Are you watching ABC’s new series Last Resort? You should be. It’s one of those shows that you need to watch from the beginning (or you’ll be mighty confused), but it’s worth catching up. It’s intelligent, well-acted, and nicely written (if occasionally marred by a cliche or two). Created by Shawn Ryan, it is a tense, taut thriller of a primetime drama. Better than much of what’s on network TV these days, Last Resort would be comfortable in a premium cable lineup.
That it’s right there on network primetime is a testament to ABC taking a chance on such an intense political drama. Its cast includes the always-magnetic Andre Braugher in the lead role as Captain Marcus Chaplain, commander of the nuclear submarine Colorado.
In Last Resort‘s near future, the United States has become the world’s rogue nation. With its nuclear arsenal, including missile-laden submarines like the Colorado, and a media that is all-too-complicit in exchange for the breaking news of a war to cover, the U.S. had launched a pre-emptive nuclear attack under something called the Bolton Doctrine (wonder if the name suggests a connection to neocon John Bolton?) in the series first episode. The reasons for that are only now beginning to come (slightly) more clear. Although there are calls in congress to remove the president, we are told in this week’s episode that he enjoys a 68 percent approval rating.
Apparently, a powerful (very neocon-sounding) faction of politicians, military and arms manufacturers with sufficient power in Washington has conspired to take over U.S. foreign policy. With a desire to reassert U.S. power, this group believes that the country has become militarily weak, no longer the top-of-the-heap superpower it once had been. Triggering a war in the attempt to reshape the geopolitial map of the world, the military had ordered the Colorado to launch its nuclear warheads at Pakistan.
Chaplain, refusing to go along with the illegal, uncofirmed order, has now, along with his senior crew been charged with treason. In this week’s episode, a U.S. delegation visits the Colorado’s island sanctuary of Sainte Marina to negotiate the surrender of Chaplain and his crew.
New Secretary of Defense William Curry (Jay Karnes), and an old friend of Chaplain’s is among the delegation, along with Admiral William Shepard (Bruce Davison), the father of Colorado officer, Lt. Grace Shepard (Daisy Betts). The third member of the delegation is a senior White House advisor, sent as the president’s representative.
Not everyone in the goverment supports the goverment and its actions. We know that the original secretary of defense had resigned; but we don’t know what has happened to him. Is he in prison? Is he dead? Off on vacation, glad to no longer be involved? Who knows? But we now know that the Joint Chiefs are in chaos with half threatening to resign. Several individuals in and outside the goverment who had been aware of even small fragments of information have been assassinated.
Why target Pakistan, obliterating millions of people with two nuclear bombs (not to mention the collateral damage caused by fallout to the entire region)? Had the idea been to bomb and then blame another country? With the Colorado’s experimental cloaking device, had the idea been to hide the point of origin and then accuse Iran (perhaps) or China (even more likely) for a first strike? That would be pretext for retaliation (and a hell of lot more powerful an argument than George W. Bush’s elusive threat of WMD).
But with Chaplain refusing to cooperate, and another (uncloaked) submarine having to launch the missiles (in error), the entire world is turned upside down. The outcome, however, for this faction in the U.S. government is the same — war!
We don’t know the geopolitical landscape just prior the attack, so all we get are small clues. We had known that XO Sam Shepard (Scott Speedman) had been captured in action and tortured, a time he has refused to talk about with even his wife Christine (Jessy Schram, whom I recently interviewed). We now know he had been deployed to North Korea(!). Why North Korea? What had been going on in the Pacific that would have led to his capture by the North Koreans? I’m sure that’s a little thread dropped into the weave to be plucked later.
Back at home, the narrative is being developed and spread with the speed of a highly-contagious virus. The Colorado, under the command of a deranged man with nothing left to lose, his son killed in action (perhaps in the Middle East) launches his missiles without provocation and in contravention of U.S. policy. It’s a potent narrative, but one that would only stick if the Colorado were sunk and her crew along with it. To Curry and the White House, that is the only acceptable outcome.
The stateside narrative, however, is threatened Christine, who refuses play along. Far from the meek military wife she appears to be, she is using the cable news teams camped out on her lawn to shout the truth to the world. But she’s being painted as a madwoman.
When a so-called friend of Sam’s tries to comfort and “help,” showing her evidence that her husband is a traitor, attempting to defect with Chaplain to China and sell the Chinese the high-tech sub, Christine can’t believe it. “The ‘other woman’ always knows,” she explains to Kylie Sinclair (Autumn Reeser), the powerful young daughter of an arms dealer. Kylie had been in charge of developing the cloaking device, but now with a newly developed conscience, she is horrified by what she knows of this wide-ranging government conspiracy.
But not everyone in the government backs this scheme. Admiral Shepard, a close friend of the sub’s besieged captain, encourages Chaplain to stick by his guns until the time is right. He will then be the “symbol of the lie that won’t fit,” the smoking gun to end the nightmare in which the U.S. has found itself. At this point, we don’t know what will happen to the Admiral, who in this week’s episode kills the White House advisor and shoots Secretary Curry to prevent them from issuing an order to sink the Colorado.
Chaplain has threatened to hold the president on trial in absentia from the Island where the Colorado’s crew has taken sanctuary; he has the camera and equipment to do it. And with Navy SEAL James King (Daniel Lissing) now fully allied with the Colorado, and knowing exactly the SEALS’ mission in Pakistan in the hours leading up to the attack, Chaplain has a trump card to play. But King is the only one of the SEALS crew of six to have come around to understanding their horrific role in the mass murder of millions of Pakistanis. It’s mission not yet disclosed to the viewers as we try to put together this geopolitical puzzle.
Last Resort is a great new drama; it unfolds as tensely as a Ludlum novel with a dash (though not the political brand) of a Tom Clancy thriller. The U.S. government guys in control are the bad guys here; whether the good guys prevail in the end remains to be seen.
Is Last Resort a cautionary tale? Indeed it is. Is it a great ride — well acted and well written? Indeed, it is that too. If you are not watching it, you should be. It’s quite a ride.