I will confess that I have a tendency to form attachments to television shows doomed to premature cancellation: Firefly, of course, Jericho, Kings, Terra Nova, Missing (does anyone else remember Push, Nevada?). The latest addition to this list is Last Resort, an ABC series from The Shield creator Shawn Ryan that, unfortunately, will air its final episode this Thursday, January 24.
The series follows Captain Marcus Chaplin (an outstanding Andre Braugher) and his crew aboard the powerful nuclear submarine USS Colorado. In the premiere, Chaplin is ordered via an unorthodox channel to decimate Pakistan with a nuclear warhead. Refusing the order, Chaplin and his crew find themselves the target of U.S. forces. As a response, they batten down the hatches on the isolated island of Sainte Marina, where Chaplin tries to hold out while under siege from the United States, other international players, the island’s inhabitants, and his own increasingly disaffected crew.
Last Resort is more than just a taut military thriller; it was looked on by many critics as the best show entering the freshman class of the 2012–2013 season. Besides being a delightfully intense hour of television, it also serves as a thought-provoking exploration of a very American—and perhaps very Christian—dilemma. If we live in a country that has been founded on philosophical and ethical ideals at least as much as geopolitical realities, what happens if the governing authorities so thoroughly dismiss these principles that they forfeit the right to be obeyed? At what point do we cross from the civic obedience enjoined in Romans 13 and into the realm of defiance practiced by David or Elijah or eventually the apostles? And who has the authority—legally or morally—to make that call?
Overall, the sympathies of Last Resort seem to fall on the side of Marcus Chaplin in his resistance to a corrupt government and his idealistic declaration, “Do not confuse my country with the current administration.” The apparently unstable U.S. president is a faceless nonentity in the series, and when his representatives arrive at the island, they are callous and calculating. As the depths of Washington’s complicity in ethically dubious actions play out, Chaplin’s resistance can certainly be viewed as noble.
And yet. Ryan and his writing staff never let us forget the dangers of a single man, however principled and well-intentioned, going rogue. Chaplin threatens his country and the soldiers sent against him with the same annihilation he refused to unleash upon Pakistan. As the situation on the island deteriorates, his measures can at times become draconian, even dictatorial. He keeps his crew from surrendering so that they can return home, holding onto a desperate hope that the far-reaching conspiracy can be exposed and dealt with stateside. He is psychologically unstable, wounded emotionally by the death of his son in combat. Last Resort thus forces its viewers to ask, Is this the man we want leading a resistance, however corrupt the government? But if not him, then whom?
It is an intriguing premise to say the least, both in terms of plot and the ethical questions it develops. Moreover, the premise allows the series to remain unpredictable throughout its run. Thankfully, the writers of Last Resort had enough notice of the show’s cancellation to tie up some loose ends in the finale. Thus, the series should provide at least some amount of satisfaction for those who, like me, have followed it throughout its 13-episode run, and perhaps to attract some latecomers whenever it arrives on DVD.