Saturday, 29 September 2012


Saturday, 29 September 2012

written by Shawn Ryan / directed by Martin Campbell

My most eagerly-awaited pilot of the season didn't disappoint. ABC's high-concept military thriller Last Resort delivered a tense, gripping, exciting, and ambitious scenario that marshaled its many influences (Crimson Tide, 24, Battlestar Galactica, Lost, Tom Clancy/Clive Cussler novels) to impressive effect. The only question mark hanging over the show is a familiar one: can the concept evolve and adapt to the needs of a weekly TV series, or will it turn flaccid now the cinematic pilot has aired?

Last Resort's pilot laid the foundations for the series, and ultimately explained the show's high-concept: after receiving orders to fire nuclear warheads on Pakistan, Captain Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher) of the U.S.S Colorado submarine is suspicious of their legitimacy and refuses to follow protocol, with the support of his XO Lt Cmdr Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman). As a result, the Colorado is fired upon by the U.S.S Illinois and believed sunk by, but instead makes it way to the tropical island of Sainte Marina to commandeer a NATO listening post from its caretaker Sophie Girard (Camille De Pazzis)...

This was a terrific hour of television, particularly if you're a fan of the sources it takes some cues from. Ryan's script was drum-tight, the action sequences genuinely thrilling (courtesy of Casino Royale's Martin Campbell), and the sheer confidence in the plotting and performances made you give yourself over to the show. I particularly enjoyed how the story setup sources of conflict amongst its characters: in the whiffs of sexism from an almost entirely male crew, the presence of some confrontational Navy SEALs the Colorado recently rescued, and potentially mutinous sailor Joseph Prosser (Robert Patrick) who would have preferred they instinctively follow orders. On the South Pacific island the crew find themselves on, there's also the issue of a local despot called Serrat (Sahr Ngaujah) who isn't happy his territory's been invaded by arrogant Yanks, and the government conspiracy about who sent the Colorado its mistrusted orders and why someone's obscuring the reasons they're at war with Pakistan.

As marvellous as this nimble pilot was, it left me with many uncertainties. How long can you keep this idea going as a TV series ideally aiming to produce 100 episodes? I'm also not convinced the island-set scenes will be anywhere close to as interesting as the claustrophobic submarine ones—but there's presumably less reason for the characters to be on their boat now. If Last Resort is to be a show about 150 treasonable sailors trying to fit into an island community, while rattling their sabres at the world until their names are cleared of triggering nuclear war, I have a few doubts the audience will stick around for that. However, it does help that the actors are captivating, particularly the outstanding Braugher (whose bravura closing speech is worth watching this episode for alone), but if this premiere isn't indicative of what Last Resort's offering viewers every week, then it's perhaps unfair to even judge it yet. If it turns into a truly compelling study of patriotism and ethics, as the Colorado-protected isle goes up against Uncle Sam on the world stage, perhaps there's hope... but it's going to take masterful writing to pull this show off.

Overall, I was delighted by Last Resort's dazzling idea, the fleetness of its storytelling, and how engaging the characters became so quickly. It's easily the best pilot of the season so far, and one of my favourites since Boardwalk Empire. There's just that issue of durability now the exhilarating introduction is over, but I'm hopeful we'll at least get one amazing season of fascinating politics and exciting drama from a unique concept.


  • There were lots of famous faces floating around here. Andre Braugher's best-known for Homicide: Life on the Street (which this pilot's director also worked on), Scott Speedman was a lead in the first few Underworld movies, Daisy Betts was in Syfy's Persons Unknown a few years ago, Dichen Lachman is known in geek circles from Dollhouse, Autumn Reeser's appeared in The OC and No Ordinary Family, Robert Patrick played the T-1000 in Terminator 2, and X-Men's Bruce Davison is a veteran of TV/film.
27 September 2012 / ABC