Last Resort – Pilot Review

Everything’s getting a bit tense in Washington, and a submarine commander is ordered to launch his nuclear missiles at Pakistan. The commander asks for confirmation of the orders and his submarine is fired upon by his own side. The submarine limps to a Polynesian Island which they promptly invade and take over the UN listening post. They declare any attempt to take the island will cause them to launch their nukes.

This one caught my eye early on because it’s created by Shawn Ryan who’s made and worked on some great shows over the last decade or so – The Shield, The Unit, Terriers, Lie to Me. Then there’s that fantastic set up (although the horrible pun in the title is a bit unforgivable), the sort of thing that just doesn’t appear on television. It’s got a load of really fascinating elements that it can play with:

  • Military life on a submarine – all the usual potential to be had from ranks and pecking orders, life and death moments in the midst of tedium and routine. But on a claustrophobic submarine. And there’s women on board!
  • International politics – the politics behind a decision to actually use nuclear weapons are epic, the fallout (pardon the pun) is equally epic.
  • Renegade submarine – how does the American government and military deal with the fact they’ve lost control of their submarine? How does it negotiate or steal it back? How does that message play out publicly?
  • Life on the island – there will be plenty of local issues going on before all this started and now that the submariners have effectively invaded, how is any of that going to work?
  • Given all that great potential then, it’s a real shame that what they’ve produced is just plain rubbish.

    At first I thought it might just be a problem with the pilot. So often I find myself wishing that two-part pilots were more common and this is a key example of a show that needs it. There just wasn’t enough time taken to show the status quo before throwing it into chaos. Without understanding the political situations properly, there was no context to any of the decisions. It didn’t seem like there was sufficient justification for anyone’s actions – either the government calling for the nuclear strike, the captain not immediately following orders, or for the military disavowing him just for asking a question. Everyone just came across as making some of the most important decisions in recent history on a complete and utter whim.

    If the plot was rushed, the characters even more so. They’re a regular who’s who of cliché for this kind of scenario. The firm but fair captain, beloved by his crew; the young energetic XO considering taking a desk job to be with his new wife; the grizzled old by the book Chief; the Admiral’s kid who everyone thinks only got the position because of daddy; the female officer challenging the status quo. Just to cut down the headcount a bit they combine the last two into one role, and frankly given how weak she seemed, I’m on the side of those that think she doesn’t belong there. And those are just on the boat, there’s still a random group of special ops people, the Nato observation people and the islanders to deal with as well. Oh, and all the people back in the US. Good grief, it’s not surprising that there’s no time for any depth with any of them.

    I watched the second episode to see if they settled down a bit. It didn’t. It continued to be rubbish. Rather than spend some time explaining events and bedding everything in, the writers instead went with a throwaway plot that either went nowhere or set up a whole other superpower as a player in the wider political storylines. Meanwhile the characters continued to make insane leaps, dragging everyone further and further into insanity. I just spent the whole time wanting them to stop and explain, and frankly me wanting MORE exposition is a rather odd experience.

    The show that I saw in the first two episodes – I don’t want to watch. It’s a thinly veiled excuse to combine running and shooting with lots of shots of submarines, missiles and a beautiful island location. I think there is still potential that a great show may develop somewhere along the lines, it’s entirely possible that the first episodes were just poor, maybe the writers (or the network) were afraid that too much talk and plot would scare people away; that what they needed to get the ratings in was non-stop action and shouting. Maybe everything will settle down and it will start telling the interesting stories that I described at the start of the review. But until someone tells me that’s arrived, I won’t be watching any more.

    Last Resort is on Sky 1 on Tuesdays.

    Other reviews – as per usual, everyone disagrees with me.
    Huffington Post – “Last Resort” is one of the new season’s riskiest dramas, but it’s also, in my opinion, the best one
    TV Addict – The action kicks off fast and furious… which is both a good and bad thing as we’re introduced to a literal boatload of characters and their issues in no time.
    Guardian – The first episode more than lived up to expectations with some tense claustrophobic photography and fast-paced action; until the last five minutes, when I had a horrible sense that the whole show was about to go seriously pear-shaped.


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    1. Pingback: 2012-2013 Freshman Class | Narrative Devices

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