Contrivances are to be expected on a show such as “Last Resort.” It’s just matter of how much you are willing to allow for the sake of the characters. I gave Shawn Ryan and his team credit for a whirlwind of a pilot. It had my head spinning, heart pumping, and my thoughts racing, but the premise is like our banks—so huge, it would come as no surprise if it crashed. If this were an actual submarine crew, I doubt they’d last a week before they were killed or captured. And yet, it would appear we’re stuck on this island for the foreseeable future. In interviews, Ryan has not elaborated much, but he has a vague vision. He doesn’t want to map out his strategy for any critics, but he told Alan Sepinwall that he hasn’t lacked for stories for the first thirteen episodes. While that’s far from reassurance, I do believe that his plan is less of a sketch, and more of a hazy mural. There’s a lot on paint on the canvas, just not a whole lot of lines and shape yet.
The proof is in the “Blue on Blue”” pudding (either a delightful kid’s treat, or a FDA nightmare). Whether each individual scene works was a toss-up. While this isn’t flawless writing, there’s a lot of emotionally charged dialogue. And with that kind of tightrope walking, you either make it to the other side having succeeded with your daring spectacle, or you have fallen onto the net and shattered the illusion. Also, this show has a lot to say. And obviously, since this isn’t literature, there’s no one to say it other than the characters on screen. You run the risk of these people becoming mouthpieces for a message as opposed to genuine people trying to deal with a crisis. This show has the luxury of some phenomenal to reliable actors—Andre Braugher being the phenom, Scott Speedman being Ol’ Reliable. Due to their delivery, they can wash some of the stink off some sentimental garbage that nobody would buy if their soothing voices or charm hadn’t polished the turd (or put lipstick on a pig if you like Sarah Palin references).
You’ll see what I mean in a sec when we delve into plot. It’s hard to rationalize why some stuff hits, and some of it doesn’t. General rule of thumb, I would say, is if you feel like these soldiers sound more like cable news pundits reciting talking points about the merits of war than they’ve probably missed the mark. If there are emotional stakes behind it, if they aren’t just conveying a viewpoint, but they’re expressing fears or doubts, trying to justify their own behaviors and decisions so they can cope, then you hit a bullseye right in the feelings muscle (medical professionals tell me it’s referred to as a “heart”). Obviously in a show where we’re nuking Pakistan it’s impossible not to broach political fodder, but as storytellers let’s not forget what the politicians clearly have—it’s about the people, not making your point.
Striving for intensity out the shoot, there’s twenty warships headed for St. Marina, dangerously closing in on the perimeter Chaplin warned about crossing. They employ Kylie Sinclair’s (Autumn Reeser) prototype, The Perseus System, and the ship is invisible. The USS Illinois, the same one that fired on them, can’t see them. This allows the Colorado to sneak up on them, and Marcus fires a disabled warhead to spook them.
Back at home, some suits are trying to intimidate Christine, XO Sam Kendal’s wife. They use every tactic in the book in hopes she call up hubby and incite a mutiny. They go for guilt first, claiming the nuke that the Captain dropped in the ocean was too close for comfort. She cites the Nevada test range as a case of hundreds of nukes being fired even closer to a major city.
The framework felt frantic—bouncing from plot-to-plot so fast you got narrative whiplash. COB Prosser continues to be a chauvinistic thorn in Grace’s side, but this time his remarks are more biting. Now he feels she has proof of her ineptitude because she shot Stern when he starting snitching and aiming at Sam last episode. His line, “That uniform you’re wearing is borrowed glory” was one of those potentially divisive lines that made an impact with me. From a language standpoint, it sounds pretty. But it also comes from a place of contempt and character-driven angst, not from the writer’s pulpit pen.
An aircraft files well within the perimeter, maybe 40 miles away. Captain suspects it’s a Special Forces team being dropped in. James, the moody Navy SEAL witnesses this and tries to warn his bartender friend, Tani (Dichen Lachman) that a showdown is approaching. She has a witty reply, “Telling an islander they are going to die is just reminding us we’re home.” It follows an awkward depiction of island culture that makes them sound barbaric and ultra-ethnic. I hope these local folks are fleshed out better, because so far they sound like primitive others. Sam requests James join them, on Captain’s orders, since he has tactical experience they could use in a firefight. He essentially says it isn’t his fight and Sam insults him, “Why don’t you drink yourself more stupid if that’s humanly possible.” While James is just a shell of what we’re supposed to feel is a renegade character in the Han Solo or Sawyer from “Lost” vein, I don’t know him well enough to feel the heat of this altercation. Speedman, however, is good at huffing and puffing, and Aussie Daniel Lissing has that brooding “I’ve seen things” look down pat.
A confrontation I won’t applaud is the forced “two different sides of the issue” talk between NATO employee Sophie and Sam. Since stereotypes would lead us to believe this French woman is a pacifist, she gets to be the one who cries for peaceful negotiation. Sam says he used to think like that, but sometimes there is no other way. Since it’s “them or us” he takes no issue leading his team to a clearing where they’ll set up a “kill zone” for these Special Forces guys to walk into. The one aspect I was intrigued by was his resentment of how his and Chaplin’s actions are being received. “You know what we get for being standup guys? Men coming to kill us.” Does Sam regret his decision to not follow through with the order? Perhaps in hindsight he’s thinking if he had been willing to turn the key he wouldn’t be risking never seeing Christine again like he is now. But that’s not explored as overtly as the merits of war are. And as much as I may side with Sophie, I don’t care for her as a person yet, so she came across like a whining wuss, which isn’t complimentary or dignified for someone arguing for peace.
Juxtaposition tells me I’m right about Sam’s hostility, that he is wishing he hadn’t taken a stand and shot to hell a quick reunion with the Mrs, because promptly after he receives a call from Christine. It appears the mind games have worked. She tells Sam he’ll be granted amnesty if he gives them Marcus. Then she breaks and warns her love not to trust what she or “they” him. He’s shaken that she was so close to lying to him, so close to being swayed by the government that’s out to get him. Marcus goes to console him, telling him a story about Russian soldiers pitted against their own after war. “Sometimes the enemy is just the man keeping you from getting home.” That line definitely landed. When the speaker is Andre Braugher and he’s evoking family, toss me some Kleenex and play the somber violin.
I am NOT digging Kylie Sinclair. I’m not sure if it’s the bland hotness of Autumn Reeser or the condescending, robotic ranting of her character Kylie Sinclair. Who goes to a bar and starts screaming at a stranger about why submarines are so awesome and indestructible. It was just super grating to watch her show off. We get it, you understand weaponry real well. And you’re foxy. What else you got? Apparently, she has a mole named Linus who drags his blankie around the state department. He says they will steal her tech from her because it’s working on the Colorado, so she wants to use him to dredge up some leverage. She tells him to find her the fire order sent to the Illinois. This would be an instance where we need to throw believability to the wind. That feels like something that would be so confidential you’d kill to keep it secret. But what Kylie Sinclair wants, she gets. And she gets it by blackmailing this supposed friend of hers with bachelor party secrets—”She was make me wanna switch hit hot.” I suppose you could see her as a strong female character, but I see her as heartless and a leech. Maybe they’ll integrate her stories with those in St. Marina more suitably at some point, but for now there’s a enormous gorge where my ability to care should be.
Another manipulation the anonymous G-Men employ is to put a wedge between Christine and Sam. They show her a video where he talks about being captured in North Korea, something he never told her about. This is a weak way to illustrate that he isn’t trustworthy, but the government is desperate for an ally. At the bar, Tani tries to light a fire under James’ butt. She tells him another tale of generic ethniccultureland, about how the mark a man’s face when he is needed to keep the peace. It’s considered an honor. She marks him herself and asks if he deserves it.
As battle is about to commence, Grace senses that the COB has devised a way to eliminate her—by sending Hawkes to shoot her in the back by “accident.” She calls Hawkes out on it. “We’re gonna need every gun we have. So if you’re gonna shoot me in the back, wait till we’re done here.” Sophie’s insistence that there’s always a more peaceful way sticks in Sam’s craw, so he announces himself and comes out to talk. He shouts that they’re all Americans, and no one has to die today. Marcus then shouts into his walkie that they identified the plane—they’re Russian Spetsnaz. So…killing back on? Awkward….
Truthfully, the fighting is poorly choreographed. No one is seen shooting at anyone and there’s no use of space. And it’s a gorgeous Hawaii landscape might I add. Plus for a clearing, there’s an odd amount of hills. It ends with Grace charging erratically (and kinda stupidly), and being subdued at knifepoint. And like Han blew away Vader’s TIE Fighter to clear the way for Luke, James swoops in and shoots her assailant. And yes, I’m a colossal nerd.
Sam walkies Chaplin saying that they have a couple hostages, but Sam’s subordinates feel they deserve execution since because of them they lost five souls. When Ray grabs a gun Chaplin comes over and gives another impassioned speech—don’t think I’d ever get sick of these—about who they are. “Your final duty is to ask how high when I say jump.” The COB is not easily amused. He says that he’s withholding from his men, that he didn’t tell them about his son. Apparently, when he was watching a video message earlier from his son, it was one that was recorded two weeks ago, just before he died from friendly fire in Afghanistan. The COB implies that all his actions have been fueled by revenge against the country responsible for taking his son away. All Chaplin can respond with is “You know me.”
Grace heads to the bar, but not to thank James. Rather, to scold him for taking so long. They still lost men due to his delay. His only comment is related to the intoxicating quality of war. “What does it feel like? Hell of a buzz.” In America, Kylie’s mole is in a coma. Must have dug way too deep for that fire order. It was excessive to have his wife wish for her to die alone, but she is an awful person. There was a complete disregard for what danger he might come up against. For god’s sake, whoever’s in charge ordered a nuclear missile be fired on his own citizens. What lengths wouldn’t this regime go for self-preservation?
But all of the sinister Sinclair’s abominable behavior is redeemed by Andre Braugher as mourning dad. Sam strolls into Captain’s quarters and shares an anecdote about the day he shipped out three weeks after his wedding. Marcus had this dumb smile painted on while everyone else was miserable. Why is that? Because his son Jeffrey was there to send his dad off. Chaplin breaks down and Sam takes his fear hand that he isn’t sobbing into. Sam soothes him, “I’m your friend and I know who you are. And I trust you.” Sam won’t be deterred by the COB in his reverence for Chaplin, even if he’s still wrestling with his position in this nuclear chess game Marcus has pulled him into. You get the impression, however, that he wouldn’t follow any other man into such a clusterf*ck. Chaplin’s a hell of a calming influence. Here, he returns the favor—”They find what hurts you the most and they try and break you with it. But that’s what they miss…that’s our strength. That’s what gets us through.” Chaplin then hands him a piece of paper discreetly as his reddened eyes start to fade.
This was a cloying episode for sure, but mostly effective. It’s clumsy in its insistence, but some moments are rich. The two brothers-in-arms, Sam Kendal and Marcus Chaplin, are the soul of this show. Their loyalties will surely be tested, but they have a heartfelt foundation to build off of as they construct their new home on the island. The shakier pillars are the female characters. Shawn Ryan is not one to skimp on substance for the women. He even makes a point of hiring women writers to add fresh perspective. So it’s bothersome that so far, I’m unimpressed by Grace, Christine and ESPECIALLY Kylie.
Daisy Betts has been given the most so far as Grace, and Daisy Betts hasn’t been able to fully nail the material. She is supposed to come off as feisty and firm with a wavering self-doubt, but it’s been hard to root for her so far. Either she isn’t being written as self-sufficient enough, or Betts isn’t exuding enough confidence. Either way, she doesn’t instill the same aura as the other high-ranking officers. Christine’s only story is as concerned spouse, so I’ll need a bigger sample size. The last moment where she walks away trusting the lawyer who was plotting behind the two-way mirror could be offering the opportunity for her to blossom. And with Autumn Reeser’s weapons dealer, I wouldn’t mind if she was wiped from the universe. Her subplot has been so ancillary, and her performance so irritating—spouting off how competent you are isn’t convincing—I think if the show decided to trim off her excess, it would be a welcome grooming.
That’s what this show needs, a shape-up. There’s a lot of loose strands and split ends. It’s a full head of hair, and when properly quaffed it will be quite dapper. Without the proper care though, it will be ragged and disheveled. I’m getting a much-needed haircut tomorrow, so I apologize for the extended metaphor, but unlike a chunk of tonight’s episode, it rings true. A show with such scope will douse you with the hope something trickles in. Once Ryan and his crew trust the audience is soaking it up, they’ll show us the stories they want to tell, instead of telling us there’s a story. And then, I’ll let it wash over me. “Blue” stung like a belly flop, but it showed signs it’s capable of a smooth entry next week.