The Last Resort

This view of ABC’s soon-to-be-sunk Last Resort is so over the top in its praise of the show it reads like it was written by the show’s PR department. Last Resort is not “brilliant” – far from it – and it doesn’t have strong female leads. I could go along with saying it deserves a look from another network, but with all indications being that the writers had enough time to film a legitimate ending, it doesn’t seem likely.

Last Resort had a premise with loads of potential. How did it go wrong and not even make a full season?

The pilot was, in a word, fricking outstanding. Out. Standing. The submarine – the USS Colorado – under the command of Marcus Chaplain defied orders to make a nuclear strike on Pakistan due to Chaplain’s concern over receiving the message thru a secondary protocol that is only supposed to be used when the government has failed. When the apparently-not-failed government threatened to destroy his ship, Chaplain retaliated by firing a nuclear missile at the nation’s capital. The writers let several dramatic minutes pass before the nuclear warhead detonated…200 miles off the east coast. A commanding speech to the world by Chaplain near the end of the episode solidified him as the dramatic center of the show. Andre Braugher fulfilled the role with great deftness as the definitive authority of his boat dealing with an extreme crisis of conscience. Braugher is not the reason Last Resort failed.

Once the pilot ended and the show’s plot had to be unwrapped, the writers went at it like a greedy punk kid at Christmas, tearing through the story so haphazardly that they destroyed their present. This was its downfall.

There had to have been a reason the order to fire on Pakistan didn’t come through the standard chain of command. That’s a political intrigue. Viewers love political intrigue. Had the United States government been decapitated? The writers didn’t seem to care. They sent the show on a boring chase for some military tech developed by a powerful national defense family. How relevant that was to why the sub got questionable orders to fire a nuclear missile, I was never really clear. The tech figured prominently in getting the boat out of one life threatening situation and seems to have been forgotten about since. It was like watching Dogan in the temple all over again.

Finally, in the first episode of its four week sprint to eternity we got some hint of what happened leading up to the pilot. The president ordered an assassination on a United Nations weapons inspector which would be followed by the rogue order to launch nuclear war. Awesome! Why would a president do that? Was he being blackmailed? Was he a traitor? Was there an effort to stop it? How might that have played out? How did something like that affect the people involved? I have no idea. We have no idea. Maybe we will find out over the final three episodes, and I hope we do. But it’s too late. That’s just too much to leave out of a primetime show. It puts enormous pressure on what does make it into each episode. Last Resort couldn’t hold up.

The plan to manipulate LC Sam Kendall’s wife into turning him against Chaplain was obvious but still so poorly done as to be annoying. I completely expect a military wife to be fully devoted to her husband and vice versa, but you still have to earn it with me as a viewer. Last Resort didn’t. I’m not even sure it tried. Failing to invest in it was evident when their eventual reunion failed to deliver an emotional punch. (Desmond and Penny, anyone?) Her sudden death was surprising, but even that was undone by the end of the episode. Two characters in love don’t make a primetime love story. Two characters viewers love make a primetime love story. We were never made to love Sam and Christine.

Last Resort’s best storytelling may have come in the episode in which one of the sailors was tried for raping a woman from the island. Chaplain put Lt. Grace Shepard in charge of the case and by the end we learned that she is a rape victim. Powerful stuff that illuminates a character. We didn’t get much of that background for the other secondary characters even though it is all sitting there waiting to be told.

What did the French researcher leave behind live on this island and look for rare Earth minerals? How did the island’s despot come to power? How did a young woman come to run her own bar? Why is one of the sailors spying on her own country? If you enjoy good television, wasted potential like this should leave you seething. Much has been made of Shawn Ryan’s run of bad luck that now includes Last Resort. It ain’t bad luck. Hollywood should take out a restraining order against him on behalf of good material. He and anyone else responsible for how this story was told ought to have their keyboards confiscated by time travelers who can ensure they never touch them again.

Well then what did Last Resort have right that I enjoyed it enough to be disappointed? I think it did the drama exceptionally well. The trap of a show about a submarine is spending too much time threatening to sink the sub. Last Resort avoided that, creating dramatic situations that were intense and entertaining even in the absence of great character-based storytelling. Give the show credit for that. I would even say that alone could have been strong enough to overcome the show’s faults. Saying so only makes it that much more disappointing that they couldn’t put storytelling and drama together. They could have made the kind of show people hang on every spring and can’t wait for every fall.

Some have said Last Resort was too masculine and that it faced stiff Thursday night competition. Both probably carry a kernel of truth. Both are minor reasons compared to its overall failure to develop a better story. So, sorry, Yahoo Contributor Network bro, Last Resort didn’t take any chances, and that’s why it’s about to get dry-docked.

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