Fall 2012 Review: Last Resort

20 Sep

Last Resort is one of the two big complicated serial shows being attempted on network television this autumn (Revolution is the other).  These shows generally come in two flavors, huge conspiracy and science fiction/supernatural (some have a mix).  Last Resort is the former, and has the pedigree of being the product of The Shield creator Shawn Ryan.  The first episode was plot-heavy, even for a pilot, and a little confusing, so follow along closely and try to keep up, or skip to the end if you plan on watching it for yourself.

The action begins on a submarine, the USS Colorado.  Captain Marcus Chaplin (Homicide: Life on the Street star Andre Braugher) is a long time veteran and his second in command is Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman), who has a young wife at home.  Marcus says Sam’s been recommended for a desk job so after this one final mission he can go home and spend time with his wife.  They pick up a couple of Navy Seals who were stranded on some mysterious mission and who, upon being picked up, don’t play nice with the sailors on board.  A bunch of not all that interesting personal sub drama passes by (some resent the female third in command, possibly because she’s female, possibly because she’s very young and the daughter of an Admiral played by Bruce Davison).

The sub gets an order to fire a nuclear strike at Pakistan.  Marcus and Sam get their keys out and are ready to turn them, before they look at each other, and say, wait a second, this order came from a strange secondary command channel (who doesn’t love complicated military jargon?), let’s get some more confirmation before you know, killing millions of people and possibly starting a nuclear holocaust.  Apparently this secondary command channel is only supposed to be used if DC is incapacitated, and Marcus checks their TV, and sees that well, the US isn’t blowed up.  He calls up some Washington people to double check his orders.  The Navy Seals and Robert Patrick (I can not figure out what his role is yet – he seems senior to most people but below the captain and his main role seems to be to lambaste every decision the captain makes) both tell him to turn the damn key, and when he questions the order, the Washington person tells him, well, he’s no longer in command, and Sam is the new captain.  Unfortunately, Sam is also like, what the fuck, and doesn’t fire, leading to a mysterious attack on their sub from another American ship.  As shocking as that is, once they collect their bearings and check the TV, they’re eve more surprised to see that the attack on them is being billed as an attack by Pakistan, giving the US license to launch a counter attack on what the sub people know is a phony pretense.

Realizing they can’t go back home without being attacked by more US planes, they surface at some island nearby, a tiny Caribbean nothing island apparently run by a random native who is the resident crimelord/man who runs island.  The naval officers take the island over, including a NATO station.  They challenge the power of the resident ruler and investigate but are given away when a lower ranking officer rats them out and is about to shoot Sam, before the man threatening gets shot instead by the third-in-charge woman.  Everyone runs off to the sub, and they’re all about to be killed by oncoming American bombers when Marcus threatens to send a nuke to DC if the bombers aren’t called off.  The bombers are called off, but the nuke lands anyway, albeit in the middle of the ocean, but well, everybody on the sub isn’t getting home anytime soon without being arrested forever.  Braugher records a video telling the US and the world that they’ve got a dozen or so more nukes, and if anyone fires on the island, those nukes are a firing.

Oh, and one of the Navy Seals gets wasted at a local island bar where he offhandedly mentions that he may be responsible for the whole sequence of events which took place.

There are a couple of scenes in DC as well.  A brillian female weapons contractor yells at the Naval admiral played by Bruce Davison for covering up some naval plot but he acts like it’s a surprise to him too.  Apparently she thinks it may have something to do with a crazy new weapons system she designed.  Scary government people have convened at Sam’s wife’s house as well, and when Sam tries to call home, he’s cut off after a minute.  Similar scary government people cut off the admiral when he’s talking to his daughter.

There’s plenty of questions asked – both trying to explain what happened, and where we go from here – why the nuclear strike, why the secondary command channel, why the cover up, etc.  I’m quite intrigued.  I can’t help myself – as much as I know that 90% of these types of shows end up deteriorating into some combination of nonsensical plot and miserable dialogue and lazy characterization, even the slightest hint of conspiracy is like catnip for me, for at least one episode, anyway.  As far as how Last Resort fares so far in these other non-plot aspects, dialogue, characters, etc, etc., well.  I think it’s better than Revolution’s first episode and superior to Terra Nova last year.   One of the many dangers of these types of shows is that the exciting plot can cover up for really cliched or boring characters, and while the characters weren’t exactly fleshed out a whole lot in this first plot heavy episode, well, Andre Braugher is good, and well, The Shield supposedly had good characters.  There are some potential cliches in the world-weary-but-wise commander and the plucky-young-female-officer-bent-on-earning-respect but I’ll give the show a little bit of leeway.  Instead the show chose to focus on drawing viewers by ratcheting up the stakes in the first hour; it’s hard to get much tenser than the possibility of all out nuclear war with an atomic bomb going off in the first episode; even 24 went well into season 2 before firing the initial nuclear blast.  It feels like cheating and it’s going to be very difficult to keep the subsequent episodes nearly as fast-paced, but as far as making me want to know more, it worked.

Will I watch it again?  Probably.  I knew I would be on the hook from the premise.  I’m a sucker for this kind of shit.  Unlike comedies, which often build from the premise, even what end up being mediocre dramas can have fine first episodes that make the show seem really exciting.  So I certainly will not be incredibly hopeful.  But I’ll watch.

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