Last Resort is the new military-themed dramatic series by Shawn Ryan, creator of The Shield and The Chicago Code. It premiers this Thursday, September 27, at 7 pm central time on ABC, and it looks intriguing enough to have a future. And don’t worry, it’s not as bad as the publicity materials make it look.
(There are spoilers here, but not much more than you’d get from visiting the show’s website.)
The pilot episode is filled with activity and plot developments, beginning when the USS Colorado, a nuclear missile submarine operating in the Indian Ocean, picks up a SEAL team returning from an unknown mission during which something appears to have gone wrong.
In short order, we are introduced to Captain Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher) and his Executive Officer, Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman), who is considering a transfer to a stateside desk job so he can see more of his wife. We also meet Lieutenant Grace Shepard (Daisy Betts), who is the daughter of an Admiral and therefore suspected of incompetance by a couple of crew and maybe by Master Chief Joseph Prosser (Robert Patrick, looking appropriately gruff).
Almost immediately, the Colorado receives a coded order to launch four nuclear missiles into Pakistan. There’s something strange about the message, so Captain Chaplain reaches out to the chain of command for confirmation. That doesn’t go well, and it leads to a tense situation on board, which is interrupted by a missile attack on the Colorado, apparently launched from another U.S. Navy vessel. The situation has all the signs of some kind of fake incident to start a war.
We are also given glimpses of the situation in the outside world, where we meet the XO’s wife, Christine Kendal (Jesse Schram), as she receives word of the attack on her husband’s sub, and defense contractor Kylie Sinclair (Autumn Reeser), who manages to deliver some incredibly awkward exposition about the Colorado during a sex scene.
Some of this naval activity is being tracked by Sophie Girard (Camille De Pazzis), a scientist working at a NATO radar facility on the tropical island of Sainte Marina, where we also meet a local organized crime boss named Julian Serrat (Sahr Ngaujah) and, for some reason, bar owner Tani Tumrenjak (Dichen Lachman, apparently playing an ordinary human for once).
David Feige tells me that a pilot episode’s job is to wind up a clock that will unwind over the rest of the season, and this episode certainly winds it tight. Before the hour is over, Captain Chaplain will sail the Colorado into the bay at Sainte Marina and basically conquer the island, using the threat of the sub’s nuclear arsenal to fend off a U.S. counterattack. This will buy the crew some time to try to find out what’s happening, clear their names, and work through all the plot threads and conflicts setup in this episode, until they can finally return home to their loved ones.
Works of fiction are traditionally allowed to ask the audience to accept one crazy idea, and as crazy ideas go, this one isn’t too bad. However, the execution is a little shaky. One of the attractions of military thrillers is that they show the audience something interesting — how fighter jets evade missiles, or how Delta Force assaults an enemy compound — but Last Resort doesn’t feel like it has that level of authenticity.
Some of the suspect details can be excused by the shortcuts of television storytelling, such as fake radar screens that show events on the other side of the world, or the simplified procedures for launching missiles. On the other hand, the whole premise of anchoring the Colorado in the middle of the bay kind of defeats the purpose of having a submarine.
There’s something wrong, as well, with some of the characters. Daisy Betts seems to have a flirty smirk that will not go away no matter how angry or upset the script wants her to be. It’s not just a case of bad acting, however, because Autumn Reeser can’t seem to find the right way to say her lines either, and she’s got some acting depth. Maybe it’s because in real life there’s no such thing as a sex-kitten defense contractor?
I’m just saying, parts of the script are kind of hinky. Daniel Lissing plays Navy SEAL James King, who’s feeling worried and guilty about something yet to be revealed, but he can’t convince me his character actually knows what he’s so upset about. I don’t think the scriptwriters have told him yet.
Not that there isn’t some talent on the screen. Andre Braugher nails the role of Captain Chaplin, bringing just the right amount of gravitas, thoughtfulness, and decisiveness to the character, with just a little bit of mystery. And he doesn’t succumb to the TV drama shortcut of demonstrating leadership by yelling. Robert Patrick also turns in a good performance, disappearing into his role as the Chief of the Boat. Between them, they carry the episode.
Despite some of the problems, I still like the basic concept of the show, and I’m willing to believe that it could improve over the regular season, when there’s more time to develop the characters and conflicts. I’m going to keep an eye on Last Resort for at least a few more episodes.
(In case you’re wondering, there is no vessel named Colorado currently commissioned in the U.S. Navy, but a fast attack submarine with that name is under construction at Electric Boat.)