Preview: The Last Resort (ABC) 1×1

In the US: Thursdays, 8/7c, ABC. Starts September 27th
In the UK: Not yet acquired

You’ll have seen the scenario before, in films like Crimson Tide: a nuclear submarine receives the order to fire its missiles at the enemy. Will the captain have the guts to nuke the target? Will he chicken out? Or has it really all been a big mistake and war hasn’t actually been declared? It’s usually that last one.

Having not read much of the publicity material around The Last Resort, I assumed that this was going to be Crimson Tride all over again. But lo and behold, here we have something new and interesting. For now.

The Last Resort, featuring the ever-interesting Andre Braugher (last seen being wasted by House, Miami Medical and Men of a Certain Age), comes from the pen of Shawn Ryan, who can usually be relied to turn in something both interesting and manly (cf The Shield, Chicago Code, Terriers). Here, the crew of a nuclear submarine are given a suspicious order to fire nuclear missiles at Pakistan. And when the captain (Braugher) questions the order, he’s first relieved of command and then shot at… by a US ship, which goes on to nuke Pakistan itself in supposed retaliation for shooting the submarine.

So, in another interesting twist, the submarine heads off for the Caribbean and declares itself an independent nation, ready to stop the war between the US and Pakistan. And if anyone comes after them… well, there’s a silo of nuclear missiles waiting for them, too.

Here’s a trailer.

About
500 feet beneath the ocean’s surface, the U.S. ballistic missile submarine Colorado receives their orders. Over a radio channel, designed only to be used if their homeland has been wiped out, they’re told to fire nuclear weapons at Pakistan.

Captain Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher) demands confirmation of the orders only to be unceremoniously relieved of duty by the White House. XO Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman) finds himself suddenly in charge of the submarine and facing the same difficult decision. When he also refuses to fire without confirmation of the orders, the Colorado is targeted, fired upon, and hit. The submarine and its crew find themselves crippled on the ocean floor, declared rogue enemies of their own country. Now, with nowhere left to turn, Chaplin and Kendal take the sub on the run and bring the men and women of the Colorado to an exotic island. Here they will find refuge, romance and a chance at a new life, even as they try to clear their names and get home.

Last Resort stars Andre Braugher (Men of a Certain Age, Homicide) as Captain Marcus Chaplin, Scott Speedman (The Vow, Felicity) as XO Sam Kendal, Daisy Betts (Sea Patrol) as Lieutenant Grace Shepard, Dichen Lachman (Being Human) as Tani Tumrenjack, Daniel Lissing (Crownies) as SEAL Officer James King, Sahr Ngaujah (House of Payne) as Mayor Julian Serrat, Camille de Pazzis (The First Day of the Rest of Your Life) as Sophie Gerard, Autumn Reeser (Hawaii Five-O, No Ordinary Family) as Kylie Sinclair, Jessy Schram (Falling Skies, Once Upon a Time) as Christine Kendal and Robert Patrick (The Gangster Squad, The Unit) as Master Chief Joseph Prosser.

Last Resort was created by Shawn Ryan (The Shield, The Unit, The Chicago Code) and Karl Gajdusek (Trespass, Dead Like Me), who, along with Marney Hochman (The Chicago Code, Terriers) serve as executive producers for the pilot and series. The pilot for Last Resort was also executive produced and directed by Martin Campbell (Green Lantern, Casino Royale). Last Resort is produced by Middkid Productions in association with Sony Pictures Television.

Is it any good?
You get the feeling that although this isn’t half bad, it could have been a whole lot better on cable. There’s an air of implausibility that hovers over the entire affair, from the cheap sci-fi submarine, the sci-fi device Autumn Reeser (No Ordinary Family) has hooked up to it for some reason – and indeed Autumn Reeser’s entire character – to pretty much any of the personal dialogue for about the first 20 minutes and the acting, bar Braugher and Ryan’s go-to-manly man Robert Patrick (The Unit, Terminator 2, The X-Files), who’s in completely the wrong role. Had it been on cable and given some freedom, it would have been a whole lot more realistic, I suspect.

But network dumbing down aside, I was surprised by what there was. While some of the dialogue is a bit laughable initially, particularly with anyone being overly manly, it soon becomes a lot stronger and more thoughtful, the military and nautical language and lifestyle well handled and there are some zingers at important moments.

We have a decent mix of female and male characters, even on the submarine, although virtually everything relating to the female submariners seemed to suggest they were a problem rather than an asset (constant sexual harassment checks, men unable to treat a superior female officer with respect, and so on).

If you don’t read the plot synopsis, then the show’s twists and turns are genuinely surprising, with an ending that should be hard to see coming. In contrast with a lot of ‘mystery’ shows (Fringe, Revolution, The Event, Flash Forward, Alcatraz et al), which give you a fantasy mystery that will slowly get solved over God-knows-how-many seasons, there’s a real-world mystery that’s actually frighteningly plausible: why would the US government covertly order a submarine to fire on Pakistan and then fire on that boat to cover up its actions? Okay, maybe a little conspiracy theory, but there’s no magic lights, no time travel, no sudden end to the laws of physics – just people being dicks for their own reasons. And there’s a healthy number of people who seem to know more than they’re letting on to suggest that the mystery will be a proper one and that it’s going to take time to solve.

The ending also has that most un-American of suggestions: maybe America isn’t the best country in the world and the show is intent on following that up, with the submariners trying to forge a new life in a new country. At the moment, the fictitious Caribbean island they’ve landed on is the typical xenophobic US stereotype of a Caribbean island (Be afraid! Foreign black criminals who want to abduct you! But there’s a bar where everyone can take things easy as well!), but seeing as most of the action is going to be on the island from now on, I’m sure we’ll get a bit more nuance as time goes on.

At the moment, beyond Braugher and Patrick, everyone’s a bit charmless, a bit charisma-less and a bit character-less. Lead female submariner is basically a daddy’s girl (why does every strong woman have to be strong because of her father, these days?); sub commander misses his girlfriend; the SEALs are loyal; and there’s a drunk guy. There’s a couple of civilian technicians who have yet to do much but panic, and Dichen Lachman (Torchwood: Miracle Day, Being Human, Dollhouse, Neighbours) has poured a few drinks, but again, I’m sure they’ll all have more to do later on.

So a promising but imperfect start. It’s hard to know exactly what the show will be like from now on: essentially, we’ve had an origin story for how a bunch of rogue US naval personnel manage to take over a country. We now have to see what happens when they get out of the submarine to run that country and how the plot evolves. But this is the first of the new shows I’m actually looking forward to seeing any more episodes of.