There are two things Americans love: Threats and heroes. Americans do love their threats, whether they are making the threat or it is being done against them (or they assume that it is being done so). It is as if under the shadow of threats they thrive. The idea of a designated survivor, a contingency plan in case the government loses its leader and members in the event of an attack, is proof enough. The designated survivor owes its existence to paranoid Cold War politics and is even granted the notorious "football," a briefcase-like nuclear remote control device accompanying the president all the time.
And Americans love their heroes. An American hero usually comes from humble origins, is an ordinary man with an extraordinary set of skills who saves the day and restores the system to its previous glory. He is an everyman, not particularly successful or ambitious or even popular, but has a decent core to do right by American ideals.
At first, "Designated Survivor" seems to have all the essentials to make it a great show for U.S. viewers. It was not strange when Kiefer Sutherland sensed this too and said after reading the script he felt he potentially was holding the next 10 years of his life in his hands. According to the producers of the show, "Designated Survivor" is a mixture of "West Wing," "Homeland" and "House of Cards" with a little family drama sprinkled over it. It was an immediate success when it first appeared last year, granted a full season eight days after the premiere of the first episode. However, the first waves of curiosity soon led to exasperation. "Designated Survivor" is nothing new nor old nor borrowed or even blue, it is just a mishmash of clichés.
As for its storyline, it is about a web of threats, conspiracies and everything in between. The U.S. government is crawling with members of a secret organization aiming to weaken and eventually destroy the U.S. for the purpose of establishing a better order. They believe anything is fair on their way to success, nothing is sacred, not even the structure and founding principles and monuments of the U.S. Apparently, members of this organization have infested every cell of functioning institutions of the government, and it is nearly impossible to know whom to trust. It is not even possible to prove there is a conspiracy happening as members of this secret organization cover their steps too well. They are like steam, visible only for a moment. There is nearly no way of proving their existence.
The series begins with the bombing and total destruction of the Capitol Building during the State of the Union, killing off nearly every member of the Cabinet and Congress. Nearly every member, except for the designated survivor who happens to be the lead, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Tom Kirkman, who apparently nobody gives much credit and who would have soon been asked to resign by the president if the latter had not been bombed to pieces. It is implied that he was chosen to be left out because he was considered as the weakest link in the government by the plotters. Once he becomes president, he will be very easy to remove. However, by a twist of destiny, he proves to be exactly the right person for the job ahead.
Although he seems to be something of a mush, the ordinary and unassuming Kirkman gives the vibe that at any moment he will throw away his reading glasses, find a phone booth and Jack Bauer his way through the nation's problems. He is not only as believable as the Clark Kent-Superman duo, he lacks authenticity so much that he makes even "The Newsroom" anchor-man Will McAvoy (that Republican nice guy whose talks seem to be crafted by Michelle Obama's speechwriter) look convincing. The whole series has this problem: It looks real but it is not believable.
Another strand of the show is the integrity of its characters. There are baddies and a whole bunch of honest, idealistic people valiantly trying to save the country. Nonetheless, no matter how hard they fight against the evil forces, they never compromise their principles, especially the president, who is so decent that he can only be the dream of some snobbishly self-righteous liberal screenwriter.
No matter how lacking in authenticity the characters are, parts of the series' plot will not seem strange or excessive to Turkish viewers, as this was uncannily similar to what had been happening in Turkey for the last few years.
The Gülenist Terrorist Group (FETÖ) a sinister, cult-like, terrorist organization aiming to take over the state, has spread all through government institutions; a new generation of terrorists that prefer slow infiltration instead of hot conflicts. Rather systematically and parasitically, members of this organization don a different face and assume a different character to maintain or gain a position. Since they elude identification, they prove very hard to eliminate, like Hydra of Lerna, chopping off one of their heads leads to another reptilian head to emerge, and it is indeed a Herculean task to get rid of them.
On the night of July 15, 2016, FETÖ attempted a coup to overthrow the current administration. An unauthorized fragment of the Turkish army belonging to this faction led the attempt, blockading the Fatih Sultan Mehmet and Bosporus bridges, fired on protesters from helicopters, rode tanks over people, bombed Parliament and the Presidential Palace and tried to take over the state broadcaster and CNN. The attempt itself was devastating; what was more horrifying were the soldiers firing at civilians with orders to kill. Coups are not unknown in Turkey, but never before have putschists targeted and killed civilians, never before have they bombed the administrative and monumental buildings of the republic. It was as if the attack was directly at the heart of the Turkish nation. And it was deflected by the Turkish people, literally, barehanded.
That is the reason why viewers of the show and those who had the misfortune of living through the attempted coup felt extremely aggrieved by some scenes in the seventh episode of the second season. Leaving aside the utter arrogance and conceit of the way the scenes are written and conducted, the level of ignorance is overwhelmingly insulting.
The scenes began with Turkish President Fatih Turan demanding that Nuri Şahin, whom Turan defines as a traitor accused of staging a coup and seeking asylum in the U.S., be handed over, during a joint press conference with Kirkman. The traitor is said to be a visiting professor and later on is granted an invitation to the White House to meet the president. There, Nuri Şahin, who looks nothing like a charismatic leader he is supposed to be but a slow talking sociopath who would at any moment go for Kirkman's jugular, "charms" the president with contradictory expressions and a compulsory Nathan Hale quote.
After two or three sentences the president begins to develop a bad case of moon-eyed calf love Westerners seem to have for any Easterner whom they consider a rebel in his country. What Nuri Şahin is obscure, he says he is a revolutionary, but claims he wants Turan gone via democratic methods. What does his revolution entail? Chanting against Turan while voting? He quotes Nathan Hale, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," but he escapes from his country and refuses to go back.
Turan is this big, bad tyrant, but according to President Kirkman, he is more afraid of ballot boxes than bullets.
If he is afraid of ballot boxes, how is he a dictator? If he were a dictator, why would he be afraid of ballot boxes? These questions neither Şahin nor the president condescend to answer. In the scene after, while watching a protest organized by Şahin against Turan, the president consults his advisers. One claims that Turan needs money to buy votes because, you know, he is a dictator, he is not actually supported by his people, and there is no other way he can actually win other than buying votes. It makes one wonder how many votes anyone needs to win? Perhaps there are pre-made packages for full time working dictators who cannot find time to make some homemade votes of their own?
The president never hesitates to wear his heart on his sleeve and in an attempt to blackmail Turan, he sings Şahin's praises again: "Nuri Şahin is the only person capable of bringing true democracy and opportunity to great Turkish people. He alone can make the country a shining beacon of hope and stability in a region that is historically unstable." If Nuri Şahin is so talented, how come he is not a political leader already? And is it Turkey that is capable of being the region's hope or is it Şahin's incredible skills that make it possible? So, if the president bestows Şahin upon any generic underdeveloped or developing country, can he turn it into a beacon of hope too or are his enormous talents only limited to Turkey? However, I would recommend the president tunes down his praise because, you know, the man could not even manage to complete a coup, which is a necessary skill if you are an agent of a developed country in a developing one. And "historically unstable"? Are you really this clueless Mr. president or are you in immediate need of a lecture on colonialism, the Middle East and your recent history? The death of 12 million Iraqis is hardly a matter of history, rather it is a catastrophe imposed upon Iraq by several American presidents.
Kirkman claims that if he gives Şahin back to Turkey a civil war is bound to happen. At this point, there is no way to continue the pretense. It is obvious that someone with Gülenist inclinations had these parts written and inserted into the script. Only members of FETÖ, who are known for their inflated egos, would believe such atrocities and have them recited in such fever. Turning an undereducated, elderly and delusional preacher who rather like a Sith lord chooses to remain in the shadows all the time, into a young, activist academician who is the only hope for the Middle East gives a clue as to how they regard themselves. Who would have guessed FETÖ members were so afraid of going back to the country they claimed they wished they had many lives to die for that they would pay some series plenty of money to convince Turkish people how it is a very bad idea to want them back for trial?
Ethical Kirkman blackmails Turan, asserting that he would arrange as many press conference
s as necessary to convince the international and Turkey's public that Şahin is the only hope they have. That is unless Turan gives back the rent money he took from the U.S. for the strategic air bases the U.S. uses. As we can see, no matter how decent he is and googly-eyed he may become over Şahin's too much chewed on ideologies, for Kirkman, his precious democracy has a price after all. And, last, if Şahin is such a big hope for the region, why is the president holding him back, stealing from the great Turkish people its hope and leader? To avoid paying rent for an air base?
One can recite the hypocrisy of American politics and the heinousness of FETÖ's acts till one is blue in the face, but their zeal to hit a new low never ceases to amaze. It is all right for the U.S. to fight against viral elements in its system, it is so justifiable that Jack Bauer Kiefer Sutherland makes a series about it (the last time he played the great American hero was post 9/11, during the American invasion of Iraq). However, when another country does the same, works ardently to get rid of hostile elements in its structure, suddenly they are not democratic and are considered as punishable with deplorably fake and irrelevant Russian accents.