Network TV audiences have never seen a show like this. This is both encouraging—powerhouse performances, bone-chilling tension—and disconcerting—convoluted plotting, and a unmapped arc. While there’s always an appetite for compelling entertainment, generally, loaded premises like Last Resort’s are destined for cable, where smaller, dedicated audiences are the aim, as opposed to networks who want big time ad money. So as the ratings start to slide, my focus will be on how Last Resort can lure in the general population.
XO Sam Kendal fires a few pops in the air to start us off, suggesting a skirmish. Turns out, a crew member named Parker has stolen a banana from a local salesman and the villagers are demanding he pay for it. The sailor sees a banana as trivial, but this is the man’s livelihood, not something to trifle with. For his insubordination, Parker is thrown in the brig.
My first recommendation would be to stop expanding the pool of characters. While some of the major players aren’t tickling my fancy, it concerns me that I’m meeting new people every episode. While I thought the pilot had outlined who was important efficiently, by this third episode I’m still being introduced. I hate to keep going to this well, but Lost was a pioneer in reigning in a large ensemble. Their technique of spending an entire episode with the backstory of a character worked for them—a show where the past was haunting each island personality. While these men and women are similarly stranded, the show is meant to showcase how this crew responds to their current adverse conditions.
Sitting down with each character isn’t practical. But what they can do is give us a sharper sense of who we should care about. Obviously there are the four highest-ranked sailors—Marcus, Sam, Grace and the COB—but the rest we’re still being acquainted with (with the exception of Cortez who had a witty exchange with the XO in the pilot). Whenever you have a show where death lurks around the corner there’s “redshirts” (a reference to Star Trek, where it became predictable as to who would die on a mission because they wore a red uniform), but if you want more viewers, don’t make it a Navy-themed game of “Guess Who?”
Speaking of the lesser-known, after ignoring them last week, Captain Marcus Chaplin grows concerned about the three sailors now missing—Brannan, Cortez and Redman. While he wonders how to begin their search, White House Senior Advisor Amanda Strong calls. The blockade will be lifted by nightfall, leaving them open the world if Chaplin doesn’t unconditionally surrender. She tries to bait him by invoking his son, Jeffrey, who we found out last week was killed by friendly fire a couple weeks ago. Her threat is that he won’t be given a proper burial, and will lie in a morgue till he comes home. Not backing down, though clearly affected, Chaplin dismisses her and tends to his crew.
Chaplin levels with COB Prosser, asking for his help in the manhunt. While remaining friends, COB has questioned the Captain’s moves at every opportunity, He’s a man who promotes patriotism above all, and sees what they’ve done as treason. In a effort to negotiate, he appeals to the man’s honor, admitting he deserves to be put before a military tribunal once they leave this place. In order to make that happen though he’ll need his cooperation. James, the moody SEAL obtains a watch during a poker game at his favorite bar. How he knows it belongs to the missing Cortez was unclear, but he turns this evidence in to the Captain, saying she must be the prisoner of Julian Serrat, the island’s benevolent dictator.
Grace and COB bump into each other and have a delightful exchange. COB: “You don’t call, you don’t write?” Grace: “You didn’t hang yourselves with your shoelaces. We all have our disappointments.” Suggestion #2, embrace snappy dialogue. On a show of such severity, where minute actions have grave consequences, an alleviation through well-delivered lines will work wonders. Shows like CSI have long taken advantage of quips as a way to add spice to a monotonous recipe. In another scene where someone asks someone who’s reluctant for help, Sam requests Sophie join Marcus in negotiating with Julian. As indicated by the Nutella gift of the pilot, Serrat is ” sweet on” Sophie, so she accepts.
At his compound, we learn the extent of Serrat’s ruthlessness. He innocuously serves them breakfast and then loses his cool about a kid who was killed in the crossfire of the scuffle with the Russians. He’s ready to get his revenge by offing one of them when Cortez sacrifices herself, presumably her body, when she asks to “speak privately” and that she’ll “make it worth his while.” It’s not shocking, unfortunately, but showing that Last Resort is willing to “go there” could certainly set it apart from the tamer, more stylized violence of its competitors.
By far the weakest link in the chain is the Kylie Sinclair subplot. Literally 9,000 miles removed from the main thrust, it’s supposed to be an insight into the volatile political atmosphere. And yet, I have only learned that Washington is super shady and Kylie is a lobbyist leech who is only seeking the truth for her own benefit. Thankfully, she’s called out on her shit by Grace’s father, Rear Admiral Shepard (Bruce Davison). After securing a meeting place at a nondescript, darkened parking garage (where all Washington scandals are revealed) he asks her if she would use her unique position within the D.C power structure to illuminate the world about the abominable actions of their politicians. After all, she profits from war, and the country has made her family rich. Isn’t it time she got her hands dirty?
Two things occurred to me. The show just admitted that they’d been selling us a female protagonist who invests in the military industrial complex, and thus is made wealthy by the blood of American soldiers. And also, the scene shed light on her passivity. She’s the quintessential “strong” female with no actual agency. I’d like to see Autumn Reeser gaining information through her own ingenuity instead of thrusting her sexuality upon men and coercing them into running her errands. While there’s an element of realism to her maneuvering, authenticity means constructing multi-dimensional people. So far, she’s just a devious, foxy career woman who is snooping around where she shouldn’t be. I don’t know who she is. In the end, she provides the admiral with the file number Linus retrieved for her.
Marcus, with Sophie in tow, confronts Julian Serrat. As the three are thrown in a pit for safe keeping, they negotiate a deal, tit for tat. Beyond the blockade, Serrat has a boat with contraband on it that he could use to pay for the fallen boy’s funeral. He gives him a strict deadline, before sunrise. This was one strength of the episode that I hope viewers latched onto. While the relationship strain between the crew remains a a tangible thread, each episode has included a mission. Far from a procedural, Shawn Ryan is using pleasing structural elements that will appeal to casual viewers while rewarding those who stick with the show with gradual character development and thematic heft. Quickly, the team assembles and they hop in the sub. In order to pass by the blockade undetected, they employ Kylie’s Perseus system that makes the invisible (her only meaningful contribution so far).
Speak of the devil, Kylie visits her lover, Robert at work. She leans over the desk suggestively and pleads that he ask his boss, a senator, to look into the time stamp on the Illinois fire order. Of course, the horndog obliges. How convenient is it that she’s sleeping with a senator’s aide, huh? Yeah, “privileged position” indeed. Sorry if this comes off as tactless, but it seems like that “position” is straddling those with actual clout. Another troublesome subplot is the sandwiching in of a brewing love story between Tani the bartender (Dichen Lachman) and James (Daniel Lissing) the scotch-chugging sharp shooter. She steers a skiff to a remote location on the island where she’ll be cooking dinner for her family. When she asks about his family, he’s cryptic. Suggestion #…I’ve lost count. Archetypes don’t count as characters. While they are easy and associative, and save time, showing us that James has a past he isn’t willing to divulge doesn’t make him interesting, it makes him horribly frustrating.
The Perseus is draining power from the sub, so they shut it down, making themselves sitting ducks. COB and Sam have a tussle, but the commanding Marcus nips it in the butt. After deflating the in-house fighting, there’s a camaraderie in the air. As they dive down to avoid detection, COB makes a crack, “You hear that? She always moans at 1300 (feet). That’s her G-spot.” Chauvinism aside, it’s a clever joke. They almost go entirely undetected, but a moronic crew member drops a flashlight, sonar picks them up. Now, I’m not fluent in submarine mechanics or steering, but the stillness in these scenes was dramatic gold. If there’s one niche they might find, it’s an older audience that is starving for this military realism. I hope a younger audience can also appreciate the suspense that’s created from this patience and waiting for a looming threat, as opposed to the chaotic noise and fiery explosions of the Michael Bay generation. The destroyer ships continue firing depth charges and Chaplin decides they’ll make themselves scarce by passing through a canyon. Boy, is it a tight squeeze (resisting the urge for “That’s what she said” joke).
Going back to the Tani thread, James chases her throughout the jungle after a confrontation with her dad, Evidently, her brother has decided he will stay on the island and apprentice under him. She was counting on him as her ticket out, it seems. This is another fairly generic storyline. Island girl wants to leave for the mainland because she feels restricted by the stringent patriarchal society. Dichen Lachman deserves a more fleshed out background than this, especially since it seems to mostly serve as a vehicle for the wet seduction of the waterfall scene. I’m throughly glad that Tani resisted the temptation for now, adding at least a moderate edge to her. There was some nuanced, electric writing at least, even if it didn’t delve as deep into James’ psyche as I would have liked. Tani asked, “Why did girls bring you to their fathers?” “They thought they could fix me…only one came close…US Navy.” Tani smartly observed, “She showed you the world.” James solemnly responds, “World ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.” Quit flirting with mystery. Vague references to a dark past aren’t enough. What sets him apart from all the other brooding hunks?
After Grace is blinded when the radar goes out, Sophie takes over (Why can’t Grace show any sort of competency? Starting to wonder if Daddy didn’t have something to do with her rise in rank). She proves astute in her navigation skills, but what was most gripping about the sequence—other than the slow, methodical play-by-play of the danger ahead—was the chemistry between Scott Speedman (Sam) and Camille De Pazzis (Sophie) while they are talking over the intercom. It sent shivers up my spine as each tried to comfort the other to ease the sub through the narrow space. It had a sensual quality to it, like Sam was directing her as she took control. This would be a hell of an organic way to create conflict. Sam, who seems heads over heels for his wife Christine—who is loyal as they come—could be tempted by the steamy French accent of the tender Sophie.
Safely on the other side, rising to the surface, Sam and Marcus see they’ve missed their deadline. As a result, Julian wants to send a message that his demands must be respected. He starts to grab for Cortez, who has already sexually humiliated her. Coming to her defense, Brennan shouts that he should kill Redman instead. Promptly, Redman is whisked outside where he is brutally disposed of via shot to the face. It’s off-screen, but the sound is menacing enough. I found the decision of Brennan to volunteer Redman quite confounding, but in a psychologically titillating way. I am inclined to believe it isn’t as simple as him crushing on her. I suppose he rationalized in his mind that she didn’t deserve that fate after sacrificing her body for their safety. I do hope they explore it further.
When Marcus discovers only two crew members are coming back Andre Braugher assures me why I should stay put and keep watching. He’s a master manipulator of feeling. His face crinkles like an empty bag of chips, trying to prevent himself from breaking into pieces. He fought to save their lives and he just wasn’t good enough. I can’t imagine the guilt he feels, and I would be questioning my own motives like crazy. Braugher’s ability to convey a man with composure, but one who is staving off a flood of emotions, is majestic.
Sam fiddles with his wedding ring before showing Sophie his gratitude for all her help. Here, we get a glimpse into Sam’s past, which is handled with similar ambiguity to James, but I bought it more because of the Speedman performance. Plus, we at least know some of what he has back home already. “I was a bit lost early in life. The water was more forgiving.” When Sophie prods him about whether his wife enjoys the water, he only smirks. Sophie doesn’t seem to be dismayed by his marriage, pursuing him overtly there. COB busts in, and tosses him a rifle. It’s payback time.
Sam, upon learning of the murder, is prepared to waste Serrat. The Captain is weary of starting two wars. They will have to be hyper-vigilant, and they’ll be swiftly overwhelmed. Sam disputes his thinking saying that all they have is each other, and if they don’t have the faith that they’ll stick up for their own, what do they have left? As usual, Marcus is able to silence Sam with impenetrable logic and unparalleled feeling. “My son is lying unburied in a Navy freezer as a price for not capitulating. So please don’t tell me about faith and vengeance. We will respond to this affront at the time and place and of my choosing.” This atrocity, you trust, will not be forgotten.
Cortez is at the bar, recuperating from her trauma, and she assures her captain she doesn’t blame him. They then witness the funeral for the child that their revolt has caused. It’s a heartbreaking ritual, a parade of townsfolk chanting for his memory. I was moved, even with the little knowledge of the culture I have. I had just the right vibe of tragedy and musical uplift. Sam promises his captain that his son will get a proper burial. They’ll do it right, with American flair. 21 guns.
We also check in with Kylie’s whole deal. She’s robbed of her hard drive which contains the specs for her Perseus tech. A threatening man had pulled Robert aside when it appeared he was acquiring the intel his bedtime partner had asked for. Turns out that man was Mr. Sinclair, Kylie’s father and weapons manufacturer. It was only of significance to me because small screen mainstay Michael Gaston is portraying him. So, I suppose we’ll get some quality acting in this subplot now. Because Lord knows, Autumn Reeser couldn’t hack it.
I’m no TV executive, my allegiance is more to the craft of storytelling than the bottom line, but I’d like to believe that folks are yearning for a smart, sweet, scintillating show to sweep them off their feet. I’m sure Shawn Ryan and the rest are confident that they have charted a course for success, but if they heed my warnings, they might stave off the unkind hammer of Nielsen ratings. I don’t doubt that female viewers are valuable, but provide them with sophisticated and bold woman, not incompetent and over-sensualized flatness. Also, you don’t have the luxury of allure and mystery now. Since the numbers suggest you’re on borrowed time, detail who these people are. We’d love to root for these heroes instead of trying to decipher them. On a hopeful note, there’s still an encouraging core. We’ve been branching into some superfluous territory, but next week’s previews suggests they’ll be providing us with what perked us up in the pilot—the perception at home that they’ve betrayed their country.
The plot is weak but the series is a hit because of the local casting director in Hawaii.