Last Resort remains genuinely exciting, yet I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve seen “Voluntold” before: the mutiny among the crew, a tense-as-hell setpiece, the longing to go back home, and the mistrust of the government. It hits all the same beats, and it’s part of the slow burn narrative Last Resort has decided to follow. It does these things remarkably well, but it doesn’t really feel as though the narrative is advancing in any substantial way. Chaplin (Andre Braugher) is still defiant and resolute in his convictions, while Kendal (Scott Speedman) isn’t entirely sure how he feels, torn between his loyalty to Marcus and his desire to get back home to his wife, Christine (Jessy Schram). Meanwhile, Navy SEAL James King (Daniel Lissing) broods at the bar of Tani Tumrenjack (Dichen Lachman), adopting a vague, flirty relationship with the bartender that seems grounded in their mutual damage. “Voluntold” is a fine episode, and does an admirable job of feeling like a story with stakes, which not many drama/thrillers on TV bother to do. But it often feels like an off-color rerun, as obtuse as it is familiar.
The new Secretary of Defense has officially charged Chaplin and Kendal with treason. Furthermore, he’s put out a hit on Chaplin, and forwarded the order to the crew of the Colorado, and to any other boats in the vicinity. Kendal has no choice but to confront Chaplin with the fact that the majority of the crew has no desire to be on Sainte Marina, nor do they particularly want to face a trial for treason. So Chaplin agrees to put up a board with “Stay” and “Go” categories, where each crewman can sign their names under their designated choice. If they choose to stay, then they accept the responsibilities that staying entails. If they choose to go, then they will be free to leave as soon as safe transport can be arranged off the island. It doesn’t take long for Chaplin to realize that he’s going to be losing a lot of good hands on deck.
Meanwhile, Christine is going through some hardship back home, between her sick mother and her lack of any income whatsoever, as Sam’s income has been voided on account of the treason charge. Kendal’s old friend, lawyer Paul Wells (Jay Hernandez), comforts her and hands her all the cash on him to help her through for right now, but the sight of the word “TRAITOR” spray-painted on her garage door sends Christine into a manic fit. She storms at the media, wielding a baseball bat, bashing in the windows of a news van and shouting that the media ought to be reporting the truth about the Colorado – the truth the government is withholding. It’s the most we’ve gotten from Christine in a substantive sense, and she feels like more than just some shrinking violet, a Penelope waiting for her Odysseus to come back home. There’s a real fire there, and I wish we’d have gotten a bit more of her this week, although I concede that there probably wasn’t much more to do with the storyline (other than to further tease potential infidelity with Wells). All there is for Christine to do is wait – wait for Sam, and for word that never comes. On that score, Kendal records a message to Christine, which Sophie (Camille De Pazzis) attempts to get off the island through the tyrannical Julian Serrat (Sahr Ngaujah), who, in an unsurprisingly dick move, watches the footage for laughs instead of mailing it. Serrat seems to have Sophie by the scuff, sending her out searching for rare minerals in the island’s soil which can be used for weapons manufacturing and other technology, a search that proves no results, which only pisses Julian off further.
I’ll say this for Julian, he’s as artlessly unsubtle a villain as you can get, and that’s actually fairly refreshing for the series, which dabbles in shades of grey, between the actions of certain sectors of the US government (with the implication that the left hand doesn’t necessarily know what the right hand is doing, or even that it’s done anything at all) and the further unhinging of Marcus Chaplin. His actions also have far-reaching consequences in the narrative, as the lingering guilt of Petty Officer Josh Brennan leads to tonight’s big setpiece. Last week, Serrat forced Brennan, Seaman Cortez, and their colleague, Redman, to decide who among them would be executed for Chaplin’s failure to meet Serrat’s deadline. With a gun to his head, Brennan offered up Redman, consigning him to death to save his and Cortez’s lives. The guilt leads Brennan to storm the USS Colorado, grenade in hand, intent on sinking the ship and all souls onboard, in order to redeem himself by putting an end to this treasonous business.
It’s the best sequence of the episode, with Brennan essentially begging for Chaplin to give him a good reason not to blow the submarine to kingdom come, and Chaplin rising to the occasion with a profound bit of oratory, detailing exactly what is at stake, that it’s more than simply bitterness over the country turning its back on them – it’s a matter of principle. Brennan pulls the pin on the grenade and demands to speak to the Secretary of Defense. With the new Secretary of Defense on the line, Brennan asks what his order are, and the Secretary orders him to blow the ship sky high. But Brennan can’t bring himself to do it, and Chaplin is able to talk him into handing over the explosive, placing the pin back into the grenade. The power of Chaplin’s oratory is enough to get a sizable number of names from the “Go” list to sign their names to the “Stay” list. The mission is about more than any one individual, it’s about answering betrayal with defiance, a moral stand bolstered by the confidence of knowing you’re right.
“Voluntold” is significant also for giving James King his first resonant arc of the series, as he sets about the process of taking care of his own. First, he confronts Serrat, who’s horded all the morphine, in order to procure a dose for his injured friend, wounded on the mission from which the USS Colorado rescued them. Then, he’s off to bury his best friend, who died in the ensuing chaos of the USS Colorado coming under attack from the Illinois. There’s still a disquieting vagueness to what the SEALs were doing, and that’s more than fine, for now. Whatever their mission entailed, it’s part of the overarching narrative of the show, the mystery from which the events of the series are catalyzed. King’s broodiness makes it difficult to get a good read on him, and his dour demeanor makes it hard for him to come across sympathetic, but “Voluntold” gives us a better opportunity to get inside his skin, particularly in a sequence where he prevents his fellow SEALs from taking his friend’s body away with them (they’re on the “Go” list), taking a hell of a beating in the process. The scene in which he buries his friend is poignant, arguing that while Sainte Marina is a beautiful resting place, “You deserved Arlington.” Less poignant is Tani tucking a weary, drunken James in bed and giving him a kiss. I don’t know that the “Will they?/Won’t they?” nature of this relationship is interesting enough to be dragged out much further. But it’s one of only a few missteps in a very solid hour.
Lastly, the business with Kylie Sinclair (Autumn Reeser) is beginning to feel increasingly labored. Kylie has a point when she rants about the government’s mishandling of their family’s technology, but chooses to be insufferably abrasive in making that point, coming across like the spoiled daughter of a man who actually knows what he’s doing, and I can’t imagine that this was the intention. Of course, there is still potential in her storyline. Hell, there always has been. It goes with the territory of having a guy like Bruce Davison (Admiral Shepard, Grace’s father) involved, to say nothing of the presence of Michael Gaston as the patriarch of the Sinclair family, who reveals that he was the one who ordered Kylie’s apartment robbed, to keep the Perseus data safe. That’s not the only news we get from this story, as the news reveals something called “The Bolton Doctrine,” which has to do with launching a preventative nuclear strike and not, disappointingly, the deployment of “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You?” on all military frequencies. I’m not entirely certain where this storyline is going, but it’s beginning to seem that the order to fire on the Pakistan, and the subsequent order to fire on the Colorado, are the workings of a rogue branch of the government, and not an expansive operation. Either way, I think Kylie might find her paths crossing with Christine’s soon enough, as she watches Christine’s justifiably psychotic rant on the news. That said, wherever they’re going with this, I hope they get there soon, since this side of the story feels like it’s spinning its wheels, struggling for relevancy against the weightier business on Sainte Marina.