Sunday, September 30, 2012

Last Resort: I think it might not suck!

Oh, politico-military dramas, how you beguile me. You have led me to deeply satisfying and lifelong relationships with The West Wing and Battlestar Galactica, but you have also seduced me into toxic unions with Lost and [shudder] The Event. So I went on my first date with Last Resort (ABC, Thursdays 8/7 Central) with some trepidation. And so far, I think I want to go out with it again. [Mild spoilers follow.]

Though Lost ultimately disappointed me, it did teach me the value of a good pilot. Whereas the first episode of NBC's Revolution felt like clunky exposition, Last Resort manages to introduce its cast of characters and plot--the crew of the nuclear sub USS Colorado, the military-industrial complex in D.C., and the inhabitants of a small island where a NATO base is, um, based--in a way that lets you know key elements about them and the story, but also indicates what matters to the show. The former: We have the principled Captain Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher), the XO on his last deployment before returning to his hot young wife (Scott Speedman's Sam Kendal), the sexually harassed lieutenant Grace Shepard (you've never heard of her), and crusty old-school "patriot" Master Chief Joseph Prosser ("that guy" from Terminator 2, The X-Files, and Walk the Line). There's also a dude from Glee, notable for being a dude from Glee. Anyways, long story short: the USS Colorado receives a fishy order to, um, OBLITERATE A CITY IN PAKISTAN, and Chaplin, along with Kendal, ask to speak to someone a little above the pay grade of a deputy secretary. Not long after they refuse to fire, Team America fucking fires at them. They manage to escape to an island (cough, Lost, cough), where, after the crew learns that Pakistan got bombed anyway, and after Chaplin bluffs his way out of another attack by FIRING NUKES AT D.C. (he misses on purpose), an impasse is reached. The captain, in full-on badass mode, makes a YouTube video explaining the sitch, and promises to blow shit up if his crew gets hassled again. And now for the latter . . .

What I find intriguing (and promising) about this pilot is its interest in exploring what it means to declare allegiance. All the members of the USS Colorado's crew have sworn, either in theory or practice or both, their loyalty to the United States government. When that government begins to act in ways contrary to its own principles, decisions must be made. There is obvious, and understandable, discomfort with following Chaplin's orders to the direct defiance of the official word from D.C., despite his good instincts and implicit authority. Also, the show signals its interest in exploring the intersection of gender and power. Lt. Shepard (the daughter of a bigwig D.C. admiral) must constantly assert her right to respect, despite her clear position in the chain of command that her fellow (and subordinate) sailors ostensibly endorse. Following that, the show is intrigued by power: Who wields it (there's a mover/shaker on the island who seems unlikely to bend the knee to Chaplin, as evidenced by his kidnapping of two crew members)? Does it always warrant respect? And what does it do to people? Chaplin's closing speech about the utopian possibilities of the island is equal parts inspiring and deeply creepy.

There are plenty of opportunities for this show to go off the rails. (Cf The Event for how to make a government conspiracy quickly and irrevocably ridiculous.) But I think the first episode hit all the right notes of action and philosophy. Give it a watch and tell me what you think.

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