There've been a lot of blips on the radar about Last Resort putting up crummy ratings and being in danger of getting hit with a torpedo that reads "CANCELED" in big, blocky, military-style stenciled lettering. But ratings in the 18-49 demographic for the show actually increased from Episode 3 ("Eight Bells") to Episode 4 ("Voluntoid"), albeit only slightly, from 1.6 to 1.7. That's something new shows rarely do. Networks often look for a ratings floor to see where shows will steady out at, so if we've already seen the bottom, that's a positive sign. But the show is going to need more viewers than it's drawing now, and hopefully ABC is paying attention to the DVR boost for its first two episodes, which vaulted the ratings to above a 3.0 on average, about a 50-percent jump.
All of which is to say that it's sink or swim time for Last Resort, and episodes like "Skeleton Crew," the series' best episode since the outstanding pilot, should convince audiences to keep tuning in and give ABC a reason to shower the series with all sorts of season renewals. Stocked with multiple ticking clocks, huge moments for characters, and intertwining plots that brought everything together, "Skeleton Crew" was a cable-quality, bladder-tightening hour of tense television that clicked on all levels. Well, almost.
What made "Skeleton Crew" work so well, in addition to Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher) flipping a table and threatening to suck out Secretary of Defense Curry's eye-jelly, was the way all the island plots worked off one another and built to a crescendo together, like a symphony of high-stakes nuclear negotiations and underwater war tactics. It was hard to tell which was the A-story and which was the B-story between Chaplin and Sam Kendal's negotiations with Curry and Grace Shepard's handling of the Colorado for the first time on her own, as both were of such supreme importance—Grace's to the immediate survival of her crew and Chaplin's to the stability of the entire world.
A lot of credit for the effectiveness of the occasionally civil/often contentious negotiations should go to Jay Karnes, the former The Shield actor who boated up to the island wearing a suit and a dickish face as Secretary of Defense Curry. Curry immediately stamped his feet and a drew a line in the sand for Chaplin's crew, who remained loyal to their captain as was set up in last week's episode. Curry's declaration of "So shall you hang" as no one stepped forward to take his offer was delivered with incredulity and impatience, like Curry couldn't believe these idiots would reject their last chance at earning respect in the eyes of their country. This is the type of villain who works well against Chaplin's imposing and dutiful presence. He's a man with the contempt and conviction of a privileged frat boy and Karnes nailed it.
Stuck between Chaplin and Curry and the need to go home and cuddle with his wife was Kendal, who was feeling a bit bendable under pressure. There was a nice subplot about how loyal he should be to the rigid and possibly insane Chaplin, and it reflected back on Chaplin's character. Chaplin is the man we all respect even though he may be leading us all off a cliff. His judgment isn't something I expected to be such a huge component to the series. I had pegged him as a by-the-book sea-boy, but he's just the right amount of crazy to make us uneasy.
Meanwhile, under the sea, Grace grabbed her learner's permit and took the Colorado out for a spin in order to—and this is a contrivance that's best accepted immediately and put behind you—replace a battery in the ring of sonar arrays around the island. Like I said, just put it behind you, because the end justified the means. One character who's been aching for a little street cred around these parts is Grace, the no-fun, third-in-command, desk-jockey female who isn't much more to the crew than a puppy dog wandering the cabin, and tonight she got it big time. Trapped by attack subs circling like sharks, she pulled some evasive maneuvers and made the tough decisions (again, pre-established by last week's repeated drills, of which she was in command) that saved the lives of her crew and dare I say it AMERICA. Heck, she was willing to let a handsome Navy SEAL major character choke on his own carbon monoxide in the middle of the ocean, because she weighed the options and decided that one was a lot smaller of a number than whatever headcount she had on board her boat. That decision, and her shooting of the traitor in the pilot episode, elevated her to more than just a pretty face. Daisy Betts has been playing Grace like a robot, but it fit her struggle to stay strong and grow some chest hair in a sea of testosterone. And when she took over the sub and was barking commands to her crew and screaming, "FIRE!"? Hubba hubba! And yes, I realize I just undermined all the gender equality that scene created, but sorry! Anyway, character developed! Welcome to the show, Grace.
One of the biggest problems for easily distracted audiences in Last Resort's earlier episodes was the breadth of the show's storytelling. What was happening in Washington with Kylie the sexy weapons expert and Christine the cute Navy wife felt detached and at times incoherent because they seemed so distant from the core of the show. But "Skeleton Crew" melded their plots together when Kylie went to see Christine in the aftermath of the latter's broadcast tirade about government conspiracies. Now these two are going to set out on some Scooby-Doo adventures on the mainland, and if they can get their hands on the secrets the Perseus holds, they just might get the upper hand. Getting Kylie and Christine together was critical for the D.C. storyline, as what were two plots that were both on the verge of being boring have been zipped up into one plot that's just starting to get interesting. Ultimately, it will only seem like it took the off-island stories too long to develop if Last Resort gets sunk early. Otherwise, I trust the showrunners' deliberate pacing and have renewed interest in the mainland.
And how about all the budding romances! Okay, this is one thing Last Resort isn't doing up to the level of the rest of the show. We've all known James would be showing his own little submarine to Tani (Dichen Lachman) at some point, and if I were seconds away from dying but survived by the sheer power of my studliness, I'd probably look all over the world for Ms. Lachman and swallow her face, too. And the coffee talk between Sophie and Kendal isn't at all grating. But both lovey-dovey stories feel, I dunno, standard? I can accept that they're all into each other because yes they are hot enough to turn that sandy beach into glass, but their coupling is way down on my list of priorities at the moment. Will that change? Hopefully. Probably.
"Skeleton Crew" was one beefy hour of television and really pointed Last Resort in the right direction, with a solid focus on a predicament that called back many things the show has been building up over the last few episodes. Now more than ever, we have a really good sense of these characters and what they're capable of, and we know where this show can go. It's all coming together.
SONAR BLIPS AND BLEEPS
– Of course they were going to pick up James King (Daniel Lissing) minutes after his reserve tank expired and we all thought he was dead. But it was still thrilling. What was he tapping out in Morse Code that the communications guy didn't want to tell Grace? Do we have any Morse Code experts in the audience today?
– Heart-warming moment of the night: COB delivering the salute and saying "Officer on deck!" as Grace walked by, after he earlier said she wasn't his captain. Grace beaming with pride and almost a smile was well earned.
– The dialogue between everyone was pretty great tonight. Lots of unexpected humor, too.
– No Julian in this episode, but he didn't feel missed. He'll be back in a big way.
– Hey Daniel Lissing! Put a shirt on! Right, ladies?
– What's the punishment for shooting a White House Adviser? What kind of deep doo-doo is Admiral Shepard in for shooting her? Although that was the craziest moment of the episode, he was trying to save his daughter's life (and the people who were shot were being total A-holes).
– COB: "Why is there a French girl on my boat?" Grace: "She's vital to the mission." COB: "Are we planning a retreat?" HAHA FRANCE! COB just burned your baguettes!
– COB: "French is the opposite of cowboy. Cowboys like Will Rogers, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood." Sophie: "Robert Duvall." COB: "Now you're getting it." Sophie: "Duvall is French." COB: "You take that back." Ain't no way the man who played Tom Hagen in The Godfather is going to French on COB's watch! (Indeed, an internet search proves Duvall is a descendant of early French settlers. The more you know.)
– COB: "The Captain's got sand in her swimsuit, so we're all headed to the grand rodeo in the sky." Stop it COB, I'm trying to write a serious review over here!
– COB: "Maybe they didn't want to hit a girl." Grace: "How did you ever stay married?" COB: "Stayed deployed." Words of wisdom for all.