In my opinion, ABC’s thriller of a series Last Resort, is one of the best new shows to premiere on network television this season. And if you long for intelligent, tense political drama on regular old network primetime, then you must start watching. Like, now.
Starring the brilliant Andre Braugher, the breathlessly paced conspiracy thriller takes place in an a near-future world; tensions are high worldwide, and the president, in the pilot, is being impeached while the U.S. is in the midst of some sort of foreign policy crisis.
When the submarine Colorado is sent orders via a rarely-used alternative channel, the captain (Braugher) insists on confirmation; this channel is for use only in the event that Washington DC has been destroyed. Before he annihilates millions of Pakistanis, Captain Chaplain wants to be certain, especially after he boots up satellite TV, and sees nothing awry with regularly scheduled programming.
The Pentagon responds by sending another submarine, the Illinois, which launches a missile at the Colorado. Chaplin, calm as he is intense, doesn’t take this sitting down. With his crew wondering just what the hell is going on, Chaplain fires back, firing warning shots both at the Illinois, and ultimately the U.S.
The U.S. also nukes Pakistan, killing several million people. Who ordered it? We don’t yet know that, or why (and I suspect we won’t for a very long time). In the meantime, the Colorado and Chaplain are considered a dangerous national security threat.
They take refuge at a small, but strategic island, which is the home of a NATO early warning station. and are now considered rogue. By the end of the first episode, we aren’t entirely sure whether Chaplin has gone crazy or is a brilliant strategist with a plan.
The crew of the Colorado are not all behind their captain, who has been formally relieved of his command by the Pentagon. His chief of the boat (COB), played by Robert Patrick (The X-Files), and close friend of Chaplin, now believes his commander is a traitor. Many of the crew are on the COB’s side, at least for now. We don’t quite now at this stage the Chaplain’s allies are, and who among the crew believe that sabotaging Chaplain and his allies is the patriotic thing to do.
Back in DC, high-stakes politics are at play. Arms dealers, the intelligence community, and Defense Department officials all jockey for position. It is apparent, particularly because we know the president was being impeached, that there has been some sort of coup. Is it the military? Opposition politicians? Some sort of military-industrial complex conspiracy? An intriguing possibility. But, at this point, we don’t even know who is on which side or what (if anything) some of them know. In episode two, even Russian special forces become involved; the Colorado is a prize with its numerous nuclear warheads.
Navy SEALs who had hitched a ride on the Colorado at the beginning of episode one provide yet another potential adversary for Chaplain. We have no idea what part this specialized military team had in the original event. One of the SEALs seems reluctantly drawn in, driven to surreptitiously, at least, aid the crew of the Colorado
There is also a personal dimension to the story, beyond the thriller. The sub’s second in command, XO Sam Kendall (Scott Speedman) is newly married, and the current powers that be in DC have his wife Christine (Jessy Schramm, Once Upon a Time) her, using her to get to the XO, who’s loyal to Chaplain. The sub’s other officer, Lieutenant Grace Sheppard (Daisy Betts) is the daughter of an admiral, a friend of Chaplain’s, and who evidently is unaware of what’s really going on. We also learn in episode two that Chaplain’s beloved son, serving in the Middle East has recently been killed in action, and in episode three “Eight Bells” the Pentagon refuses to bury him until and unless Chaplain gives himself up, along with the Colorado.
There is additional intrigue on the island as several crew members have been kidnapped, being held by the shady Julien. Chaplain must bargain for their release.
Episode three takes place as several U.S. warships make their way to the island to confront Chaplain and the Colorado. At the same time, the Pentagon concocts a story in which the unprovoked U.S. attack on Pakistan was a pre-emptive attempt to deny terrorists based there a nuclear arsenal. “Pre-emptive nuclear war is the new foreign policy,” says a stateside arms dealer, horrified at the turn of events. Although she seems to have her own agenda, the more she learns, the more shocked she becomes, and the more willing she is to take risks against the new version of U.S. government.
The series is excellent, with heart-stopping tension at times, but with enough room to explore the main characters. Tightly and densely written, and well acted, there is so much going on, you really have to pay attention. This is serious, intelligent, speculative fiction, and with a profound political angle. And it’s on network TV. I’m positively giddy!
But this show requires thought, consideration and even contemplation. It’s a political thriller of a novel written for the long-form of television. Can it survive on prime time network TV? I certainly hope so, but the numbers aren’t looking great. It came in last among the three network series in its timeslot this week.
So if you haven’t seen Last Resort yet, start from the beginning. Catch up over the week, and tune in for episode four, which airs Thursday night at 8 PM ET on ABC.
I’ll be writing a weekly commentary on Last Resort for Blogcritics throughout the remainder of the season, and it will be part of the regular discussion on my weekly BlogTalk Radio show Let’s Talk TV, so stay tuned.