The negotiations that form the bulk of this week’s Last Resort have the feeling of being doomed from the start. Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher) is a principled man more than anything else, but he’s given to sudden flights of fist-clenching emotion. So it’s somewhat obvious, before the two sides even sit down to hammer out their issues, that proceedings are essentially doomed from the word “Go.” ABC has been sending out promos touting “Skeleton Crew” as the most epic hour of the season so far, and it’s hard to disagree on that score. There’s a lot going on, and a lot of it is the kind of explosive, nail-biting drama that made the series premiere one of the best pilots of the new fall season. Much of that drama is built on character, primarily Marcus Chaplin’s failure to hold himself to the same standard to which he holds his crew. However, strangely, it isn’t Chaplin who damns the negotiation efforts. Instead, an eleventh-hour twist throws everything into all-out chaos, giving us the best episode of Last Resort’s young season.
The US government arrives on Sainte Marina in the form of Secretary of Defense William Curry (Jay Karnes), and an entourage that includes presidential advisor Amanda Straw and Rear Admiral Arthur Shepard (Bruce Davison), Grace’s father. Curry is in the power position, and he knows it. He doesn’t negotiate so much as he dictates to Chaplin, raising Chaplin’s ire after invoking the name of his dead son. Chaplin grabs Curry by the scruff and threatens to pound his eyes into jelly, after having told Sam (Scott Speedman) earlier not to let emotions get involved in the negotiations.
This does nothing to help the Colorado, which is currently out on a mission to repair the island’s sonar array. Curry has ships surrounding the Colorado and closing in fast on its position, and it’s one of the tenser elements of the episode, with James (Daniel Lissing) repairing the array while rapidly losing oxygen, and Grace (Daisy Betts) having to deal with the second-guessing of Prosser (Robert Patrick) and Sophie Girard (Camille De Pazzis). As the Colorado comes closer to firing distance, Chaplin comes closer to losing his only leverage in negotiations. The sequence works by cutting out much of the fat of the last several episodes. Gone are the overwrought flirtations between James and Tani (Dichen Lachman). Here, James is all business, and Grace with him. She’s in absolutely no mood for Prosser’s misogyny. Instead, she runs the ship like a clockwork, taking command with the kind of assured confidence we haven’t yet seen from Grace. When Sophie challenges her authority, declaring that Grace is not God, she retorts that on this ship, she sure as hell is. The animus between Grace and Prosser has always been a bit on the cliche side, yet it’s a cliche that works, providing one of the clearest arcs of the series so far, which also makes it one of the strongest. “Skeleton Crew” develops Grace not only as a plausible leader, but as an authority figure who, in her more urgent moments, recalls Chaplin.
On the subject of Chaplin, our captain drives a hard line. When Curry threatens Chaplin with a full-on court martial, Chaplin implies that he knows more about the Navy SEALs’ mission than he does, smartly intuiting that while the mutiny of the Colorado is a public relations nightmare for the government, the revelation of the SEALs’ mission would be a thousand times worse. It’s a clever play, though Curry was never going to acquiesce to Chaplin’s demands for a public trial stateside, with cameras, reporters, the whole nine. However, he does succeed in goading Sam into accepting Curry’s deal, which will get him home to Christine (Jessy Schram). Marcus finds himself reflecting on his late wife, claimed by cancer, and presidential advisor Straw suggests to Sam that perhaps Marcus isn’t as concerned with getting home as he is with earning his own martyrdom. It’s hard to argue that Chaplin doesn’t have a death wish of some sort or another, given how easily he can be executed for treason, should he ever get back on American soil. But as a man of convictions, Chaplin seems made of sterner stuff than some vague desire to commit suicide-by-Army. There’s a larger game of chess being played between Chaplin and the government, and also between the government and its own allies, as we see with Kylie Sinclair (Autumn Reeser).
Kylie is flying solo without Admiral Shepard to volley conspiracy theories off of, and she’s every bit the proactive force she’s been in weeks past, first confronting the boyfriend who stole the Perseus flash drive from her apartment, and then seeking out Christine Kendal to form an alliance of sorts. If nothing else, both women are ardently committed to fishing out the obvious conspiracy at play in Washington, particularly after Paul Wells (Jay Hernandez) confronts Christine with emails of an alleged plot by Marcus and Sam to defect to China. Color me relieved that not only does Christine not buy the lie for a minute, but that she also doesn’t succumb to any seduction, overt or otherwise, from lawyer-boy Wells. The show is pretty good so far at crafting intelligent, proactive female protagonists, and “Skeleton Crew” is something of a showcase for the resiliency of the women in this increasingly complicated scenario.
Of course, Sam’s hopes of getting back home to Christine go up in smoke, as Straw interferes with the contract-signing, tears the document to pieces, and announces that the deal is off. The situation has changed, thanks to the Colorado being within firing distance. Curry immediately gives the order to fire, urging that he wants Grace dead. This gives us the episode’s big stunner: Admiral Sherpard drawing a firearm and shooting both Straw and Curry in a fit of pique. He may not know the extent of the conspiracy or its treachery, but he knows it’s there, and he knows his daughter is being put in harm’s way, unnecessarily, because of it. Earlier in the episode, Curry told Chaplin, “The truth is going to be whatever we say it is.” I wonder what kind of story they’ll cook up for Shepard’s outburst.
“Skeleton Crew” hits a grand slam by keeping a tighter focus on the clash between the government and the crew of the USS Colorado. It isn’t that the business on the island doesn’t have the potential to contribute in the future, but right now, the show’s real asset is in the politicking and internecine warfare spawned by a far-reaching conspiracy. ABC has apparently ordered more scripts for Last Resort, so while it might not be a full season order, this does bode well for the prospects of the series getting at least the opportunity to tell its story to its potential. After tonight’s uniformly stellar hour, that’s some pretty great news.