“Last Resort” is easily the most ambitious new drama on television this fall, and probably the toughest sell too. A show about the captain and crew of a Navy submarine who go on the run after questioning suspicious orders to fire nuclear missiles on Pakistan is not something you see that often.
And, admittedly, not everything works. The show, which premieres Thursday (Sept. 27) on ABC, has one of the most thrilling pilots of recent years, but there are a few growing pains in the subsequent two episodes as the show sorts out the weight it gives stories involving the sub’s crew, the locals on the tropical island they commandeer and the people back home who have connections to the sub.
“Last Resort” does, however, have an utterly magnetic performance by Andre Braugher at its center, several well-formed supporting characters and enough sense of where it wants to go to make it easily one of the best new shows of this fall.
Marcus Chaplin (Braugher), captain of the U.S.S. Colorado, is a respected (possibly even revered) commander whom we first meet picking up a team of Navy SEALs in the Indian Ocean. We get a quick introduction to the rest of the crew, including executive officer Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman, in his first series since “Felicity”), Lt. Grace Shepard (Daisy Betts) and Chief of the Boat Joseph Prosser (Robert Patrick), before things get weird.
The Colorado gets an order to fire its nukes at Pakistan that appears legitimate, although it comes outside the usual channels. When Chaplin and Kendal question the order, another American sub fires on them. They sink to the bottom, then limp to an island that’s also home to a NATO outpost.
Whoever gave the order to fire on the Colorado clearly wants Chaplin silenced and calls in an airstrike to sink the sub for good. Chaplin responds by firing one of the sub’s missiles in the direction of Washington, D.C., and declaring a 200-mile no man’s land around the island.
If you’re looking for lots of answers about who’s behind the sketchy nuclear order and the attempts to squash the truth of what’s happening, you won’t get a lot of them in the first three episodes. It might involve a prototype system on board the Colorado made by defense contractor Kylie Sinclair (Autumn Reeser), but there’s more to it than that.
Viewers, though, are almost as much in the dark about what happened with the sub’s crew. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, as “Last Resort” is at its best exploring the tension between Chaplin, Kendal and the other crew members who are sure they’re on the right side of things and those who aren’t, egged on by the skeptical Prosser. They also have to deal with a local crime boss (Sahr Ngaujah) not happy with seeing his power challenged, which leads to some fabulously tense scenes in episode 3.
Creators Shawn Ryan (“The Shield,” “Terriers”) and Karl Gajdusek (“Dead Like Me”) have a firm handle on who these characters are, down to the local bartender (Dichen Lachman of “Dollhouse”) who strikes up a friendship with one of the SEALs (Daniel Lissing), who clearly knows more than the rest of us about the Pakistan situation. That goes a long way toward evening out whatever structural questions they’re still working out over the first few episodes.
ABC has not had much success with the shows it’s aired at 8 p.m. on Thursdays in recent seasons. But “Last Resort” has the goods to turn that record around.