Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Last Resort went somewhere I did not expect last week

Last week's episode of Last Resort,"Eight Bells" (which I think is a fairly obscure and rad reference to a Winslow Homer painting), is consumed with the theme of compromise. Compromise not so much in the sense of give and take, but rather of compromising one's self and principles. When will you give up something important, and for what? This throughline is introduced in one disturbing scene that is almost marginalized by its subtlety, but turns out to be the crucial encapsulation of what matters in this episode.

Local island strongman Serrat (perhaps another homophonic painterly reference?) has kidnapped three sailors--two men and a woman--from the USS Colorado in a bid to get Chaplin to bend the knee. His frustration at being ignored by the Captain leads him to threaten one of the male abductees, Red. The female captive, Lopez, saves Red's life by offering to have a private "conversation" with Serrat that is quickly confirmed to be a trade of sexual favors for the safety of her fellow crewpeople. Um, holy shit. As I said, this scene is almost brusque in its presentation--it is not melodramatic or even dramatic, neither in performance nor in staging--but its very matter-of-factness makes it all the more chilling.

Lopez's sacrifice, her willing to compromise her bodily integrity to save a comrade, is echoed by Chaplin's decision to commission the nuclear sub as an ersatz drug runner for Serrat in exchange for the freedom of the captives, and by Liquid Metal Man, er, Prosser's, decision to quit his campaign of quiet insurrection and serve under Chaplin in exchange for the promise that he will be the star witness for the prosecution at Chaplin's inevitable court martial. These men give up a portion of their definition of personal honor in order to serve a greater good. But as the episode reveals, that bargain doesn't always pay off.

Due to the intermittent failure of the state-of-the-art cloaking system prototype on the Colorado, Chaplin and his men miss Serrat's deadline for the exchange. The strongman, just as desperate to demonstrate his tenuous hold on power as Chaplin, asks the prisoners to choose which one of them should be executed. The other male captive nominates Red, and he is shot. Does Lopez feel Red's death made her earlier sacrifice meaningless? Her stoicism makes it difficult to tell, and the episode closes with the two being returned to their people, both knowing what the other was willing to compromise. I really hope that the reverberations of those decisions--and what they have to say about power, sacrifice, and gender--will continue to be explored throughout the season.

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