‘I’ ON CULTURE
The Last Resort is a fascinating new television series (ABC at 8 p.m. Thursdays) that tries to cram about three hours of plot into each episode. It is a complex drama, filled with characters connected by a whole variety of different motives, while focusing both on political and personal disputes. At times, events seem to move so fast, there is no time to think.
The nuclear submarine USS Colorado rescues a group of SEALs after a botched mission in Pakistan and is ordered, not through regular channels but by a suspicious secondary routing, to fire nuclear missiles at Pakistan. The captain of the ship, Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher), decides to disobey the order until he can get confirmation through regular sources. The Colorado is then attacked by American forces and damaged. Its special Perseus cloaking system allows the captain, backed by his second-in-command, Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman), to bring the sub to an island in the Indian Ocean, Sainte Marina, where they hide while trying to make sense of what happened.
The action takes place on the sub, on the island and in Washington, where shadowy forces struggle for power. The crew of the submarine is horrified to find out they have been labeled as traitors by Washington. A segment of the crew led by Chief of the Boat (a role given to the senior enlisted person aboard) Joseph Prosser (Robert Patrick), thinks orders should simply be obeyed. Prosser, however, does have long-term ties to the captain.
On the island, the arrival of the ship disrupts life. Julian Serrat (Sahr Ngaujah) runs the island, quite willing to use violence to get his way. Sophie Girard (Camille De Pazzis), a NATO scientist on the island, wants to keep things peaceful but has a relationship with Julian, who is hostile to the arrival of the sailors. In Washington, we see the pressure being put on Sam Kendal’s wife Christine (Jessy Schram) by the government, which is attempting to manipulate her, while Kylie Sinclair (Autumn Reeser), the daughter of the head of the company that designed the cloaking system, moves closer to the center of the action.
And that’s based on four weeks of shows. It seems clear that the role of conscience vs. duty is at the center of the show, a topic that has been a staple of drama dating back to the Greeks (for example, Antigone). The captain is very torn in his decisions, as is the chief. Crew members are split; one actually tries to highjack the ship with a grenade. And then we have the Russians getting involved. Whooh! What a ride. And I left out the part where Chaplin fired a nuclear missile at the United States to force the country to back off.
Happily, the acting is excellent. Braugher is one of the finest actors in television. You can see the agony on his face as he has to make horrible choices. Patrick is as good. It would have been simple to play the captain’s chief opponent as simply a man making robotic choices, but he plays the role obviously torn by competing feelings of duty. Speedman is strong as the executive officer; he is not a “yes man,” and he has a special problem thanks to the leverage the government has over his wife. The drama is not as strong so far in Washington and on the island itself. Schram suffers mightily and beautifully as the beleaguered wife but still has not become a fully rounded character. That is more a script problem than an acting one.
The real dramatic problem is that the action on the submarine itself is so intense that the others pale in comparison. Nothing is simple there; clearly, the captain is respected, but the men want to go home. And they are not certain how well they will be received. To compound things, the president may be impeached and convicted, and nothing is certain.
The trickiest part of running a show like this is keeping the suspense. The first season of Lost was weird, wild and wonderful, but the writers ran out of plot and went almost entire seasons focusing on either missing passengers or “the Others” or anything else. I hope this series manages to avoid that. It will be a challenge what with a split crew, an island dictator, a Russian invasion, nuclear attacks, an impeachment hearing and a lot of other skullduggery. It might be hard to top what they have already done.
But with an excellent cast, a nice shooting location and a gripping story, the people behind the show clearly demonstrate that we can still turn out good television. Try it.