I’ve always been a bit prickly about titles, particularly when something awesome is given a generic moniker: Bioshock…Mass Effect…and now, Last Resort. The premiere is one of the most exhilarating pilots I’ve seen from a major network in years, and, with any luck, the show will be able to overcome the massive handicap of its timeslot, up against the season premieres of The Big Bang Theory and Two And A Half Men. That said, the show is certainly strong enough to give similar high-concept hour-long scripted dramas a run for their money, on quality alone.
The series follows the exploits of the USS Colorado, a nuclear submarine with 18 missiles and 150 hands on deck. As the series begins, the Colorado surfaces to provide medical evacuation for a SEAL team completing a mission just off the Pakistani. Captain Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher) doesn’t press the men about their mission, though XO Lt. Commander Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman) is less keen on letting the men go unquestioned, considering the SEAL team had some serious firepower gunning after them. Right off the bat, the series digs into the theme of authority that becomes prevalent as the premiere moves forward: from the dangers of blind obedience to the repercussions of questioning the motives of those in power, even the tenuous nature of power itself. Authority is a multifaceted construct, particularly in military, where chain of command is paramount to the integrity of any operation. Though the chain of command is established on the Colorado almost immediately, we come to see just how ephemeral that authority can be.
But authority isn’t really the central premise here, only a theme in the larger construct. Last Resort sports a very high-concept premise, Lost by way of a Tom Clancy novel. And it works, not only because it’s a fascinating premise in itself, but also because the stakes are established almost immediately. The conflict at the show’s center is a matter of national security, if not the spark around which an international incident could take flame. This is a matter between a war on a single front, versus World War III on the other, and the show is wise to establish, beyond just the personal stakes of the individuals on the USS Colorado, the larger implications of the conflict. But more on that conflict later…
We settle into the routine of the ship, which runs like a well-oiled machine, though some of the crew, such as COB Joseph Prosser (Robert Patrick) is less than warm towards ship navigator Lt. Grace Shepard (Daisy Betts), believing her position to be less a matter of merit and more a formality of Shepard’s status as both family friend of the Captain and daughter to a Rear Admiral in Washington. Meanwhile, we learn more about the men in charge. Chaplin and Kendal have a surrogate father-son/mentor-student relationship. Their experiences together have created a relationship built on respect and mutual admiration, which is why Chaplin recommends Kendal for a desk job back in the States, believing that his friend has earned the right to be home with his beautiful young wife, Christine (Jessy Schram). Chaplin, for his part, has a son in the military, showing just how deeply patriotism runs in his family, and in his marrow. This is our setup for the cataclysm that follows.
The Colorado receives an order to launch nukes at Pakistan, and as Chaplin and Kendal confirm the launch order and insert their keys to trigger the launch sequence, Chaplin cannot bring himself to say what’s clearly on his and Kendal’s minds: why did the order come through a backup channel? The communications relay, established in Antarctica, was designed to be used only in the event that communications in Washington were rendered inoperable (such as via an attack on the capitol). Chaplin requests that one of his officers patch through to a United States television feed. A standard run-through of the major networks reveals that nothing is amiss: the news says nothing of an attack, and they’re even airing Hannah Montana as regularly scheduled (is Hannah Montana even still a thing?). Unsettled and, frankly, a little pissed off, Chaplin phones the capitol and demands to speak with someone whose authority he recognizes. When the aforementioned authority answers the phone (speaking, he says, on behalf of the Secretary of Defense), he authenticates the order.
Chaplin refuses, and the man relieves him of his command over the phone, naming Kendal his replacement on the spot. However, after a brief moment of consideration, Kendal stands by Chaplin. No sooner do they refuse the order than the Colorado is hit by a missile. All hell breaks loose, water breaches the interior of the ship, and the Colorado settles at the bottom of the ocean, twelve people losing their lives in the process. The kicker? The attacking ship was the USS Illinois: an American vessel. This, coupled with news that the US launched nukes on Pakistan anyway, is enough to throw a wet blanket on Chaplin’s unquestioning patriotism. The USS Colorado surfaces and docks on the nearby island of Sainte Marina, commandeering a NATO communications outpost, and declaring a No Man’s Land in the 200-mile radius around the island. Chaplin sends a public message to the United States government that they are NOT to be messed with, firing a warning nuke towards Washington (which detonates safely 200 miles off the coast).
“We have 17 more nuclear missiles aboard, and we will not hesitate to unleash fiery hell down upon you. Test us, and we will all burn together.”
The premiere is significantly more badass than the ads would have you believe, with Andre Braugher doing a stellar job at the head of it all, projecting the authority of a man who’s seen more than his share of hardship in the line of duty, and who’s had his patriotism tested beyond the limits of compromise. Scott Speedman is also a far better actor than he’s ever gotten the chance to show before, as a man caught between loyalty and duty, choosing loyalty even at the cost of his freedom. Robert Patrick also communicates the usual, intolerant menace he’s perfected over the years, and he has a very fitting scene partner on which to focus that menace in Daisy Betts, who effectively plays a young woman of quiet dignity, refusing to carry a chip on her shoulder. I would also be remiss if I didn’t single out Dichen Lachman, whose Navy SEAL gets the Badass MVP Award for his threatening monologue to the island’s criminal overlord, calmly detailing how he’s going to take down each of his henchmen before delivering him to a slow, painful death.
The entire crew, plus the PTSD-stricken SEALs, are stranded, with Chaplin suggesting that perhaps Sainte Marina is home now. That doesn’t truck with Kendal, who wants to discover who set them up and why, in order to clear their names so they can return home, free and clear. This is a rich, character-driven conflict between student and mentor. One of Chaplin’s first pieces of dialogue in the premiere relates that the one absolute truth of being the man with his finger on the button is to convince your doubters that you’re just crazy enough to push it. As we roll on, Chaplin’s state of mind becomes one of the biggest wild cards in the premiere, having the potential to become an even bigger arc as we continue in the series. Whether he follows the General Patton model of leadership, or if he goes the way of Colonel Kurtz of Apocalypse Now, is a fascinating arc to tell over the course of the thirteen episodes this show has been gifted so far (whether it gets a full season pickup or gets canceled before then, remains to be seen).
Chaplin is already self-indoctrinated, in a certain respect, having his beliefs broken by what he considers a betrayal of the basic principles of democracy, and buying into his own revolutionary, isolationist rhetoric. There are hints of a man taken with the idea of his own power, but also sadness at the necessity of his having to use it in such a dramatic fashion at all. Before firing a nuke towards Washington in a gamble to get the US to disengage the B-1 bombers from razing the island, Chaplin asks Kendal if he really thinks he’d ever do anything that wasn’t in the best interest of not only the people on the submarine but also the people of the United States. We have no reason to believe that he wouldn’t, but, as Kendal says to Chaplin after the latter records his declaration to the United States government, he might well be “just crazy enough.”
Of course, these conflicts would be enough to sustain any network show, but there’s plenty more going on in the bigger picture.
We’re introduced to Kylie Sinclair (Autumn Reeser), a lobbyist for her family’s munitions company, who has someone on the inside leaking information about what really happened to the Colorado, confronting Shepard’s father, Rear Admiral Arthur Shepard (Bruce Davison), with the truth that the US government’s assertion that the Colorado was sunk by the Pakistanis. Sinclair quickly realizes that Admiral Shepard honestly didn’t know that the Pakistani story was a lie. He gets to speak with his daughter on Sainte Marina, thankful that she’s not dead. But the government puts the kibosh on the conversation, layering on another level of intrigue. But we’re not without clues as to what happened…
When news of the retaliatory attack on Pakistan is shown on the TV in the Sainte Marina bar where he’s drinking, the hard-edged SEAL James King (Daniel Lissing) breaks down crying, saying “Did you see that? That was my fault. I made that happen.” It’s fairly clear from the first frames of the pilot that the SEAL team’s mission is the catalyst that created this situation in the first place. But what went so wrong that it necessitated a nuclear strike to eliminate evidence of their failure? It’s the central mystery of the show, and it’s a fascinating tidbit on which to speculate.
Last Resort is a staggeringly excellent premiere. I encourage everyone to give it a shot. It’s online right now, free and legal, with link provided below. Definitely give it a look.