Last Resort Series Premiere Review: Long, Hard, and Full of Awesome

By Tim Surette

Sep 28, 2012

Last Resort S01E01: "Captain"

"You've been warned." Seriously, I warned you. Last Resort is this television season's best pilot (definitely among the broadcast networks, and possibly among all of TV), a thrilling hour of television that accomplishes so much in so little time, has a complete beginning, middle, and end, and even answers the show's most nagging question: Where can it go in Episode 2 and—yikes!—beyond?

We've known most of the show's premise since it was announced over a year ago: The crew of an American nuclear submarine refuses orders to flatten Pakistan after deducing that the "official" command to fire is fishy, then someone under the guise of the U.S. military tries to put a hole in their hull, and that forces the sub to park on the shores of a tropical island... where the crew declares themselves the smallest nuclear nation in the world and aims to prove their innocence. And that about sums up the happenings in the pilot episode, "Captain." (P.S. Please, showrunners, will more of you name your pilots something other than "Pilot"? Thanks.) Yet even though we knew almost exactly what would happen, the episode exceeded the giant expectations we've been setting up all year because it boasted a level of competence that is rare in pilots these days.

You can thank creator Shawn Ryan for making a show with a fascinating concept and characters that spend equal time kicking ass and acting like real people. Ryan's sparkling resume includes the gritty The Shield and the cult hit Terriers, and his talent for compacting what matters most into an incredibly dense hour transformed a summer blockbuster into a breezy, tense program. This is no-bathroom-break television that might burst the bladders of those skipping commercials on DVR or torrents.

What struck me about the pilot was how much of the series was already in place after just 60 44 minutes. Most shows love to slowly paint concentric circles, moving outward as they open up their universe over the course of the season, but Last Resort threw the whole paint bucket at the wall. The pilot inspired confidence that there's a clear road map of what's going to happen next, instead of half-baked ideas that are made up as they go along (I'm probably getting ahead of myself, but like I said, it inspired confidence!). We know the sub crew will be front and center, as will their attempts to prove their innocence after defying questionable orders. But we've also already established the NATO crew, the natives on the island, a SEAL team, a weapons technology specialist back in Washington, D.C., a rear admiral in the Capitol, and whatever other political figures are pulling strings for their own gain. There's an impossible amount of stuff going on, but it's important to note the difference between a ton of story threads included fill time and a ton of story threads that are interesting. Last Resort is full of interesting.

There were a couple of plots that stood out to me in particular as having the potential to explode with intrigue and give the series the stamina it needs to fill an entire season. First, Captain Marcus Chaplin (the always awesome Andre Braugher) didn't exactly knock on the door of Sainte Marina, he kicked that shit in. That in turn upset the previous big shot of the island, a charismatic warlord named Julian (Broadway's Fela, Sahr Ngaujah) who is used to the simple tactic of barking the loudest to get his way. Julian and his men are going to represent the close danger—like unmasked Others—to Chaplin's crew, preventing them from turning Sainte Marina into a Sandals resort with a few tons of plutonium offshore. That's practically a show in of itself. And the other surprising plot that jumped out to me involved the man who stood up to Julian, James King (Aussie actor Daniel Lissing). As one of the SEAL team members who was plucked out of the ocean by the USS Colorado, King's the mixed-up man who knows a lot more about what's going on than most. The guy was in tears watching the destruction on TV, saying it was his fault, and his wounded buddy pretty much said they hit the wrong target. What botched secret mission were they on, and how is it connected to what happened in Pakistan? And how long before he gets freaky with Dichen Lachman's sexy native bartender Tani under a palm tree? Not-so-bold prediction: not long.

But what really drove the pilot and kept it afloat was Andre Braugher's performance as Chaplin, a man so commanding that he keeps any preposterous thoughts the audience might have at bay. I don't know about you, but if we were out of torpedoes and he told me to crawl into a torpedo tube, I would. There aren't many actors who could handle this role, but Braugher is perfect as Chaplin. Here's a man who practices defiance and patriotism, a character that both sides of the Congressional aisle can get behind. It's that dogma that's the heart and soul of the show. And just to prove that he's more than another blowhard submarine boss (I'm looking at you, Denzel!), he pulled that crazy stunt at the end of the episode. Facing death by bomber, he was prepared to back off and detonate the missile he launched on D.C., because he played a game of chicken and thought he lost. He didn't need the death of others to end up on his rap sheet. But what made him such a complex character was his decision to carry out his threat (mostly) once word of the bombers' retreat came across. This is a man practicing what he preaches. He told Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman) the genius of President Reagan's lunatic decisions decades ago: Image is everything, and if your enemies can predict your next move, they'll defeat you. And while we know he was doing it for show, there's a little spot in the back of our mind that says if he's willing to go that far that easily, could he go a little further? (Although I guess I have my doubts that a nuclear blast 200 miles offshore is completely harmless. Poor fishies.)

Having watched the pilot in advance on my computer, I can't say whether the special effects will pop as much in glorious HD on a big screen, but what I saw looked fantastic. Fact: Missiles flying out of the water (or into the water) look awesome, and while most or all of the submarine shots weren't real, I couldn't tell and most importantly I wasn't trying to differentiate between real and fake. I also loved the tilting camera angle as the sub pitched and yawed, and that the interior shots felt both claustrophobic and authentic. I would assume that moving forward we'll spend less time inside the sub, though, as it will be used more as a symbol of power than as a means to get around.

The biggest compliment any pilot can get is a burning desire to tune in for Episode 2, and that's what we have here with Last Resort. This is a cable show that somehow found its way to network television, and it'll have that uphill battle to climb (not to mention a difficult time slot against CBS comedies, The X Factor, and, well actually not NBC any more so never mind). Good television does not always translate to a successful run, but this one has a chance.


– One other thing I noticed, or should I say didn't notice, was the necessary exposition that typically drags down pilots. Details flowed in normal conversation because things were written in a way that weren't intrusive or insulting to our intelligence. And it didn't hurt that Autumn Reeser did some (s)exposition in her delicates. It may take a few rewinds to hear what she said, but it certainly didn't grind things to a halt.

– The character I was most worried about in the series was Grace Shepard (Daisy Betts), the pretty third-in-command on the sub with no experience who fills the requisite "C'mon, a bunch of dudes are going to take orders from a chick?" question. But having her kill a guy in the first episode certainly raised her beyond the expected stereotype. And to Betts' credit, she played nervous and awkward very well as her character roamed a sub full of people who didn't think she belonged there.

– I'm having problems figuring out the estimated location in which everything took place. From the maps on the NATO screens, it appears Sainte Marina is in the Indian Ocean. Does anyone else have a better estimate?

Follow writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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  • icemelt7 Oct 13, 2012

    I'm a Pakistani. You just don't get to kill us that easily, just saying :)

  • smithinjapan Oct 04, 2012

    The pilot was indeed intense, and I have already watched it four times and am ready to watch it again -- there's always something new to think about when you do, and it's exciting. My fear about this show is whether the excitement can last for a season. It seems more like this show was suited for a mini-series then as a potentially long-lasting show, but here's hoping I am proven wrong.

    It's gutsy, and the pilot was amazing. So keep it up! But realistically, as viewers, I think we have to prepare ourselves for some 'down' time -- meaning the thrill of next few episodes probably won't be the same as the first; they accomplished TOO much in such a short time. Next will be character development and conflict with the locals of the island.

  • tnetennba Oct 02, 2012

    TV by the numbers already says "Likely to be cancelled". If the ratings fall, we're definitely screwed. If they stay the same or increase, we should be good. But has that ever happened to a show that isn't on cable?

    This is of course totally ridiculous, since this is the best new show this year.

  • ummhaniyyah Oct 01, 2012

    Excellent! I knew that Andre Braugher would bring it, but so did Scott Speedman, Daisy Betts and Robert Patrick. Re Bullwinkle's issues - I'm sure there was a lot about it that doesn't fit real life military behavior - it's a drama. While in theory I would hope that our military would question orders to annihilate millions of people, I know that there procedure is there so that they don't question or hesitate. The order to fire missles in "Last Resort" smells like something that probably isn't sanctioned by the proper people, but there is never anyway a real crew can confirm that kind of thing - they never have a full view of situations and often time is of the essence, so in real life there job is to act with as little hesitation as possible. But again, this isn't real life, it's a taut action drama.

    "Captain" was almost entirely plot driven and as such was well-written and well-paced. The question is where can the show go from here. So far, there are only hints of richer characters and backstory. For example, we know almost zero about Commander Chaplain other than that he and the XO have served together for a long time and that he by and large has the respect of the XO and the Lt. (whom he seems to know as a family friend as well as through being her commanding officer).

    There have been a number of shows whose premises offered lots of promise -- lots of directions in which the story could go that have flamed out because we just dealt with one high stakes, far fetched conflict after the other each episode without going any deeper (The Event comes to mind).

    Loving this show so far, so I hope it sticks around and can find an interesting story to tell (and an overarching story arcs) each week.

  • smithinjapan Oct 04, 2012

    I agree with you in that the pilot was so intense and plot driven it's hard to see how the show will be able to keep it up. Rest assured the next couple of episodes will be more low-key and character driven.

  • nic656 Oct 01, 2012

    I loved it! By far the best pilot of the season. Can't wait for the next ep. I just hope the public get behind it. We all know how they struggle to notice quality even if it's slapping them in the face.

  • Bullwinkle520 Oct 01, 2012

    I honestly thought it was cliche, unrealistic, and plain dumb. A navy unit can't logically claim another country's island territory and not expect repercussions. They can't bomb any government that contests them. Is this a show about the navy, or are they trying to turn it into Lost. Why is the US government always evil in these things? Soldiers don't burst into dance when they cross the equator. Why are the antagonists always spot-able from 12 miles away? Kinda dumb. All the hype just goes to show people have no concept of decent writing these days.

  • smithinjapan Oct 04, 2012

    Painting the US government as conspirators and 'evil' (and clearly just a rogue faction, since Shepherd's father knew nothing of what was plotted and was sincerely worried about his daughter and out to nail Pakistan for revenge) is something that will turn some viewers off, absolutely, but those viewers are fickle and should stick to movies like "Stealth" and "GI Joe", where the US just kicks Muslim butt (for the most part). The pilot was EXTREMELY well written, didn't kick you in the teeth with exposition, and despite being quite action packed still allowed for character development. We know Chaplin's got a son in the ME he's proud of, and the fact that one is following orders while the father is disobeying them provides good conflict. We know Kendal is itching to get back to his wife who begged him not to go, and we know Shepard is facing an up-hill battle with her male counterparts while also being worried about by her high-ranking father. Those are but a few of the story lines set up, with very little effort thanks to said script, that can be built upon.

    I worry the show cannot keep up the momentum of the pilot indefinitely, but I don't worry about tuning in, because I know it will be exciting and a good show.

  • danharr Oct 02, 2012

    What in the world are you talking about? They've gone rogue with 16 nukes they can do what they want and I'm sure the dancing was approved by the naval advisers. Just how do you know what they do when the cross the equator in real life?

  • OakleafMold Oct 01, 2012

    Answers. 1) They can if they've got a belly full of plutonium. 2) The US Gov't is evil about a LOT of things. 3.) Uh--yes, they do. 4.) Because the earth isn't just round, it's big--at 20' above sea level one can see to a distance of about 5 miles. Radar can go over the horizon. 5) That's right--all the good writers are busy penning penis jokes on 2 1/2 Men.

  • tnetennba Oct 01, 2012

    Half of your complaints are as silly as what the better half are complaining about.

  • JoshHorton Oct 01, 2012

    Yes, I second that. Please, do tell what YOU consider to be good writing. And what is your credibility to discern such things with such certainty? Because in all honesty, it just sounds like you want to be part of that small crowd of haters that every show tends to get.

    I wasn't expecting much from this show. I thought it'd be good. I didn't expect it to be awesome and smartly written.

  • Nickylucas Oct 01, 2012

    Mind if I ask what your definition of good writing is?

  • lsbloom Oct 01, 2012

    Good writing for me isn't calling yourself a patriot one second and in the next scene talking about how your country has fallen and it's time for a new one. It's smart logical consistency. If you can play with language and metaphor all the better, but I'd be happy with just making sense and developing character.

  • jackwagon Oct 01, 2012

    Major flaw with your line of thinking: Chaplin was painted as a patriot and loyal solider before a.) he was ordered to launch nukes on Pakistan, b.) removed from command by his superiors upon requesting confirmation of his orders, and c.) subsequently attacked by another U.S. sub. I would think any reasonable individual would question his government's integrity if he/she was in Chaplin's position in the episode.

    Incidentally, did anyone take notice of the blink-and-you-miss-it news broadcast at the beginning of the episode involving a potential impeachment of the U.S. President? I wonder how that will factor in the show later this season.

  • lsbloom Oct 01, 2012

    No, he called himself a patriot after landing on the island and shooting nukes at USA.

  • B-a-n-e Oct 01, 2012

    I was generally impressed by the pilot. The plot is interesting and the characters behaved rationally (for the most part given the circumstances). The only thing that really struck me as problematic was the idea that they would actually use the nuclear missiles. If I were controlling the bombers I would have gone ahead and finished them. The likelihood that they were actually going to nuke DC seems incredibly remote. Anyone in charge of a nuclear sub would have had a lot of psych exams and is pretty unlikely to slaughter civilians (as well as the legitimate leadership in DC they're trying to reach). It would have helped if they picked a more credible target. The same holds true going forward - unless you actually believe they are going to nuke people there's nothing to stop the US (or anyone else) from taking the sub out.

    That is a big suspension of belief since it underlies the whole premise of the show. That being said, I thought the pilot looked great, it moved along at a good pace, the characters were pretty believable and both the concept and the execution was interesting. I'll definitely tune in for episode 2.

  • JonStryker Oct 01, 2012

    About the location: I guess Sainte Marina is pretty much based on the island of Diego Garcia.

  • totomomo182 Oct 01, 2012

    I think the Idea of the show is dumb

    The only good thing about this show is the conspircy arc

    which I dont see how it can be sloved

    where all the major characters are on a island far far away from USA

    If this show is going to be about the crew life on the island they better cancel it now

  • Bullwinkle520 Oct 01, 2012

    yeah, it's like they're trying to make it into Lost. Even the conspiracy theory gets old quickly. I don't think the series can or plans to solve it, which is just annoying from the get-go. This show is not as creative as it tries to be.

  • tnetennba Oct 01, 2012

    What are you talking about? It has nothing in common with Lost. Nothing that matters anyway. An island isn't a part of a major country is simply the only somewhat plausible location for a story like this.

    Conspiracies get old fast? Maybe, but is there any kind of ingredient of any story that doesn't "get old fast"?

  • tnetennba Oct 01, 2012

    Two significant characters (at least one of them a major character) are in Washington. Autumn Reeser and the military guy who came to see her at the end (who also has a daughter on the sub).

  • Bullwinkle520 Oct 01, 2012

    That geezer wasn't a main character. The asian chick was very unlikeable and stuck-up.

  • GirishStewart Oct 02, 2012

    People like you are annoying! Always hating the female characters no matter what they do or don't do.

    The Asian chick didn't even talk! How was she stuck up! She even hugged and consoled a man she barely knew, even after he threatened to kill all the local gangsters!

  • tnetennba Oct 01, 2012

    I didn't see any stuck-up unlikeable asian chicks in the pilot.

  • tnetennba Oct 01, 2012

    He wasn't a major character in the pilot, but she was. She is clearly a major character in the series, and he's going to be her connection to the military. In addition to that, he has family on the sub. So he's certainly going to be a significant character in the series, maybe even a *major* character. The fact that he's played by a well-known actor supports that.

  • JoshHorton Oct 01, 2012

    Like you?

  • lsbloom Oct 01, 2012

    I'm so perplexed with the inconsistency. The two big pilots getting tons of responses are Last Resort and Revolution. On Revolution everyone is complaining that something we have no idea about doesn't make sense, the lead female is annoying, and it doesn't feel realistic. But no one here has those same problems? Grace is a whiny daddy's girl who doesn't act at all like a military officer, can't hold a gun, shakes when she shoots, and generally walks around whining that people don't give her more respect. The plot is completely illogical, whatever research they've done into the military and world politics isn't in evidence, it's completely unrealistic, the writing is horrific, the voice in the box was just comical at completely the wrong time. I dont' get it. What are the standards? Grace is so annoying I want to slap her and send her back to the naval academy, but Charlie is just a kid and she sucks it up and does what she has to do without panting and shaking and looking like a scared cat. Seriously, why aren't we using the same scales?

  • Ka113 Oct 02, 2012

    First off. Hated Revolution. Loved Last Resort.

    Sure there were cringeworthy parts of this pilot (Reeser's techtalk was badly disguised exposition about the stealth capabilities of the sub). But overall I think it comes down to presentation. Last Resort is simply much better presented. It was tighter, kept the facepalm moments to a minimum, had better actors and overall had better production values.

    This is all my opinion. My opinion might differ from the next guy.

  • GirishStewart Oct 01, 2012

    It all depends on the reviewer. If they take to openly bash a show over nothing, its open season for everyone who comment negatively without even watching the show properly. I agree with you, I like Charlie more than Grace already.

    Although I really loved the nonsensical pilot of Last Resort, Revolution is better as a whole and makes more sense than LR does in their respective worlds. But since Tim likes the latter more (obviously cuz of boobs and more macho stuff, no matter how illogical it all is) and most of the people are into the herd mentality thing, many are praising LR. But the ratings are pretty high for Revolution. I still have hopes for a full season pickup.

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