Sony // 2012 // 558 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 10th, 2013
Honor in Defiance
Dissidence has a new face in the twenty-first century. Thanks to the electronic retention of information, organizations like WikiLeaks can air all kinds of dirty laundry with the push of a button. The fates of Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden were far from decided by the 2012-13 television season, but the question of where a citizen's duty to country might lie was never far from the television as news of various leaks permeated the airwaves. However, we also make sense of the world with our fictions, and Last Resort helped raise the question of duty and defiance in the context of a military thriller. It was probably cancelled before its time, but the thirteen episodes of Last Resort: The Complete Series are worth watching for fans of the creators.
A sub with nuclear launch capabilities picks up a group of SEALs after a mission. Then, the sub receives a launch order on a Cold War era machine that should only be used if Washington D.C. was destroyed. Unable to authenticate the launch order (which would send nukes to Pakistan), Captain Chaplin (Andre Braugher, City of Angels) decides to defy the Secretary of Defense by refusing to launch. This gets the whole military into a tizzy and they attack the sub and its occupants, forcing them to occupy an island in the Indian Ocean. The thirteen episodes included here follow the sub's inhabitants as they try to survive and figure out how and why they were set up to launch against Pakistan.
Though the Cold War is officially history, the world is still working through its legacy. Only after World War II did communication in the military world become of paramount concern (right around the time, actually, that theories of communication were being solidified, not coincidently). Prior to WWII, a flubbed communication was terrible: people could die, cities could be bombed indiscriminately, and a certain kind of havoc could be wreaked. After WWII, there was the Bomb, and miscommunication where that was concerned could quite literally destroy the planet (at least for us humans). Last Resort confronts these issues, using the giving of improper orders as the catalyst for a plot of international intrigue and exotic locations that juggles world-wide issues of national security with island-specific issues of survival.
It's not terribly surprising that Last Resort works. The two guys behind it have managed to successfully navigate a number of shows into television's "win" column. Shawn Ryan has given us stories of cops (The Shield) and soldiers (The Unit) before, while Karl Gajdusek contributed to the global craziness of Oblivion and sheparded Dead Like Me for a while. Together the pair draw on a series of stock characters -- the morally righteous captain, the duplicitous politician -- to craft a show that's able to maintain a surprising amount of narrative drive despite the few episodes and sometimes tight geographical restrictions of the story.
Ryan especially also has enough credit in the TV industry to get a set of heavy-hitters to star in the show. Robert Patrick returns from The Unit and television stalwart Andre Braugher are only two of the highlights of the show's strong cast. Even Scott Speedman rises to the challenge of the series and gives a solid performance.
Usually, cancellation is the bane of most television-viewers existence. I can't count the number of shows that have been cut short before they had a chance to blossom (The Unit could certainly have used another couple of seasons...). However, Last Resort is one of the few shows that hit the sweet-spot for cancellation. The creators had enough warning to give the plots a decent amount of closure, and the premise itself didn't have too much time to collapse in on itself. The comparisons to Lost are obvious, and Last Resort has a slightly more satisfying ending than that show. On the other hand, though, there's still enough time for the show to develop its characters enough for viewers to care and the show to perfect its formula. Unlike a show like Firefly, watching these thirteen episodes won't engender a decade's worth of sad feelings at the show's cancellation. Instead, it offers the chance for viewers to match what amounts to a decent little miniseries.
Though Last Resort was cancelled after half a season, it hasn't been dumped on DVD. The thirteen episodes are spread across three discs, giving these 1.78:1 anamorphic transfers plenty of room. These are generally bright, clean transfers that showcase how good contemporary television generally looks. The rich colors of the island are well-saturated, and detail is fine throughout. Black levels stay deep and consistent, and digital artifacts aren't a significant problem. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround tracks do a great job keeping dialogue front and center, with decent surround activity during tense moments.
Extras consist of thirteen featurettes that that offer interviews with the cast and crew and clips from the show that give information on pretty much all aspects of the production. Picky fans might wish for commentaries, but for such a short-lived show this is a decent amount of info.
Last Resort is a bit fluffy, especially compared to The Shield or The Unit. While the show wins points for taking on corruption in D.C. and military command structures, it ultimately feels like the show never goes in for the kill. Of course that might be a by-product of early cancellation, but it leaves Last Resort feeling less serious than its premise might suggest. Obviously the military/political thriller genre is the core of this show, so those looking for comedy or lots of romance should steer clear.
Last Resort is an odd product. It's a television show that takes on a lot of material and despite early cancellation actually succeeds in offering a decent sense of closure in only thirteen episodes. Though fans of Shawn Ryan can always use more of his work, this half-season is compelling on its own. It's worth tracking down for those who need more military/political thrillers on their television set, and the audiovisual presentation and decent extras make this one easy to recommend.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 558 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated