Well, ABC’s Last Resort is nothing if not ballsy. The freshman series seems to have no desire to saunter along at a patient pace, building up tension among the characters before tossing them in to an all-out armed conflict. For a lesser show, this would be a massive detriment, but Last Resort carries with it a reckless sense of danger, the drama of a menacing threat looming just over the distance. “Blue On Blue” is thrilling television, to say the least, and portends good things for the overall direction of Last Resort, going forward.
It’s chaos on Sainte Marina, as Captain Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher) has imprisoned the mutinying COB Master Chief Petty Officer Joseph Prosser (Robert Patrick), who concocts a scheme with other secret mutineers in the camp to kill Lt. Grace Shepard (Daisy Betts). Meanwhile, XO Lt. Commander Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman) learns from his wife back home, Christine (Jessy Schram), that he and the rest of the crew of the Colorado are being offered full amnesty in return for the sub…and Chaplin. Of course, Christine can’t bring herself to maintain the lie, screaming over the phone for Sam not to trust the government, before having the phone shut off by the agents who are detaining her. Oh, and there are about twenty warships advancing on the island. So yeah…there’s that.
If the episode feels packed with more plot than an hour can reasonably be expected to accommodate, it’s because it really is, by any standard. Yet it doesn’t feel that way. Last Resort has shown a remarkable proclivity for parsing out its narratives in easily-digestible chunks, spread out in segments throughout an episode that is considerably well-paced. The hour really does just fly by. While the episode does an excellent job of telling a relatively self-contained siege story, which plays out like a mini-action movie, it’s a bit disconcerting that so much happened with so little actual plot movement until the episode’s last ten minutes. The US Government is still trying to breach the island, and they seem far more concerned with recapturing the USS Colorado and returning its advanced capabilities to US soil than bringing the mutineers to justice, even employing the aid of the Russian Spetsnaz to infiltrate the island, under order of US Secretary of Defense Curry. Even though the episode’s big action setpiece is tense as hell, with the crew trading fire with the Spetsnaz leading to a close quarters fight that Navy SEAL James King (Daniel Lissing) must save her from, it didn’t feel like much changed. Five nameless faces were lost in the assault, but hey, at least they caught themselves some Russians. That’s got to count as one for the Win column against the US government, whose USS Illinois’s friendly fire was a little short on the “friendly” part.
But then those final ten minutes happened, and Last Resort reorients the narrative. Prosser, his murder plot cleverly deduced and foiled by Grace, throws out a last Hail Mary pass, revealing that Chaplin’s son was killed two weeks ago in Afghanistan…by friendly fire. Prosser speculates that this entire act of treason, from the refusal of the order to fire on Pakistan to the seizure of Sainte Marina and the declaration of a No Man’s Land around the island, is Chaplin’s personal vendetta against the United States, his campaign of revenge against the country that killed his son. It would be a preposterous notion on its face, if not for how pointedly the show drew Chaplin’s state of mind into question. Any man with his finger on the button has to convince people that he’s “just crazy enough” to push it, but Chaplin’s methods are bold by any objective standard. When his crewmen hold the Russian prisoners at gunpoint and threaten to pull the trigger in retaliation for the five Americans they killed, Chaplin steps forward and appeals to their sense of patriotism, their sense of duty.
He argues that each soldier should salute the officer above him (nodding at the wounded Grace, who’s still catching hell from the crewmen), and expect the same from those below, adding, “Your final duty is to say ‘how high’ when I say ‘jump’. Is that clear?” Chaplin has no interest in descending into lawlessness, yet his answer to the escalating mutiny in his crew is to reassert the authority he essentially abandoned when establishing the No Man’s Land in the first place. Through the act, his authority is forfeit, yet he still relies on the rigid, militaristic power structure of the United States to keep his men in line. Chaplin is a study in contradiction, and he grows more fascinating by the week, culminating in a tear-soaked talk with Kendal in the episode’s closing minutes, establishing that, if no one else, Kendal knows who the real Chaplin is, and supports him. Here are two friends, their bonds of loyalty tested in this crucible of a situation, and achieving understanding through their shared grief (Chaplin in his unfathomable loss, and Kaplan in the fear of what the government will do to his wife). These character moments are the best parts of the show, and aid considerable in the show’s worldbuilding.
However, these were hardly the only developments. Christine is rescued from Federal holding by the appearance of Sam’s college friend, a lawyer named Paul Wells (Jay Hernandez). How did he know she was being detained? I can’t be the only person who wondered this, even if it could be explained away easily enough by someone sensitive to Sam’s plight informing a friend. But it feels like a broader con, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Wells attempts to seduce her, whether physically or emotionally, into turning against Sam. ABC promotes elements of this show as being among TV’s great love stories, while picturing Sam and Christine side-by-side, and though the fact that they’re half a world apart is obstacle enough to their love, I wouldn’t be surprised if they added the problem of temptation on both ends, with Christine fending off the advances of Paul while Sam comes to terms with whatever it is he feels for Grace, whether simply friendship or something more. Of course, I’ve made routine claims that I really have no business trying to predict where any show is going this fall, particularly ABC series, since they seem altogether intent on bucking audience expectations. I can’t even tell you how hilariously wrong I was on my Revenge predictions in season one. Last Resort is already a remarkable show in the bare elements of what it presents. I’m in no rush to see it get too complicated, since it’s already alluringly complex as it is.
Other tangential plotlines in the episode follow James King as he continues to get wasted at the bar owned by Tani Tumrenjack (Dichen Lachman), and their chemistry isn’t really enough to make their scenes interesting, although we’re still in the early going, and King is a character of considerable damage, which gives the indication that he’s going to be pretty interesting down the line. He’s still got a lot of baggage over whatever his failed mission in the pilot was, since it’s implied that the SEAL team’s failure resulted in all of this happening in the first place, to say nothing of the US’s bombing of Pakistan. We also check back in with Kylie Sinclair, who’s trying to get to the bottom of this entire mess, particularly since it directly involves the use and misappropriation of her family’s weapons technology. I like the character of Kylie Sinclair, though I’m not that into what they’re doing with her thus far, since she’s mostly just blackmailing good people left and right. I’m not saying there isn’t potential for her character down the line, particularly as she gets closer to the truth, but right now her scenes are a slog that detract from the intrigue on Sainte Marina.
And intrigue there is. As Chaplin and Kendal have their heart-to-heart, Chaplin drops the prophetic line, “Sometimes the enemy is just the man keeping you from getting home.” Sam looks Marcus dead in the eye, and there’s the sense of the broader arc coming to the surface. We learn earlier that Sam had been held in a POW camp by North Korea, where he was forced to play Russian Roulette against the other captives, Deer Hunter-style, leading to Marcus going “off the reservation” to secure his friend’s release. These two men mean a lot to one another, perhaps more so now that Chaplin has lost his son. It will be interesting to see how this surrogate father-son bond is tested, or how the teacher-student nature of their relationship grows more complex in the face of Sam’s desire to get home to Christine, and how it clashes with Marcus’s disenfranchisement with his country. Last Resort is already a force to be reckoned with, and episode like “Blue On Blue” give no indication of the series letting up any time soon.