Designated Survivor's move from ABC to Netflix not only means it finally gets closer to being the better cable-style show it's always wanted to be, it also gets to take some big risks. And nothing is riskier than the series' big decision to kill off a fan-favorite character late in the third season.
While tracking down the evil mastermind behind the production of a racist flu — a virus that attacks hosts with more pigmentation in their skin, yes, really — in Episode 7 of Season 3, former FBI agent and current CIA agent Hannah Wells (the glorious Maggie Q) got caught in a lab filled with nerve gas by a guy who amounts to nothing more than a stock evil scientist. Disoriented and unable to regain control of her motor functions, Hannah fell down a flight of stairs and was unable to breathe. If the asphyxiation didn't kill her, the fire did as the whole building went up in flames shortly after.
Yep, Designated Survivor killed off super-agent Hannah Wells just like that. And you know what? It totally sucked. She deserved better. But we should have seen this coming.
Designated Survivor had trouble incorporating Hannah into the larger narrative since the beginning of the series. The show is about a regular dude (Kiefer Sutherland) in politics who gets gifted the Oval Office when all his superiors are blown up during a State of the Union address, leaving him as the senior official in D.C. I won't get into the nitty-gritty and silly details, but let's just say Tom Kirkman's ascent to President of the United States was part of a larger, convoluted conspiracy that Hannah got tied into, and having Hannah around to investigate it kind of worked in the first season. We got the political drama through Kirkman's story, while Hannah provided most of the action. (Unsurprisingly, Hannah's side of things was a better fit for broadcast television and provided the greatest thrills of the first season.) Most importantly, she got to work with the White House. She felt like part of the series even though the two halves of the show ran in parallel.
But after that conspiracy was put to rest, Designated Survivor just didn't know what to do with Hannah. With the hiring of yet another new showrunner (there have been five total in just three seasons), the tone of Season 2 shifted toward the inner workings of the White House and moved away from any intelligence operations. Hannah was given a boring MI6 agent to work with, sleep with, and get double-crossed by and a boring storyline to along with it, but her interactions with Kirkman and any of the other main cast were minimized. And in the current season of Designated Survivor, she's chasing that flu and has maybe one scene with a member of the regular cast. Her story feels like a completely different show within the show. It has for the past two seasons, in fact.
The problem here is that Hannah happens to be one of Designated Survivor's best characters. She is, inarguably, a total badass who gets things done, and, especially in Season 3, finds time to crack wise even when the fans are covered in s---. Her joke about the CIA's budgetary needs for bows in the middle of the season was an unexpectedly great peek behind her steely facade, adding more shades to a character who was previously a cool, calm, and collected killing machine. But shortly after adding layers to her character, the show killed her off. And I don't need to tell you how great Maggie Q is in anything she does. Some actors have a presence and charisma that can't be contained; Maggie Q is one of those people.
Perhaps killing off Hannah was inevitable. Perhaps Designated Survivor knew it couldn't sustain keeping Hannah around much longer because she just didn't fit into the type of show Designated Survivor wanted to be. Perhaps the show got too tired of trying to make Hannah relevant in a drama about a man attempting to be the first true independent president in the history of America. Maybe this was a mercy killing. Designated Survivor couldn't be about blowing up the two-party system and reflective of our current disastrous state of politics while also being about vast conspiracies to unseat Kirkman and the dangerous operations that went into unearthing terrorists via Hannah; that would remove the show from the grounded tone it's aiming for. The show chose the former over the latter.
But if she had to go, she should have gone in a better way. Not at the hands of a creep who we just met and was captured and killed (by self-induced cyanide poisoning, no less) half an episode later. Hannah Wells deserved a better, more heroic death. Hannah Wells deserved a better story. Hannah Wells probably even deserved a better show.
Couldn't she and Chuck (Jake Epstein) have run off to a tropical island instead?
Designated Survivor Season 3, as well as the two previous seasons that aired on ABC, is now on Netflix.