ABC - Thursday 8/7c
The networks have been without a truly great drama since Friday Night Lights went off the air a couple years ago. And that had to be fronted by DirecTV. Before that, you have to go to Lost, which aired its final episode in 2010. Cable networks have dominated the drama Emmy's in recent memory, and the networks have been fine with cop procedurals, teenage dramas and failed attempts to find the new fantasy obsession.
With all that said, Last Resort is excellent. The acting, the writing and the plotting is some of the best the networks have produced in a while, and the entire pilot keeps you engaged the entire time, either with conspiracy theories, smart dialogue and good ole fashioned American honor.
1. Does it entertain me?
From the very first scene, Last Resort sucks you into a world in which Marcus Chaplin (Andre Brauger) and Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman) are commanding the nuclear submarine USS Colorado with the respect of their crew. The immediate connection is to the Gene Hackman-Denzel Washington "should we follow unknown orders or not" drama Crimson Tide, where Chaplin and Kendal are suspicious of an order to launch a nuke at Pakistan that came over an unsecured channel designed to be employed if and only if the US has been wiped out.
Sounds good to me.
But Chaplin and Kendal are men of honor, and have suspicions about a command that cannot be confirmed while Hannah Montana does her thing on their broadcast channels and weather reports are reporting not a nuclear winter. What follows is a back and forth with the Colorado and "Washington" over what they should do. Eventually the crew parks their sub in the harbor of a NATO command post that looks suspiciously like Oahu and take the post over.
What makes Last Resort so compelling is, first and foremost, the acting job done by Andre Braugher. He plays Chaplin as a man who could kick your butt and make you feel like you deserved it. He is well-liked yet firm, and his loyalty lies with his crew and his country.
Along with the submarine, there is the cat and mouse game going on with X-Men Senator Kelly (played by Bruce Davison) and the inventor of a fancy engineering thing on board the Colorado (no idea what it is. Hey, I'm no friggin genius) who tells Senator Kelly that the sub was attacked by American orders. Clearly there is more at play here, and we will the season trying to figure out what's going on.
There are so many questions out there, which is exactly what a pilot is supposed to do: engage the audience and give them a reason to come back. On top of that, Chaplin has become disillusioned by the American government, mostly because of that whole trying to kill them thing, and now wants to stay on the island of Sainte Marina, which does not make the local hostiles happy.
Shows like this succeed with the right production and showrunning, and the right creative choices. It doesn't fall into the trap of so many other shows by letting the music take over. Most scenes of dialogue let the words speak for themselves, with the ambiant sounds of the jungle as the background, and thus the tension is not artificially amped up, and inappropriately, too. It really is a joy to see this, especially in light of Revolution, which attempts to mask the poor dialogue with dramatic strings.
2. Is it realistic?
I'm not sure Pakistan is our greatest threat and the one we should be nuking, but I could see how some government officials could see that. And I could buy a submarine captain disobeying those orders because they didn't come through a secure channel.
I think that might be what makes the show actual realistic: it's based in a real world. It's why Nolan's Batman trilogy works so well, because it's based in reality. You accept the actions of these men because you accept the world in which the show is set.
3. Are immoral actions defended?
In Rob Reiner's A Few Good Men, Dawson and Downey were found guilty of manslaughter even though they were given an order to punish Pvt. Santiago. The idea was that they should have known better than to beat up a weaker kid, and by not disobeying a direct command, they instead violated the moral law, which is still punishable.
Catholic Social Doctrine takes this up as well and says that you must not obey a military command that clearly violates the moral law.
This is the issue that is at the heart of Last Resort. Should you follow a military order that would result in the deaths of thousands of innocents because it's a direct military order, or do you have an obligation to understand that order and question if it comes from a legitimate government authority?
So because Chaplin ignores the order, he earns the wrath of his more military-order-above-all-else minded underlings.
4. Are traditional family values upheld?
There is one scene of a half naked woman cavorting with a man, but there is no other instance of sex. Kendal spends the time looking for a picture of his wife, and his wife is grief-stricken when she fears the false report that her husband was killed.
The show is also setting up a Kendal vs Chaplin feud, with Kendal wanting to go home to his family, and Chaplin deciding that Sainte Marina is his new home.
Overall, Last Resort is the best new network show of the season. Without question, really. It tries to go with the Homeland idea of corruption in the government and using American politics as the backdrop for the rest of the series. I still think a show like this would benefit from a 13 episode season, but I think we're a long way from that being the norm on networks, because money is the driving force rather than creativity, and 22 episode seasons mean they need to spend less money on development.