28
Sep
2012
Last Resport: Season 1, Episode 1
Captain
Jordan
The question on the minds of anyone going into the pilot of Last Resort with any foreknowledge of its premise is probably, "how is this a TV show?" This is a problem a lot of newer television shows have, where the premise resembles the plot of a movie much more closely than it does the type of story that can unspool over seasons. This is a fair criticism of the show's pilot, but its also ultimately a pointless one. This show could fly off the rails or it could work for years; this pilot tells us nothing about how the show will look in five weeks or five seasons. For now, though, let's just revel in "Captain," the best pilot I have seen this season, and a great piece of television that manages to minimize its flaws and maximize its assets in a way few pilots pull off. Last Resort may not become a great television show, but with a start like this one, I know I'll be around to find out.

The easiest comparison point for Last Resort is Battlestar Galactica, in that both are about a small band of military personnel on the run, and this pilot does have a fair bit of that show's darkness (though, fortunately, none of its overbearing religious subtext). However, the pilot I thought of most during the course of "Captain" was actually a different show's, and should indicate how highly I thought of this episode. I kept returning, again and again, to the pilot of Breaking Bad, another show that started off with an "oh shit!" moment and doubled down on it, leaving the audience asking, at the end of the pilot, "how can things get any worse?" Now, Breaking Bad had the better pilot of the two, but Last Resort reminded me of it regularly throughout its first hour because the show felt like it knew where it was going, and felt like it had a plan for the coming weeks. Whenever I speak of early episodes of Breaking Bad, I am fond of saying "that show started out at what most shows would consider rock bottom and found a way to dig deeper and deeper as it continued." If Last Resort can find a way to ape Breaking Bad's constant-descent structure, it may be able to last for a lot longer than people seem to worry, and it may become a very good piece of television (though, at least from this pilot, there is little hint it will become one of the greatest shows of all time, as Breaking Bad undoubtedly has).

The show's premise is just plausible enough to make it thrilling, and it did a good job of keeping me on the edge of my seat in its first hour. The show opens with a quick tour of the USS Colorado, a super advanced submarine with well over a dozen nuclear weapons on board. Captained by Marcus Chaplain (the great Andre Braugher), a character who is given immediate depth and complexity, even if that makes him more mysterious than lived-in in this initial hour. Chaplain is clearly a wise man, and he has the respect of his crew, which is important to establish considering what he asks of them over the course of this pilot. When the ship is ordered through a secondary system to launch four nuclear missiles at Pakistan, Chaplain has the gall to question the order, and soon the Colorado is being fired on by American missiles.

In the moment, the decision by Chaplain and his XO Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman) seems fairly reasonable. Asking for confirmation on an order to annihilate Pakistan makes sense to me, and even if what follows (Chaplain and his crew have basically formed a rogue government on a South Pacific island by the end of the episode) seems to happen a bit too quickly, this is a network drama without the luxury of the four-hour miniseries premiere a show like Battlestar Galactica got to set its story in motion. So things happen quickly enough to beggar disbelief, but the show never slows down for long enough to allow you to question just how insane Chaplain would have to be to fire a nuclear weapon at Washington DC, threatening to annihilate the government he willingly served under just hours previously. This is a breathless pilot, and viewers will be forgiven for feeling slightly winded by its conclusion. Last Resort is throwing a lot of balls in the air, trying to establish the crew, some of their families back home, some denizens of the island they overtake, and a woman in DC (Autumn Reeser) who may just be able to help them uncover the truth all within its 45 minute run-time, while also setting up a premise that could have used more breathing room, if it had that luxury. In a two-hour premiere, Last Resort could have gotten closer to perfection, but given the constraints that were before it, what it pulled off is very impressive.

The characters here are mostly archetypes, but the show does enough to hint at greater depths that I am willing to give it a pass on this and hope for some character development once it settles into things a bit (this show plays like a plot juggernaut, but with a 22 episode season to fill, my guess is there will be time to develop the characters somewhere along the way). What it does have is a large cast to fill out, and one that seems fairly diverse in terms of backgrounds, motivations, and stories it can tell. If these are the growing pains Last Resort is going to have, they are the sort of pains that involve a good show straining for greatness, rather than a bad show struggling for mediocrity. Plus, with creator Shawn Ryan (of The Shield and Terriers fame) behind the wheel, this show has every chance of becoming something incredible.

For now, its pilot is like nothing else on TV. It is a breathless, propulsive hour with the suspense of a great pulp thriller and the pacing of a runaway train. The show has a great pedigree behind it, and a hook that worked to pull me in. It isn't without its problems, but its problems all have solutions, and this show feels like its in the hands of a team that will find them. If you're considering checking out one new network drama this fall, I can say without reservation that Last Resort is the one you should jump on board. I know I'll be watching.

Grade: B+

Notes:

-I do not currently plan to review Last Resort week to week, as my recurring review schedule has quickly filled up. However, I truly enjoyed this pilot and plan to watch the show going forward, so if there is enough interest generated in the comments or on Twitter, I will consider taking on the show on a weekly basis.

-Dichen Lachman, of Dollhouse fame shows up as one of the people living on the island. She is a great actress given little to do tonight, but hopefully she'll be better utilized going forward.

-"Whatever you think you owe me, you've paid 100 times over. You have a wife. Go home. Take a desk. Start a family."-This was such a standard "speech to someone who is about to die" moment, I was a little surprised that Speedman made it out of the pilot, even though he is in the show's main cast.

-"Old Navy saying: stupid will be punished."

-"Where I'm from, when someone calls you 'friend,' they don't consider you one."

-"Test us and we will all burn together."
Tags: Last Resort
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