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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Last Resort a haven for TV

Grade: 98%

For a few years now, networks have searched for the next Lost, a television show popular and unique that will engage audiences in ways big and small. Nothing can ever truly replace Lost, and it’s going to take another groundbreaking, original series to reach those heights again. Recent attempts have fallen far short. In ABC’s new drama, LAST RESORT, we may finally have found something that comes close.

As the “Pilot” begins, Captain Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher, Men of a Certain Age) is in command of the U.S. Navy submarine, Colorado. He receives orders to fire nuclear weapons at Pakistan on a secondary channel that is only supposed to be used if the primary communication system is taken out. Not seeing any problems with Plan A, Chaplin questions the order. The White House immediately relieves him of command and tells the first officer, Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman, Felicity), to obey the directive. When Kendal hesitates, another sub fires on the Colorado, nearly sinking it.

What an auspicious start for a series! There is already mystery, political intrigue, a band of heroes who must bring a crooked government to light, and some very exciting action sequences. These early scenes are done incredibly well, both visually, and in how the actors do their jobs.

The implications of the Colorado being struck are swiftly brought to light. The U.S. government blames Pakistan for striking the submarine and bombs the Middle Eastern country. What would have been the excuse for starting a war if the Colorado had just done what they had been told to do? Why do Americans need to get dragged into another conflict of this nature? Who is really behind the plan? Will Chaplin and crew be able to expose what’s happening to the naive public?

Viewers are treated to some of the going-ons in Washington, even if we don’t see the president. The Colorado has an experimental system on board, and the creator of this technology, Kylie Sinclair (Autumn Reeser, No Ordinary Family), is not about to just sit by and let her work be lost. She immediately runs to her contact, Admiral Arthur Shepard (Bruce Davison, X-Men), to find out what has occurred. Shepard has his own reasons to be concerned, unaware until now that his daughter, Lieutenant Grace Shepard (Daisy Betts, Persons Unknown), is on the Colorado.

Adding this D.C. layer to the show is nice because we actually get to see what is being done outside the isolated world of the Colorado. While the crewmen on the sub are a large focus of the episode, they would not by privy to much that is happening between their leaders, which would make the mystery pretty obtuse. Through Sinclair, viewers can understand who is making a move, and perhaps even find out why.

Not that Sinclair gets many answers. She is shut down quickly, as is anyone else who might expose the government’s actions. Even crewmen’s families, like Kendal’s wife, Christine (Jessy Schram, Falling Skies), have official agents in their homes, watching their every move. Clearly, a lid is being kept on things, which does limit what anyone can do to help the stranded crew.

Thankfully, we live in 2012, so there’s a little invention called the Internet. Chaplin drags his sub to a nearby island. The military tries to bomb them again, and Chaplin shoots a missile at D.C. to show he means business. The missile is allowed to miss the capital once the bombers turn away from the island. But Chaplin isn’t done. He shoots a video laying out what he knows and posts it for all to see. Will anyone believe him? Does his cache of weapons protect him against further strikes, meaning he can do whatever he wants? How much will be allowed to upload online before the government decides taking Chaplin out is worth some collateral damage? And will his video be enough to stop a war, or just incite more violence?

What Chaplin wants to do is take over the island and start a new society, away from the United States politics that have brought them to this point. He fancies himself a founding father, but has a number of challenges to this goal. His crew have friends and family back home they’d like to see again. Locals already inhabit the island, and it is run by a thug named Julian Serrat (Sahr Ngaujah, The Signal). A SEAL team is present among the sub’s crew, and they may or may not have further orders from high command.

Braugher delivers a masterful performance. He is a man on the edge, pushed too far by the people he trusted. He is somewhat loyal to his crew, but he also has selfish motivations, and probably a messiah / dictator complex. The glint in his eyes could be something heroic, standing up for ideals and principals. Or it could just be insanity. This makes him unpredictable and dangerous, sometimes surprising (not necessarily in a good way) his own men.

Speedman is the everyman whom we are going to root for. Even when Chaplin goes off the hook, Kendal seems grounded enough to know what the right thing to do is. He will have to weigh the faith he has in his commanding officer with keeping everyone else below him safe. He balances out the leader, which should make for a tenuous, interesting dynamic.

LAST RESORT has a sprawling cast. Among those not mentioned in this review so far are Daniel Lissing (Crownies) as the leader of the SEALs, Camille De Pazzis (La vie est a nous) as a French NATO worker on the island, Robert Patrick (The Unit) as the sub’s Master Chief, and Dichen Lachman (Dollhouse) as a local bar owner. This makes for quite the large world to play in, and leaves the story a lot of directions to go.

It’s hard to find any fault at all with the first episode of LAST RESORT. It sets up a compelling plot, with lots of moving pieces, visually enticing settings, engrossing characters with some very different personalities that will clash terrifically, and many mysteries to explore. If the rest of the installments do as good a job as the first one in playing out this adventure, it should be the next must-see series.

LAST RESORT premieres Thursday, September 27th on ABC.

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