Last Resort, Season 1, Episode 1: “Captain”
Written by Karl Gajdusek and Shawn Ryan
Directed by Martin Campbell
Airs Thursdays at 8pm (ET) on ABC
FX’s cop series The Shield stands as a classic television show, giving viewers complex storylines, three dimensional characters that couldn’t be easily categorized as either good or evil, and performances by the likes of Glenn Close and Anthony Anderson that made people regard them in a new light. While this is show creator Shawn Ryan’s most well-known show, and deservedly so, he is by no means a one-trick pony; he subsequently went on to create two more excellent series in Terriers and The Chicago Code, neither of which, sadly, saw a second season. Thankfully for television fans, Ryan hasn’t gotten discouraged; rather, he’s gotten right back in the saddle, signing a deal with Sony even as The Chicago Code was on its last legs. The first fruit of that collaboration is the new ABC show Last Resort, and if the pilot is any indication, this show is aiming to explore ideas bigger than any of Ryan’s prior projects. And that’s great news.
The pilot does a great job of effectively establishing the characters and their relationships to each other. Despite a jam packed episode that sees the characters go through a roller-coaster of emotions, none of the notes anyone hits feel false. All the main characters are given their moments to shine and the driving forces behind some of the minor characters are explored, making the characters about whom not much is revealed intriguing, rather than boring. The latter holds particularly true for Dichen Lachman’s Tani Tumrenjack, a woman on the island who has just a single line of dialogue, by choice, making her comparative silence all the more interesting. This development also allows for an easy understanding of the friction between certain characters and it will be very interesting to see how they follow through on certain conflicts.
The character development is greatly aided by the superb cast. Andre Braugher manages to infuse the right amount of doubt, veteran experience, and conviction in the character of Captain Marcus Chaplin to make him a believable, sympathetic figure and proves himself more than capable of anchoring the ensemble cast in the process. Bruce Davison, in only two scenes (two and a half, if one is generous), also manages to convey his character’s shock very effectively without dialogue. Scott Speedman admirably proves himself in the role of Sam Kendal and Daisy Betts, who did the best she could with limited material on NBC’s summer burnoff Persons Unknown, gets a much meatier role to sink her teeth into here, and she pulls her weight.
Betts’ character, Lt. Grace Shepard, is a solid example of something rarely seen on television- a strong female character. As a high-ranking officer on the submarine, Grace Shepard is written as someone with strong human characteristics that aren’t tied to her gender, but the fact that her gender and position earn her disdain from her peers is not glossed over. Likewise, Autumn Reeser’s Kylie Sinclair proves to be a three-dimensional female character who’s distinct from Grace Shepard or Tani Tumrenjack.
Along with fleshing out the characters, the writing provides some very interesting themes that I hope the show will expand on. The most overt are an exploration of what happens when government factions take certain policies into their own hands, as well as how news coverage can twist public perception of events and how much power the threat of a nuclear attack really can wield. However, colonialism and invasion by larger forces is a very interesting theme that the show subtly works on in the pilot. While the episode proceeds largely from the perspective of Captain Marcus Chaplin and his crew, there’s an obvious discomfort in the submarine crew’s sudden takeover of both the NATO outpost and the island as a whole, personified by Sahr Njaugah’s Julian Serrat. With the submarine parked and Captain Chaplin’s assertion that “maybe this is home now”, the island’s inhabitants have been unwittingly dragged into a conflict they may never be able to extricate themselves from, and how the show chooses to address the backlash that results from this will be fascinating to watch, even beyond the imminent power struggle.
Overall, this is a fantastic pilot with lots of promise for what’s to come. There may be some problems ahead; the large ensemble cast, while promising, may leave some characters underdeveloped, as Jessy Schram’s Christine Kendal and David Rees Snell’s Robert already somewhat suffered from this in the pilot. However, the positives on display far outweigh any potential negatives this show may develop. The lack of a visual overarching villain is an interesting choice, as the pilot keeps the primary antagonistic figure in the US government to a voice over an intercom. Whether this was a deliberate choice on the part of the writers, or simply a result of extenuating circumstances, remains to be seen, but if it’s the former, it will add another wrinkle of interest to this series. The high potential displayed tin his episode is cause for excitement and the assured hand of Shawn Ryan at the helm does a lot to minimize any trepidation that the show might squander said potential. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess, but what’s sure is that it already has all the makings of quality television.
– Deepayan Sengupta