Recap and review of Last Resort – Season 1 Episode 9 – Cinderella Liberty
Man, am I going to miss Last Resort. It’s almost impossible for me to compose myself after that episode. “Cinderella Liberty” might be one of the most tense, well-constructed episodes of a network series I’ve seen all year. It was like a master’s class in how to build suspense. The episode also revealed how this entire business got started, as we find out just why the USS Colorado was ordered to fire on Pakistan in the first place, in a revelation that not only is wholly satisfying as an explanation to a long-standing mystery, but is also internally-consistent within the show’s narrative, as many viewers likely could have pieced this one together themselves. Whereas, in other genre shows, that might be a detriment, it works on Last Resort precisely because the show hasn’t been dragging out the mystery interminably, to where we might be disappointed by the payoff. Here, everything builds beautifully, and the narrative of the season pivots in a profoundly interesting direction. Much of the episode benefits from the weaknesses of the series being cut away, primarily Serrat (Sahr Ngaujah) and Tani (Dichen Lachman), although it remains troubling that we’ve heard neither head nor tail of the COB (Robert Patrick) these past two weeks, after having been tortured by Serrat in the jungle (but hey, at least his absence is noted this week, so there’s that, I guess). In its totality, however, “Cinderella Liberty” succeeds by maintaining a knife’s edge tension through the entire episode, culminating in one of the best gambits I’ve seen in recent television history.
Following up on last week, the episode charts the arrival of the freighter carrying the families of the USS Colorado crew, a show of good faith from the American government. However, as the boat nears Sainte Marina, it is boarded by a militant Pakistani contingent, who takes the loved ones hostage in order to extort Marcus (Andre Braugher) into firing one of his nukes at India, a rogue general of which is threatening to advance on the sovereign nation. Unfortunately, we know that Marcus couldn’t fire his nuke even if he wanted to, since Cortez (Jessica Camacho), the secret CIA mole within the crew of the Colorado, still has the second launch key. A family member will be killed for every half hour that the nuke isn’t fired, creating a cataclysmic ticking time-bomb scenario for Marcus. It’s even worse for Sam (Scott Speedman), who learns that Christine (Jessy Schram) is on the boat, thanks to intel from Kylie Sinclair (Autumn Reeser), who pleads with Sam over the radio to get the SD card from the helmet-cam of the Navy SEAL team members in his unit, as it’s the only evidence that can prove a government frame-up. And like that, we have an intense, high-stakes story, as Marcus engages in the zero-sum game of reasoning with men to whom reason is a failing concept.
It’s almost impossible to do the episode justice by merely recapping it, but I’ll try.
First and foremost is the revelation of why the US government launched nukes on Pakistan. What exactly were they trying to cover up? As it turns out, The SEAL team had been sent into Pakistan to exfiltrate a nuclear inspector who had intended to verify Pakistan’s lack of nuclear armaments. Yet a contingent back in Washington (which might be rogue, or just might be the majority) decided that finding no weapons of mass destruction in Pakistan just wouldn’t fly, so Hopper was ordered to plant portable nukes and verify their presence by taking a video with his helmet-cam. He would then kill the inspector and blame the Pakistanis, exonerating the US government of all wrong-doing. But James King (Daniel Lissing) discovered Hopper in the act, and while he failed to stop him from killing a young Pakistani soldier that had been part of their retinue, he went all-out to stop him from killing the inspector. The inspector drew a firearm amid the chaos, and gave Hopper his infamous gunshot wound, before attempting to do the same to James. In an unfortunate twist, James instinctively fired in self-defense, killing the inspector himself. It is this scene of carnage that the elder of their Pakistani retinue happens upon, as the man finds the young soldier, his little brother, dead, and the inspector slumped back in his own blood. It is this same man who eventually turns militant, and becomes the incorrigible madman who takes control of the family freighter. Not even Admiral Ahsan (the commander of this insurgency movement, who comes to meet with Marcus aboard the Colorado) can reason with him, as the man ignores Ahsan’s orders to let the women go as a show of good faith, instead deciding to shoot a hostage and dump her body into the lonely sea. Marcus’s reaction to that particular act is a sterling moment for Andre Braugher. Hell, this entire episode is one long showcase for his considerable talents, and if it sounds like I’m gushing, it’s because I was more or less over-the-moon with his work this week.
The crew is sliding back into their mutinous rhetoric, wondering why Marcus won’t simply fire to save their families, and Cortez starts to have pangs of conscience about her hoarding of the second launch key, knowing that Marcus is in no position to assent to the Pakistanis’ demands. She eventually can’t bear the guilt after two more hostages are slain, and hangs the key on the door to Marcus’s cabin, in a scene that takes place off-screen. Meanwhile, on the boat, Christine and Paul (Jay Hernandez) make an alliance with a London-born, Indian news reporter on the boat, who gives them time to hide in the crowd by approaching the tyrant and offering him a platform to be heard all over the world. However, this alliance quickly dissolves when the reporter is held at gunpoint by the madman, and she offers Christine’s name in place of her own, arguing that, as the wife of the Colorado’s XO, she’s the key to the Pakistanis getting what they want. Christine agrees and offers herself in place of the other hostages. But Paul, anxious to fall on his sword for a pretty face (and I guess because he’s an alright guy), steps forward and offers to make a call to Washington to get the government to agree to their demands. Paul is shot in the abdomen, and again, in the chest, for his trouble. As he lay dying, he tells Christine that he only wanted her to be okay. And that earns him a heartfelt kiss…
…which Sam sees. He was able to sneak aboard the vessel alongside the James-led SEAL team. James has been kind of undersold as a character, but he really, truly steps to the fore this week, showing the kind of resolute, straight-up determination that we see far too little of in our heroes in fictional media these days. It was almost impossible not to give out a cheer when he stepped forward, upon Marcus asking his crew if anyone had tactical weapons training, and proclaimed, “Captain! This is what we do.” He even had a pair of stirring heart-to-hearts with Sam, in which Sam thanked James for volunteering for the mission even though he didn’t have to, and James vowing to bring Christine back. Then later, at the bar at the episode’s conclusion, with James apologizing for failing to get Christine back, and Sam telling James that he did more than he could have asked even his closest friend to have done. The assault on the boat itself is a very high-strung action sequence, made all the more tense by the question of whether Sam would pull the trigger on the tyrant prematurely in order to save Christine from her very likely execution, and end up dooming everyone on board the boat. Thankfully, the plan mostly goes off without a hitch, as James and his team get into position, and each member takes their shots, effectively neutralizing the Pakistani threat on the boat. However, Sam ultimately learns that he probably should have been just as concerned about his own team, as a SEAL team member named Fisher abducts Christine and makes off with her, rationalizing that she’s his ticket home. Sorry Mario, your princess is in another castle.
Yet the excitement on the family freighter pales in comparison to the tension on the Colorado. Grace (Daisy Betts) discovers the key left behind by Cortez, and arrives on the con with the key. The look on Braugher’s face, of shock, disappointment, and then incredulity, upon believing that Grace was the mole who took the key, is one of the highlights of the episode. Yet Marcus isn’t necessarily primed to fire, as he has a trick up his sleeve. Throughout the episode, he’d been on the horn with Washington, telling them to allow India to continue thinking he might launch a nuke. Meanwhile, he chats up Admiral Ahsan, who claims that Marcus’s angry invective against the US government is what inspired him to attempt this plot in the first place. Through their conversations, Marcus learns valuable intel about Ahsan and the tyrant aboard the freighter, which he puts to use in one of the ballsiest gambits I’ve seen on TV in recent memory, telling Ahsan that he’ll fire a nuke alright…except it’ll be aimed right at the heart of Ahsan’s home village (the location of which he learned in an innocuous bit of blather from Ahsan), so that maybe he and the tyrant can experience what it feels like to have their families put in harm’s way. The amount of skill it takes to keep so many plans in the air at one time (with India unsure whether Marcus will fire, Washington fearing he might, and Ahsan being struck dumb with concern for his home village) is absolutely galling. Crazier still, it works! And without a single nuke having to be fired.
“Cinderella Liberty” is the best episode of Last Resort by a country mile, and it sets us up for the last leg of the race, as Marcus tells Daisy to root out the CIA mole aboard the Colorado as a means of proving it isn’t her, while Sam declares he’s going to go after Christine, and James comes clean about Pakistan. The only part of the episode that doesn’t really work is the business with Kylie back in D.C., as she attends a Christmas party with her brother (Sam Page) and father (Michael Gaston), in a storyline that illustrates why Kylie is a good person, but also incredibly solitary and introspective. It’s a nice addition in terms of fleshing out her character, but it just doesn’t fit in the broader context of the episode. However, this isn’t nearly enough to derail the episode. “Cinderella Liberty” portrays villains driven to extremes by misunderstandings and the evil of others. It’s shades of gray, sure, but it still helps to deepen the show’s already-palpable sense of moral ambiguity, since both James and Marcus are, arguably, responsible for creating the monsters they had to deal with this week. I don’t know that a single, self-contained hour of television on one of the “big four” networks this season has gotten this much right, from start-to-finish. It’s episodes like these that make it all the more heartwrenching to know there are only four episodes to go before this vanishes from our airwaves altogether. In that sense, maybe it’s better to think of the show as a miniseries. Provided it gets a proper ending, I’d start mounting an Emmy campaign for the Miniseries category, if I were ABC. And only if that’s technically a possibility, although if American Horror Story counts as a miniseries, who really knows what the rules are, at this point? With or without awards, this was one staggeringly excellent hour of TV.