The malicious Secretary of Defense arrives on the island for a day of hot-blooded diplomacy. Not everyone gets out alive.

By Darren Franich
October 26, 2012 at 01:01 AM EDT
Mario Perez/ABC
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  • TV Show

On last night’s Last Resort, China invaded Taiwan. If that happened in real life, it would be a cataclysmic event — the rough equivalent, geopolitically speaking, of killing Franz Ferdinand a hundred thousand times. Such an attack would instigate a global chain reaction, immediately erasing the last few decades of relative peace between the world’s great superpowers. It would potentially start World War III. It would make liars out of basically every globalization scholar on the planet. And the Chinese invasion of Taiwan was — by a wide margin — the least important subplot in the episode. The show spent more time on the Tale of Angelic Blonde Wife and the Handsy Judas Lawyer than it did on the breakout of war between the world’s 26th and 2nd Largest Economies. I’m not criticizing, just noticing: Last Resort is basically set at the precise moment that the last century of global history falls away into pre-WWI tribalism, and the vast majority of the characters on the show are far, far removed from all those events.

This is baked into the setting of the show, of course: Sainte Marina Island is a world away from the world, and the gaggle of nuclear warheads onboard the Colorado make the Captain Chaplin a kind of hallway monitor for the nations of earth. But the main plotline of last night’s episode brought the outside world in — and the resulting scenes felt supercharged in a way that the show hasn’t really achieved since the pilot. SecDef Curry arrived on the island, with the White House Counsel and a squad of soldiers backing him up.

Chaplin and Kendal greeted him on the beach, flanked by a waving American flag and a squad of their own. They were nominally meeting to discuss terms, but Curry wasn’t in the mood for much discussion. He gave them the hard sell. Monsoon season is coming soon to Sainte Marina. Scarcity will become the new normal for Chaplin and his citizens. And he brushed aside all of Chaplin’s arguments. “Do not talk to me about your quaint notions of right and wrong,” he said. They were supposed to press a button, and they didn’t. So shall they hang. At that point, Curry referenced Chaplin’s dead son. Chaplin grabbed him and said: “If you say my son’s name again, I will crush the jelly from your eye.” This might seem aggressive, but FDR pulled the same move on Stalin at Yalta. (Churchill was off trying to find the sherry.)

The negotiations were extra-tense, because the Colorado had set off on an emergency mission. One of the radar beacons along the perimeter of the blockade had run out of batteries — they’re usually serviced by the US Navy. That meant that Grace had to take the sub out, all by herself. “Daddy finally let you take the car out of the driveway!” said the COB, oozing with charm. Grace had to bring along Sophie for the little adventure, which had the COB in agony. “Why is there a French person on my boat?” he asked.

Sophie said she knew all about America, with the apple pie and the cowboys. “There’s no such thing as a French cowboy.” Sophie pointed out that Robert Duvall was a cowboy, and “Duvall” is French. “You take that back,” said the COB. (ASIDE: I could watch a whole show about Robert Patrick being a charmingly gruff middle-aged douchebag. He’s like a much older version of Clint Eastwood, who happens to be much younger than Clint Eastwood. END OF ASIDE.)

NEXT: Minefields literal and metaphorical

Back on shore, the diplomats broke for lunch. The White House Counsel tried to play on Sam’s doubts about Chaplin. All along, the crew of the Colorado has had to depend on a very simple fact: That Marcus Chaplin is an unassailably honorable man. But what if he’s not? What if he’s just a widower with one son dead and another who hates him? This is an interesting note, but it’s not one that the show seems particularly invested in carrying out; just one scene later, Admiral Shepard (Grace’s dad, recall) told Chaplin that there were people back home who supported him. Heck, half of the Joint Chiefs were ready to stage a political coup against the President. The longer Chaplin maintained his revolt, the less the government’s lie could hold up.

BRIEF BREAK FOR YOUR WEEKLY KYLIE UPDATE: This week on everyone’s favorite Last Resort intra-spinoff Single Female Weapons Manufacturer, Kylie Sinclair tried to get dinner at her favorite D.C. eatery. Problem #1: Her usual table was taken. Problem #2: It was taken by her heel of an ex-BF who sold her out to her father. “So you sleep with me and then you steal my prototype?” inquired Kylie. “That makes two times you screwed me, and I’m still not sure which time was more disappointing.” At this point, having already run through an entire Shonda Rhimes Drama’s worth of supporting cast members — duplicitous boyfriend, check, overbearing father, check — Kylie decided to ally herself with Christine Kendal, who has been occupying her intra-spinoff which feels vaguely like a female remake of the UPN semi-classic Nowhere Man. (Remember Nowhere Man? Remember UPN?) So basically, Last Resort is combining its two most extraneous characters into one hopefully-less-extraneous couple. THIS ENDS YOUR WEEKLY KYLIE UPDATE.

I’m being cruel to be kind here. The stuff back in America can’t help but seem boring, when played alongside tense on-island drama. There was a scene between Curry and Chaplin on the beach that was as good as anything network TV has done this year. Curry roadmapped the brave new world for Chaplin: “It’s all up for grabs now.” Alliances are shifting. Frontiers are reopening. This is, to put it mildly, an intoxicating idea. We live in a world of interlinked economies; the borders of the large countries in the world have been mostly set in stone for decades now. This is not to say we live in a world without conflict — far from it! But the Middle East wars are complicated geopolitical situations; Curry seemed to be describing a new global perspective based mainly on the board game Risk.

But in order to start playing, Curry needs to figure out the Chaplin situation. And Chaplin made things more difficult by referencing his “new Navy SEAL pals” — the group of men that the Colorado picked up in Pakistan right before the bombs started flying. Curry offered some new terms: 2 years in protective custody for Kendal and Chaplin, amnesty for the rest of the crew. Chaplin demanded a public trial. Kendal was infuriated, and Curry could sense it. So a new offer came through: Kendal would get full amnesty, if he returned the Colorado with Chaplin in handcuffs. Kendal agreed…and Chaplin told him that that had been the plan all along.

Chaplin’s sacrifice was for nothing, though. Immediately after drawing up terms, the White House counsel shredded the paper. Far away, the Colorado had been discovered by four other subs…and they were bearing down with firing orders. (The Colorado engaged in combat while James King’s oxygen slowly dwindled away. I mention this in passing largely because James King’s weekly character arc so far seems to be: “James King doesn’t want to do awesome thing, does that awesome thing anyways, gets drunk.”)

Grace led the skeleton crew in a tricky array of tactical maneuvers, but they were dead to rights. The enemy subs just needed firing orders from the mainland. They didn’t receive those orders, though, because Admiral Shepard grabbed a gun and shot the White House Counsel dead. Then he shot Curry in the leg, because geez, do we all hate Curry or what?

NEXT: Speedman and FrenchieThis was a cool twist, partially because it was so unexpected and partially because it was absolutely crazy. (I’m sure it was also the kind of twist that drives real-life military people crazy. Last Resort might as well be called Nominally Well-Trained Soldiers Make Extremely Rash Decisions.) I guess you could argue it amounted to a deus ex machina — giving the Colorado just enough time to defend itself — but it felt like a genuine shake-up of the show’s power dynamics. To this point, Admiral Shepard has been a kind of floating presence on the show; suddenly, it’s fair to say he’s probably Public Enemy Number Two.

In any case, the Admiral bought his daughter enough time to strike back, and soon enough, the Colorado had reinstated the 200-mile perimeter. They also rescued James King from what seemed like a watery grave. (Per the COB, Navy SEALs can hold their breath for several minutes. He explained this by telling a story that involved an old SEAL friend, a koi pond, and a girl from the Boom Boom Bar. Robert Patrick Tells War Stories would be a great web series, right?) And so, an episode which seemed like a gamechanger wound up moving the needle surprisingly little. I guess the COB finally respects Grace, a little bit. I guess Kendal trusts Chaplin a little bit more. James finally made out with Tani, ending the world’s least tense will-they-or-won’t-they plotline. Oh, and there is one major difference: CHINA INVADED TAIWAN.

To me, though, the best parts of the episode were weirdly the quietest: The two scenes between Sam and Sophie which bookended the episode. They didn’t talk about much: Coffee, really. But on a show filled with characters, Sam and Sophie are the only two people who actually seem to talk to each other. Admittedly, the subtext of all their conversations basically amounts to this:

Sophie: I want you.

Sam: I have a wife back home. She’s a woman who I’m married to, wedding-ly speaking.

Sophie: Yes, but I want you.

Sam: Wife! Wife! Wife! Wife!

Still, whenever they get together, they actually seem to express some amount of bruised confusion — and just a bit of awe — with regards to the world they’ve found themselves in. And what a world! If Last Resort lasts a full season, will it ultimately end with World War III? Or worse: Whatever world comes after the bombs start flying?

Fellow viewers, what did you think of the episode? If you could cut off any subplot, which one would it be?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich

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