Episode Title: "Captain"
Writers: Shawn Ryan & Karl Gajdusek
Director: Martin Campbell
Conviction is a sometimes overlooked quality among actors on film and television. A surface performance can only take an actor so far if the audience can’t buy into the idea that the people onscreen believe the words coming out of their mouths. And there are already a few shows this fall which have thrown me completely out of the story thanks to the apparent insincerity of the lead cast.
“Last Resort” does not share that problem, thanks in large part to Andre Braugher. As Captain Marcus Chaplin, Braugher.quickly won me over through his relationship with the crew and his willingness to question orders that could spark a World War. Chaplin is in charge of the USS Colorado, a submarine equipped with 18 nuclear missiles which are ready to launch at a moment’s notice.
Across a secondary communications channel, Chaplin and the crew of the Colorado are ordered to fire a nuclear strike at Pakistan. In the background news reports, we get an indication that the U.S. government is already in crisis and that the President may be impeached. But when Chaplin dares to ask for confirmation of his orders through the main communications channel, he is immediately stripped of his command.
Fortunately, Chaplin’s XO, Lt. Commander Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman) is also a man of conviction who won’t start a war under such suspicious circumstances. Less fortunately, the crew of the Colorado is almost immediately attacked and the sub is nearly crippled. And the apparent destruction of the Colorado only serves the agenda of whomever wanted to start a war.
Of course, the Colorado isn’t actually destroyed and the crew is soon forced to take refuge on an island where a NATO monitoring post is based. It’s impressive how much story that Shawn Ryan and Karl Gajdusek manage to cram into an hour of television. It’s almost too much and the story may have been better served if it had more time to develop over the course of two hours.
Aside from Chaplin’s largely warm relationship with his crew, we don’t learn too much about him here. Instead, the human drama falls to Kendal and his wife, Christine (Jessy Schram); who is forced to watch her husband’s fate from the mainland U.S. under the strict supervision of a government that has told her that her husband is a traitor… after initially claiming that he is dead.
Kendal and Christine have the same simple motivation: they want to cut through the BS and reunite with each other. That’s easy enough to get behind. It’s less clear how Kylie Sinclair (Autumn Reeser) will fit into the story. Kylie is a lobbyist for her family’s weapons company who quickly realizes that the government’s story about the Colorado is a lie. While it’s good to see someone digging for the truth immediately, it was a little hard to buy Kylie browbeating Rear Admiral Arthur Shepard (Bruce Davison) about what happened. But apparently those two aren’t done with each other yet.
Shepard’s daughter is Lt. Grace Shepard (Daisy Betts), who is third in command of the Colorado and essentially the third lead of the show as well. Betts gets a few good moments when Grace admits that she would have acted if given a specific order by her superior officers and when she puts COB Joseph Prosser (Robert Patrick) in his place. But for the most part, Grace is forced to deal with the traditional tropes of a woman who has to constantly deal with harassment and a lack of respect from her fellow crewmates.
One of the few weaknesses of “Last Resort” is that it currently lacks someone to personify the adversarial relationship between the government and the crew. The best we get is a voice on a phone from someone working for the Secretary of the Defense. While that’s a useful tool for placing the audience in the crew’s shoes, it did lack a little drama. On the formerly NATO controlled island, Sahr Ngaujah pops up as Julian Serrat, the local crime lord or despot. However, Julian is soon undercut by the first crew member that he meets and even a late twist doesn’t restore the initial threat that Julian could have represented. That could change in the weeks ahead.
It was interesting to see how the Colorado’s arrival on the island completely disrupted life for the people who called it home. I doubt that the island’s inhabitants will be very happy about their new circumstances. Even the crew of the Colorado seems wary about Chaplin’s plans. Some of them no longer seem to recognize his authority and others may have even been in on the conspiracy from the beginning.
As a survival play, Chaplin convinces the government (and probably millions of Americans) that he is crazy enough to use the nuclear missiles if anyone attacks the island or the Colorado. Chaplin’s loyalists seem to recognize this as a necessary ruse… until he says something really crazy. There are already cracks in the fragile bonds between the crew and not everyone wants the same thing.
As a pilot episode, “Captain” is very effective and director Martin Campbell’s action scenes were exciting to watch. Campell does such a good job that I have to wonder if the regular weekly series can match this level of intensity. Because “Captain” had the luxury of a larger budget and a feature film director, it may not be an accurate taste of what the weekly “Last Resort” TV series will be like.
Regardless, I’m ready to see where this story goes.