SN: This week, we look at the first installments of “Last Resort,” which seems to aspire to be the next “LOST”: a massively popular hourlong network drama the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time.
“Last Resort” is about the crew of a Navy submarine armed with nuclear missiles and stealth technology: they’re not afraid to use them, and they’ve gone rogue after disobeying orders to fire on Pakistan. The crew takes refuge on a French island in the Indian Ocean. The upshot is that it comes with a team of hot European scientists; the downside is the menacing local strongman. Oh, and back home, their government has portrayed them as traitors.
Five weeks in, my sense is that everything could afford to slow down. There’s a lot of fun stuff — kidnappings, firefights, soldiers tossed in the brig — but the dust never settles for long enough. Okay, so there’s a blockade, but what does this mean for the crew’s strategic position, or for the islanders’ way of life? Do I have a reason to care, or am I just biding my time until “Grey’s”?
GC: I know I’m doubling back on the criticisms I levied at “Revolution,” but I’m going to disagree on the pacing/construction. The “headlong-into-the-breach” approach is in the show’s DNA. Sure, it’s a little frenzied, but they’ve been offering up such interesting sketches that I’d rather keep bouncing from one to the next than explore the joy out of the ones we’ve already been shown.
Let’s talk tone for a second, though, which I think is the biggest potential obstacle to “Last Resort”’s forward momentum. Unless I’m seriously misreading things, the show is supposed to be pretty fundamentally fun, even a little hokey — the off-the-walls, geo-political soap opera premise, the banter, the (s)exposition scene explaining the ship’s stealth drive. It’s nuclear war, but it’s not any more serious than “War Games.” And yet the U.S. government is refusing Chaplin’s dead soldier son a proper burial as a negotiating tool? A character (apparently, though kind of ambiguously) offers herself up to be raped to prevent the execution of another sailor? These are grim, un-soapy things to grapple with, and they struck me like significant tonal discontinuities. I don’t really like mixing the tastes of quinine and cotton candy.
SN: Don’t you think that the incongruousness is because of pacing issues, though? Plot points don’t need to be dragged out over several weeks, but this seems to be a problem of the beat-to-beat structure of each episode.
To be fair, some of that might be because it’s hard to film the action sequences. The naval confrontations mostly consist of people looking at screens and shouting out jargon while the set shakes. Part of that might be a verisimilitude thing — maybe this is how sea battles actually go? — and part of that may be a budget thing. Underwater scenes are difficult to animate, and I don’t get the sense that they have a lot of money to blow on nice special effects.
Still, other shows have managed to balance action and weighty ideas — I’m thinking of “Battlestar Galactica.” And I know that everything you’re reading right now is coming out nerd nerd nerd but that show was an honest-to-God Bush-era military drama: a small crew, alone in the universe, faces an overwhelmingly powerful enemy. There were shit-tons of explosions, but what made it work was a constant and extended atmosphere of dread. So far on “Last Resort,” we’ve definitely seen some in-fighting, but not nearly enough fatigue or confusion. I want wariness, strain, mistrust, I want these people to hate each other and love each other all at once while nice quasi-Celtic flutes play in the background because why not. All that dark gritty stuff that makes speculative shows feel real and worthwhile.
GC: I think you’re more optimistic than I am about the show’s long-term prospects. If we’re honest with ourselves, the ratings suggest that “Last Resort” isn’t likely to make it through more than one season. Though I’m probably in the minority, I don’t think that’s a terrible thing; I fell (without much shame) for “Awake” and “The Cape” all the more because they were doomed and not despite it. “Last Resort” strikes me as the same kind of object. The stakes for the show aren’t really sink or swim, because sinking is pretty much a foregone conclusion.
Sure, I’d love a “Last Resort” with a measured tone and pace, a thoughtfully grim reflection on their situation, etc. I’d also like them to bring “Firefly” back, and I want #SixSeasonsAndAMovie for “Community.” Ain’t gonna happen. So I say damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.