Editor's Note: For more on Last Resort, see Ed Bark's Uncle Barky's Bytes.
Get ready for this one; it packs a punch. None of the TV or movie dramas that draw on the theme "fear the angry black man who carries a gun" could prepare an audience for an outraged submarine commander who just happens to have 16 nukes at his disposal.
Last Resort, premiering Thursday, Sept. 27 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC, is a delicious serving of 21st century righteous indignation. Andre Braugher is Capt. Marcus Chaplin, commander of a nuclear sub that somehow sails into some wicked political crosscurrents in Washington.
When the sub commander receives an order to launch a nuclear attack on Pakistan, Chaplin questions its authenticity because of the channel on which the order was communicated. The subsequent chain of events lays out the premise for the series.
Braugher is sturdy in the role of Capt. Chaplin. That’s not to belittle his performance; quite the opposite. Last Resort is further recognition of Braugher’s talent and his ability to convey complicated characters to audiences. His performance as a Baltimore detective in Homicide: Life on the Street was our best introduction to Braugher’s capability. Then there was the overstressed car salesman he portrayed in the ensemble cast of Men of a Certain Age, a role that showed us that he could return to the recesses of his Homicide detective and pivot to an occasionally happy-go-lucky family guy.
Capt. Chaplin is chiseled from the granite of an impeccable Naval career, cultural refinement and a seemingly charmed career that would have him on track to make admiral.
What gives? Therein lies the tale.
When Chaplin balks at the nuclear attack order, the USS Colorado is attacked by U.S. airstrikes. As he seeks to get his sub and crew out of harm’s way, he runs headlong into resistance from his by-the-book, top enlisted man, portrayed by Robert Patrick (Terminator 2, The Unit), who comes off as quite ready to turn Pakistan into a parking lot. Their conflict sets the table for Chaplin’s need to negotiate between the enemy above the surface as well as watch out for trouble from on board.
So who would order a nuclear strike and why? What possible political intrigue could there be?
As the scene shifts between the submarine and Washington, the sub emerges (OK, OK) as clearly more interesting, but D.C. scenes are necessary to help unravel the nuclear strike mystery. That, of course, will take episodes to reveal. On the way to an explanation, though, is a boatload of reasons to appreciate how TV producers are inching along in their portrayal of America. The Colorado has a diverse crew. Moreover, Lt. Grace Shepard (Daisy Betts) brings to the show not only a woman’s sensibilities aboard a submarine, but an opportunity to demonstrate quite often that women can make combat officers. (Oh, and it helps that her father is Chief of Naval Operations, though she doesn’t seem to trade on that.)
Chaplin is wily enough to get his sub and crew out of the line of fire, and the obscure island they find is a refuge that comes with a price. And that island locale, with its United Nations populace, might influence whether any of Chaplin’s conflicts take on a racial dimension. Chaplin’s faceoff with his top enlisted man pushes just to the edge of that conflict.
The captain and his crew are in survival mode as the pilot episode closes. At issue is whether Chaplin is their protector or a despotic commander who realizes that he has at his fingertips enough firepower to make him a world nuclear power, even a threat.
Or is Chaplin the ultimate black man, packing the ultimate gun?