Recap and review of Last Resort – Series Finale – Controlled Flight Into Terrain:
It’s strangely appropriate that the title for the final episode of Last Resort (as if in anticipation of its being canceled) is “Controlled Flight Into Terrain”. First coined by Boeing in the 1970s, it’s a term for when a manually-piloted vessel is accidentally steered into the ground, water or some other kind of obstacle it isn’t supposed to be steered into. In essence, it’s an unexpected cessation of flight. Last Resort, which has soared in a way few network shows have over the last twelve episodes, blending a genuinely-exciting, action-based, serialized narrative with an overarching thematic arc about the nature of power, has been suddenly grounded, brought to earth by that most insuperable of all obstacles for such TV shows: cancellation. I’m sure no one wants to hear me reiterate what a shame it is to lose such a thrilling, visceral, and nuanced show, but this finale is a prime example of just the kind of loss we’re suffering from having this show unceremoniously yanked from our screens. “Controlled Flight Into Terrain” leaves a few lingering loose ends, and introduces more than its share of questions, but it’s every bit as satisfying an ending as any series that actually got multiple seasons to plan and tell their stories. It’s actually really impressive, when you think about it, especially given the amount of work they had to do to retrofit this episode to be a series finale.
The episode, without commercials, runs 41 minutes, and it’s astonishing how much they actually manage to fit into the episode. There are factions on both the island and on the Colorado (to say nothing of Washington, D.C.) that are armed and ready for conflict, and the contrasting goals of these factions (hell, within these factions), is compelling enough to provide at least two hours of story, never mind 41 minutes of it. However, the problem with having this much story is that some of the plots get the shaft. The abduction of Christine (Jessy Schram) is resolved in one ten second throwaway, in which Hooper (David Rees Snell) ransoms her from her captor, with Kylie (Autumn Reeser) presumably having fronted the money to secure her release, and takes her back to the States. We also don’t get much in the way of a resolution for the pointless “rare minerals” plot with Serrat (Sahr Ngaujah), and the reconciliation between James (Daniel Lissing) and Tani (Dichen Lachman) doesn’t get enough time to feel organic, as opposed to rushed. But those are minor qualms in an impressive finale that manages to pack a lot of story into so little time.
The main thrust of the episode is that Marcus (Andre Braugher) and Sam (Scott Speedman) have to set aside their recent differences to keep the Colorado from falling into enemy hands, among other dangers. In fact, the episode sees many of the character conflicts come full circle through pairing in times of crisis: though Marcus and Sam spend much of the episode at each other’s throats (including an exceptional scene in which Braugher and Speedman shout themselves hoarse, espousing the ideological disconnects between what Marcus has been trying to accomplish through his resistance efforts, and what Sam has been trying to accomplish by attempting to peaceably undermine those efforts), they eventually come together and reaffirm their bond and friendship when attempting to stop madman Hal Anders (Michael Mosley) from handing the sub over to the Chinese – and, later, to prevent him from firing on Chaplin’s hometown of Dundalk, Maryland. Meanwhile, Grace (Daisy Betts) helps the injured COB (Robert Patrick) put down his own insurrection, as his men now follow Anders, and are intent on making sure neither Grace nor the COB escape the boat with their lives. Back on the island, Sophie (Camille De Pazzis) resists the demands of Serrat and Zhang (Chin Han), who have seized control of the NATO communications outpost in order to deliver the Colorado to the Chinese. But we’re still not done yet, as we check in on Kylie, who meets up with her boyfriend Robert (Darri Ingolfsson), who is paranoid and fatalistic about their chances of making it out of their situation alive, as President Bolton is looking to eradicate everyone who was a part of the attempted coup – leading to Kylie being given the choice to either prove her loyalty to the administration by killing Robert, or sharing his fate. Robert forces her to pull the trigger to save herself, but her story is far from over.
Each plot is haphazardly structured, by necessity, and it adds to the sense of chaos that permeates the finale. Michael Mosley is outstanding as Anders, playing him as a doomed, unhinged, self-righteous maniac, and it makes me despair that we didn’t get to see this villainous turn extended over a larger number of episodes. He’s dispatched of rather quickly towards the end, as Marcus tearfully guns him down (without a second thought) in retaliation for his murdering Brannan (Will Rothhaar), the kindhearted, loyal inside man Marcus planted within the insurrection. But the rest of the cast matches Mosley’s intensity, particularly Braugher, who’s always been doing yeoman’s work on this show. He tells Sam, as they plan a Controlled Flight Into Terrain in order to prevent Anders from successfully firing the missiles, about a near-death experience he had in which, after seeing his family in the hospital, he found himself on the con, back where he’s always belonged. Sam can’t help but laugh at how perfect it is that, even at the end, Marcus is at the one place that’s pretty much always been his home. Speedman also has a wonderful little scene with Sophie, in which he talks her into contacting Washington and ordering an airstrike to destroy the Colorado before the Chinese can get their hands on it. It’s a beautiful mirror of an earlier scene in the series, where Sophie had led a lost Sam back to safety via the radio – except he’s insisting, to the teary-eyed Sophie, that he’s no longer lost, that he knows exactly where he’s going, and he needs her help to get there. Sam eventually gets out of dying, but the scene plants the seed of the idea that this could be the end for him.
Ditto for the COB, who seems destined to die of his stab wound. However, his ingenuity in crafting cyanide gas to subdue his and Grace’s attackers is what wins the day. What had been a combative relationship between the two has gelled into one of mutual respect and admiration, as Grace promises to buy the drinks once they’re topside, and the COB giving a reassuring wink to Grace after their attackers are neutralized. It’s a beautifully-realized arc that comes close to mirroring the more genuine friendship between Marcus and Sam, which sees its conclusion when Marcus decides he’s going to go down with the ship, to make sure no one else gets their hands on it. Sam refuses to leave him, and offers to stay as well, but Marcus pleads with Sam to go, telling him that Sam has a home of his own, and that while he may not realize it, he has a lot more living to do. The two friends and colleagues trade salutes, in perhaps the most affecting moment of the series, as sparks fly around the ruined ship. Sam, Grace, and the COB make it out of the Colorado, and Marcus puts on his shades and laughs as he awaits the airstrike to take out the vessel that’s been his home. And that’s pretty much the story of Marcus Chaplin.
We see Sam, being interviewed by reporters upon returning to the States with the rest of the surviving crewmen of the USS Colorado, in which he promises to tell the story of Marcus Chaplin, and the good he did, and the man he was, right through to the very end. Over this, we see a series of shots that wraps up the lingering plot threads of Last Resort: James decided to stay with Tani on the island, building a life together with her, in which, as Tani told him, he doesn’t have to be a killer anymore, not for anyone; Kylie, with help from her father (Michael Gaston), shoots and kills President Bolton at a fundraiser, deposing the corrupt leader responsible for this whole mess, and gaining revenge for her fallen comrades; and Sam finally reuniting with Christine, announcing to the press that he’s finally home, and he doesn’t plan on leaving again. Now, this resolution, while still satisfying, isn’t all it could have been. There are a ton of questions about the coup that can’t be answered (Who takes President Bolton’s place? Do they pardon Kylie? Are the crewmen of the Colorado eventually brought up on charges?), and I honestly have no idea how this episode, which was in the can before word of the show’s cancellation came down from the network, they would have continued the show, given how final this episode felt. But I was immensely satisfied with what we got. They could have left us in the lurch, ending on a cliffhanger like so many canceled series before it, yet Shawn Ryan and co. (and, yes, ABC) found a way to allow this series to go out on a relatively high note, with a finale that is unexpectedly worthy of the show it’s concluding.
Was Last Resort the best series on TV? No. But it was certainly among the best new series of the season, so I’m obviously bummed to see it go. But this is a story that should find new life on DVD or Netflix, if it ever gets there, as it tells a tightly-paced, engaging 13-episode story that plays like a miniseries, in many respects. Its ambition may have ultimately been its undoing, or maybe it was simply the attitude among viewers that shows like this often get canceled, so why bother getting invested? Or maybe it was just the curse of a bad timeslot with steep competition (the Thursday 8:00PM hour has never been a winner for ABC, historically). Or maybe a show like this was just never going to be a hit. Either way, it’s remarkable that the show got the opportunity to develop into as strong a series as it did. I still believe there was a larger, more compelling series beneath it all that will now never be realized, but I’m thrilled to have discovered the series – even knowing it would be canceled. These sorts of shows do a tremendous service to serialized genre storytelling, as the narrative was as arresting as just about anything on television, owing to a plot as tense as it was thematically rich. I really hope this finds a new life in the home video market, as it’s a show that deserves to be seen. As for now, I can only say that I was glad to have seen it myself.