    • In "The Results", amid fears of bioterrorism attacks on polling places the eve of the special Congressional elections, Kirkman gives another speech, stating that they can't let fear overcome democracy. Combined with his willingness to risk his own life by voting himself, voters turn out in droves.
    • In "Brace for Impact", the denouement shows Kirkman addressing a joint session of Congress. After he sketches out the truth behind the Capitol bombing, he goes on to throw down the gauntlet against anyone who believes the USA has somehow lost its greatness.

    S-Y 
  • Sadistic Choice: The governors foist one on Kirkman: Freeze all immigration to the country, or try to function without a Congress.
  • Scenery Gorn: The remnants of the US Capitol Building look amazing. Horrifying, but amazing. Later averted as the Capitol is gradually repaired.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: An American agent, Sarafian, was captured and killed soon after he confirmed Nassar's location, but his efforts allowed a counterattack on the compound. However, minutes before the airstrike, Nassar (having been warned beforehand) fled the area, forcing Kirkman to abort.
  • Shame If Something Happened: A mysterious woman involved in the Capitol Building attack threatens to kill Atwood's wife and son if he doesn't follow her and her group's orders exactly. She uses these words when mentioning Atwood's wife.
  • Shoot Him! He Has a... Wallet: When Kirkman visits the ruins of the Capitol in "The First Day", a bystander is tackled by the secret service and Kirkman evacuated when it appears he is reaching for a weapon. It turns out to be a cell phone.
  • Shoot the Builder: The people behind the Capitol Bombing hired contractors to secretly build a small bunker in the building under the guise of renovating an unlisted office, which allowed MacLeish to survive the bombing. Afterwards, all the contractors die under mysterious circumstances and so are unable to be interviewed, cementing both Atwood and Wells' opinion that it was not Al-Sakar behind the attack, but likely a domestic operation.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • Kirkman is forced to meet with the Iranian ambassador to the UN, as since the US and Iran do not have formal diplomatic relations, there is no Iranian ambassador to the United States.
    • There really is a "Room 105" on the House side of the U.S. Capitol, within walking range of the Hall of the House of Representatives (one floor apart) but a reasonable enough distance to stand a chance of survival in the event of an explosion. Exploited in-universe by Congressman MacLeish in his arranged survival of the Capitol bombing.
    • After Majid Nassar is confirmed dead, his body is taken to be cleaned up before it's covered in white cloth. This is done according to Islamic tradition, which dictates that he or she needs to be buried after their corpse is cleaned by an imam.
  • Sleazy Politician:
    • Implied with President Richmond, who removes mention of all of Tom's programs from his speech and then has him fired while his Chief of Staff tries to pass it off to Tom (who's not fooled for a minute) like it's a promotion. Tom seems like a genuinely good guy who is dedicated to his job, and he later admits to Alex that it's likely he is being sidelined as he refuses to "play Richmond's games" and that "he didn't want to be one of those guys" when he was promoted to HUD Secretary. As he watches Richmond's State of the Union address, he seems rather unimpressed with Richmond's promises, referring to them as his "greatest hits".
    • In the second season, Cornelius Moss proves himself to be one of these, as he leaks confidential and classified White House information all over the place with the goal of undermining Kirkman, who Moss sees as a weak leader and unfit to be President.
  • Smug Snake:
    • Governor Royce seriously declares himself the highest authority in Michigan and tells Kirkman he has no right to the presidency, when the United States Constitution explicitly states that he does.
    • Alex's ex doesn't try to hide that that he's blackmailing the President to pardon him and get him out of prison.
    • The operative that catches up with Atwood to extort him by holding his son hostage and threatening his wife on behalf of the conspirators is this to a tee.
    • Abe Leonard, the (disgraced) Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist working for an apparently disreputable source, almost always wears a smirk and frequently criticizes younger reporters as millennials who don't know anything.
    • Cornelius Moss starts Jumping Off the Slippery Slope to become one of these as the second season progresses.
  • Sole Survivor:
    • Tom Kirkman, as the Richmond administration's designated survivor.
    • Congresswoman (later Speaker) Kimble Hookstraten, as the Republican Party's designated survivor.
    • Congressman Peter MacLeish is the only person who was actually in the Capitol building who survived the attack. This was completely intentional, as he's deep in the pocket of The Conspiracy, and they arranged for him to be in a makeshift bomb shelter so that he could survive and emerge as a national hero.
  • Spiritual Successor: To 24, not just in its choice of lead, but also in its composer (Sean Callery).
  • Spotting the Thread: FBI Agent Hannah Wells is doing this Once an Episode, though no-one seems to want to listen to her.
    • In the months leading up to 9/11, there was lots of suspicious activity; men evacuating their wives, stockpiling food and weapons, and putting their affairs in order. The lack of activity prior to the current attack is extremely suspicious to her.
    • She finds the dud bomb they uncovered at the site even more suspicious, as the EOD technician dismantling it keeps saying "Human Error" instead of telling her exactly what flaw kept it from exploding. She thus believes that they were supposed to find it.
    • When a survivor is found — a highly approved-of congressman who himself admits he doesn't know how he survived — she's the only one who wonders how anyone in the House of Representatives chamber could have survived when the building exploded. Turns out he wasn't in the room at all, and she only found out because she checked the cloud account of a woman taking photographs.
      • Not only that, further investigation reveals not only that he was in fact in his office when the bomb went off... but that that his office had been secretly converted into a bomb shelter! This is the point where Agent Wells convinces Director Atwood that there is something seriously rotten in DC.
    • Entering a seemingly quiet North Dakota town, Hannah and Jason realize that all the various vehicles have license plates from various states. When a figure asks about "a storm coming" and they say they haven't heard the weather report, his odd reaction makes them realize that this was a code phrase and lead to the finding of the True Believers.
    • In season 2, the White House is trying to keep quiet that a dirty bomb is hidden somewhere in the U.S. They put on the appearance of all being okay to prevent panic. But a reporter starts pressing Seth on how suddenly various cabinet members are too busy, the FAA is rerouting flights around major cities, the Vice-President has been sent on a sudden trip and the President is cancelling a planned theater visit. Seth tries to brush it off but the reporter knows something is up and that Seth better be clear before he publishes.
    • Hannah and another soldier are split off from their unit in the nation of Kunami. They have a guide helping them who pauses to pray in the morning. Hannah is already suspicious but then sees the guy praying with a stone tablet. He had claimed to be from a Sunni city but that tablet is a Shia tradition — which happens to be the ruling minority in the country, which means the guy is working for the corrupt dictator and not the rebels, and is trying to lead Hannah into a trap.
  • The Starscream:
    • Peter MacLeish amounts to one of these; as soon as he manages to maneuver himself into the Vice-Presidency, he participates in a plot to assassinate Kirkman to advance himself to the White House. Even while Kirkman is in surgery, he and his wife are actively hoping that complications lead to Kirkman's death. Fortunately, Kirkman recovers.
    • Averting this is part of what made Ellenor Darby appeal to Kirkman as a Vice-Presidential nominee. Subverted, though, when she goes along with the Cabinet in invoking the Twenty-Fifth Amendment when leaked therapy tapes cast doubt on Kirkman's fitness to be President. She appears relieved, though, when the hearing goes successfully for Kirkman and the two of them agree it was Nothing Personal.
    • Happens again with Cornelius Moss, who Kirkman hired as Secretary of State for his experience from a past presidency. Moss seems pleasant at first, but in the second season he starts leaking classified and confidential information to the press all over the place, as he believes Kirkman is a weak leader and claims that he is being The Mole in the White House out of some sense of patriotism. Even better, Moss led Kirkman to appoint Moss' own loyalists to Cabinet, who invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment later in the second season, so clearly Moss just wants Kirkman out of the way to get his hands on the Oval Office for a second term.
    • In another second-season example, billionaire businessman Dax Minter is scheming to get Kirkman kicked out of office in favour of a successor who will loosen restrictions on corporations.
  • Stealing the Credit: Agent Wells believes Al-Sakar is taking credit for the Capitol Bombing despite not actually committing it, as they have done so with previous (albeit smaller) attacks. She is later proven right when interrogating Majid Nassar. When he is told that MacLeish survived the attack, he angrily promises that his group will attack again to "get the ones that we missed". However, given the fact the actual architects of the Capitol Bombing went to great lengths to ensure MacLeish survived, Wells knows he is lying.
  • Stress Vomit: After being escorted to the PEOC, seeing the distressed and panicked government officials and military officers trying to figure out what is going on, and finally realizing he is in charge, Kirkman runs to the bathroom and throws up. It's a Vomit Indiscretion Shot and leads right into a Bathroom Stall of Overheard Insults from press secretary Seth Wright in the next stall, who doesn't realize he's talking to the man he's snarking about.
  • SWAT Team: The Secret Service's Counter Assault Team gets called in to protect the White House as a precaution after the bombing.
  • Swiss Cheese Security: The Pentagon, during the first season finale. The villain enters using a false ID, walks alone into a server room with an unlocked door, downloads every bit of defense information from the system into his briefcase-computer, and exits the building and drives away, all while the Pentagon is on lockdown.
  • Taking the Bullet:
    • Commander Clarkson, the leader of the S.E.A.L. team sent to apprehend Nassar, is killed protecting two children.
    • Damian Rennett fatally does this to protect Hannah Wells in a drive-by shooting in Season 2.
  • Tempting Fate: "At the end of the day, I'm not the President."
  • That Liar Lies:
    • MacLeish turns down the position of Speaker of the House because he just wants to serve and has no interest in power. After he leaves the room, Aaron, Emily, and Seth assume he's lying because "Who moves to D.C. and doesn't want power?"
    • Of course, it's subtly implied that Kirkman is that kind of guy, which leads him to consider nominating MacLeish for Vice President ... just shortly before Agent Wells discovers MacLeish is connected to the bombing by way of having ridden out the blast in his own secretly-built bomb shelter.
  • This Is Reality:
    • When the Secret Service collects Kirkman's son Leo after the attack, Mike sarcastically claims that he had to cross-reference 30 phone calls through PRISM in order to triangulate his location. When Leo asks if that really happened, Mike says no, and then admits they just pinged his cellphone to track his location.
    • Later, when Kirkman is given the nuclear football, he asks if there's a fingerprint or retinal scanner on it. The military officer replies that that's only in the movies, and the real football is only activated via an attached satellite phone.
  • Time Skip:
    • The season 2 premiere takes place a year after the season 1 finale (a good excuse for the Capitol building being rebuilt).
    • Season 3 has a six-month time skip between the first and second episodes to put Kirkman directly into the election season.
  • Token Minority: Discussed. As a Muslim-American, Seth is insulted when Aaron offers him the position of press secretary, though he eventually takes the job.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The American aid workers in captured in Africa in 'Commander-in Chief' are working in a country where a revolutionary army led by a genocidal warlord is about to seize the capital and they don't even inform the US government that they are there. It nearly gets them and about a hundred-thousand other people killed when the army predictably uses them as meat-shields so Kirkman can't stop their advance. Hell, they were too dumb for everyone else to live.
  • Twenty-Fifth Amendment:
    • Tom becomes president after all the others in the line of succession are wiped out in the attack.
    • In "Warriors", Kirkman has to undergo emergency surgery after being shot by Catalan. As such, the Amendment is invoked, and newly installed Vice-President MacLeish is sworn in as Acting President until Kirkman recovers.
    • In "Kirkman Agonistes," tapes of Kirkman's therapy sessions are released, making it sound like he can't handle presidential decision-making. When Lyor finds the Cabinet are meeting the Vice-President in secret, he races to Kirkman. Brought in, VP Darby admits that the Cabinet is ready to invoke the 25th, but she's holding off signing the letter as she still believes in Kirkman and wants to give him a chance to prevent this.
  • Unexpected Successor: Kirkman is this several ways over: due to the line of succession being based on the Cabinet positions' seniority, HUD Secretary is usually number 12 in the sequence. In terms of political relevance, HUD is a bottom-tier Cabinet position — and lastly, Kirkman himself was effectively fired the day before.
  • Vice-President Who?:
    • The Vice-President of Richmond's administration, who perished in the Capitol Bombing along with President Richmond, is never referred to by name.
    • As of the mid-second season, the vice-presidency in Kirkman's administration has been vacant ever since MacLeish was killed. No replacement was ever named and Kirkman decided he could carry on without one, until Emily and his staff convince him otherwise and he ends up finally nominating D.C. Mayor Ellenor Darby as Vice-President after her performance in a cyberattack and power outage crisis gripping the capital.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Kirkman's reaction after being sworn in, especially the chaos in the situation room, is to head straight to the washroom and pull one of these. It's where he meets future Press Secretary Seth Wright.
  • Walk and Talk: Used often.
  • The War Room: The Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC), the bunker beneath the White House where Kirkman is taken to meet with the military establishment, members of his Cabinet, and directors of government agencies.
  • We All Live in America: Charlotte Thorn is a British MP but most of her characterisation, both in personality and job, would make more sense for an American Congresswoman. A mere backbench MP who is not a Cabinet Minister or Shadow Minister would probably not be a major international figure, and her depiction as a crusading maverick would make it fairly unlikely she'd be considered a potential future Prime Minister as the show states. She is even introduced and killed talking about American gun violence.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: When exposed, Dax Minter seems to defend himself on being behind the hacking and release of personal videos of Kirkman. As he explains, Minter truly believes that Kirkman's overuse of government regulations is "strangling" the tech industry and claims that without them, companies like his can do wonders for the world. Thus, forcing Kirkman out of office was the only way to get a new President who could give him the green light needed to do away with pesky things like antitrust laws, and who would believe that "our greatest right as Americans is to be left alone." Needless to say, Kirkman doesn't take this defense from his old friend so well, and has him promptly arrested.
  • Wham Episode:
    • "The Blueprint" shows that MacLeish not only knew Catalan from the Army, but committed war crimes in Afghanistan. Better yet, Gabriel Thompson's "whistleblowing" actions turned out to be aimed at getting a secure conversation with Kirkman, where he hands over all his files, implied to detail much of the conspiracy — most damningly, that the Capitol bombing had actually been wargamed by the CIA in 2013.
    • "The Oath" also counts here. The previous President's Chief of Staff is still very much alive and in hiding from the Conspiracy, Aaron may be involved along with MacLeish's wife, and the episode ends with an attempt on Kirkman's life that results in at least one character seriously wounded.
    • "Ninth Seat" reveals that Lozano is alive, and the conspiracy he is involved actively works towards establishing a fascist worldwide empire based on American force of arms.
    • In the last few minutes of "Lazarus", Agent Wells is kidnapped and Lozano is using a news reporter to purposely destabilize the investigation into the NVWS group by getting him to break the news about it before the Administration and the FBI are properly ready to roll the entire organization up.
    • "Family Ties" reveals that the scandal involving Leo is cooked up secretly by President Turan of Turkey to compromise Kirkman to get Sahin back to Ankara. The murderer of Charlotte Thorn was conducted by a female British Embassy staff member who wanted to get her approval, but was tossed aside for Secretary Moss.
    • "Run" has Hannah investigating surveillance footage of Emily meeting with Valeria in a parking lot and handing her an envelope.
  • Wham Line: From the apparent Big Bad: "And how many more good people need to be destroyed before that happens?", indicating that he has some regrets in a best case scenario, or is an outright pawn of the villains like Atwood in the worst.
  • Wham Shot: "One Hundred Days" ends with a shot of simulations of bombings of several other major US landmarks like the one discovered earlier of the Capitol bombing, indicating that the villains still have much more planned.
  • Workaholic: Aaron and Emily frequently stay in the White House to work. In "The Traitor", Tom issues a Presidential order to get them to go home and get some sleep.
    • The beginning of "Backfire" shows Emily, Seth, and Aaron sleeping before being awoken by phone calls about the death of the Vice President and his wife. Aaron is shown sleeping atop his bed in his work clothes. He later admits to Kirkman that it's been a while since he's had more than three hours of sleep a night.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • The police in Dearborn, Michigan beat a handcuffed Danny Fayed so badly that he later dies of internal bleeding. He was 17, making him the same age as Kirkman's son, Leo.
    • Majid Nassar and members of his terrorist group hid in a hospital and took children as hostages. He reportedly opened fire on them when S.E.A.L. Team 6 wouldn't comply with his demands.
    • The mysterious woman in the conspiracy kidnaps FBI Director Atwood's son, Luke, and forces Atwood to do what the conspirators say in order to spare Luke's life. Despite obeying the woman's every order, Atwood later finds out that they killed his son anyway when the body is discovered in a river.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: When the issue of Alex's mother moving her husband up the list of heart transplant recipients comes up, it is stated to have occured in 1997, and the current year is stated to be 2017… and yet it is repeatedly declared to be thirty years ago.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: In "The Blueprint", Agent Wells is finally able to unearth evidence that conclusively links Congressman MacLeish to "Catalan" as members of a military unit that perpetrated an Afghan War massacre which was in turn the subject of a deliberate cover-up, and she races back into D.C. to bring this information to the attention of Hookstraten and a congressional committee. She promptly gets caught in a violent traffic accident en route, whereupon her assailant promptly tries to choke her to death, and failing that, he simply steals all of the evidence she has amassed.
  • You Didn't Ask: It looks like Kirkman's gun control bill is about to die in the Senate when Republican senators won't support it after Senator Bowman clashes with Kirkman. However, to the shock of both sides, a Tennessee Senator who had inherited her late husband's spot, votes "Aye" to swing it to pass. Everyone is stunned as her husband was "red as they come" and came down against every gun control law and she had been seen with Bowman. Meeting later, Kirkman asks why the senator switched her vote. She's surprised as she was always going to vote yes on the bill as she was for gun control. Everyone, from Bowman to the White House, were just convinced she would vote like her husband so didn't bother asking what her views were.
  • You Leave Him Alone!: Despite having his own doubts about Kirkman, Seth Wright shuts down a mouthy White House staffer who bitches about how it could never be foreseen that a "glorified real estate agent" would become President.
    Seth Wright: Why the hell do you think there's a designated survivor, Nicky? Because this was foreseen. Now shut up and let me work.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: In season 3, Tom's transgender sister-in-law is supposed to introduce him at a campaign rally, then when it's rescheduled to Texas her part in it gets called off out of fear for transphobia. Former president Moss commends the president for this choice, a compliment Tom finds heartbreaking.

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