The new drama about a renegade nuclear submarine debuts with a magnificently overstuffed hour of television

By Darren Franich
September 28, 2012 at 01:00 AM EDT
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It would be an understatement to say that quite a lot of things happened in the series premiere of Last Resort. The new ABC series from Shield creator Shawn Ryan and Karl Gajdusek kicked off with a debut hour sprinkled with several mythologies’ worth of plot. Not to mention the giant cast — for the sake of our collective sanity, I’ve assembled a complete cast rundown on Page 4 (with pictures!) I’m going to try to keep the recap of the premiere as simple as possible, working under two equal but opposing assumptions:

1. If the show triumphs over long odds and lands an audience in the Thursday-at-8 death slot, we’ll have plenty of weeks ahead to tease out the long-term plot implications of the pilot’s various threads, like the mystery of the Colorado‘s anti-magnet prototype, the mystery of the SEAL Team, and the mystery of whether the bartender on the island can actually speak.

2. If the show is a flop that gets sent into Cancellation Land by mid-October, then we probably shouldn’t go too far down the rabbit hole of figuring out whether the nation of “Last Resort America” — whose President is close to impeachment, whose government appears overrun by a conspiracy of shadowy military-industrial Manchurian Candidate types, and which finishes the series premiere in a shooting war with Pakistan — is intended to be retro-future vision of Cold War America, a nightmare-nuke alternate-reality post-9/11 America, or just the America from 24 the day after Jack Bauer retired.

So let’s just dive in and see if we can keep up, shall we?

The pilot began with the crew of the USS Colorado picking up a crew of Navy SEALs in the Arabian Sea, just off the coast of Pakistan. The SEALs were coming from a mysterious mission that apparently went sour. One of their guys was bleeding profusely; the rest of the SEALs looked like their feelings got hurt. But the Bald SEAL Commander kept mum about the details of their mission, leading the crew of the Colorado to go about a typical workday.

And what a crew! What a workday! We quickly met the gang onboard and got up to speed on some simmering subplots. Captain Chaplin is the commander of the ship, a submarine lifer who is just philosophical enough to remind you why you never want philosophers to have their finger on the trigger of a nuclear bomb. (Hint: Most philosophers go crazy.) He’s joined by his devoted second-in-command, a straight-edge Riker named Sam Kendal. Also onboard: The android-like Admiral’s daughter Lieutenant Shepard, the grizzled Chief Prosser, sassy lady sailors, misogynist male sailors, and assorted sweaty dudes staring at computers. They cross the equator and pump some Ritchie Valens out of the speakers and dance around wearing sunglasses. They’re all such good friends here on the Submarine of Love! Nothing could possibly go wrong.

DING DING DING! Things start going wrong. The Colorado receives an order to fire their nukes at Pakistan — the order comes in from the Antarctic network, which is only supposed to be used in emergencies. (“Emergencies” as in: Washington D.C. is no longer a place on the map.) Chaplin and Kendal get their nuclear keys ready…and then pause. “Why the Antarctic network?” asks Kendal. “They’d only use it if DC command was gone, or was rendered inoperable.” Chief Prosser asks them why they’re waiting: They have an official order to launch. Chaplin pulls his nuclear key out and asks to see what’s broadcasting out of America. One of the guys on the bridge turns on the TV and discovers that Hannah Montana is on TV. Presumably, when the apocalypse comes, the Disney Channel will not be playing Hannah Montana. (At the very least, they’d be playing the post-apocalyptic political thriller Cory in the House.)

Meanwhile, back in Washington D.C., we’re introduced to Autumn Reeser’s Kylie Sinclair, an unavoidably sexy young weapons lobbyist who is called away from an expository-heavy hook-up session by a mysterious text message.

Chaplin gets a shady-sounding guy from higher up in the command chain on the line, and asks to speak with someone with actual authority. The Deputy Secretary of Defense gets on the line, asks Chaplin if he recognizes his voice, and instantly excommunicates Chaplin from the Navy. That makes Kendal the new Captain and Shepard his new XO. Their nuclear keys hover, ready to fire. Then Kendal demands that the order come through on the proper channels. The Deputy Secretary of Defense — Henceforth DepSecDef — hangs up. At this point, the Navy SEALs come in. There is a frank exchange of ideas, by which I mean the Bald SEAL Commander and the Badass SEAL Who Looks a Bit Like Tom Cruise point guns at everyone. At this point, a missile gets fired at the Colorado, the team takes evasive action, and the submarine winds up at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Time for a Commercial Break!

NEXT: Things go from worse to apocalypticKendal and the SEALs run down to the medical bay to rescue the injured SEAL. In the process, the Bald SEAL Commander takes a chunk of imploding submarine right in the skull. The Colorado recovers from the initial impact, but it’s bad. There are casualties, for one thing. For another thing: Someone just fired a missile at them, and who knows if they’ll fire again when the Colorado surfaces? Meanwhile, Captain Chaplin lurks in his quarters, looking at maps and listening to Mozart.

Meanwhile, in the world above the water, we’re introduced to the lovely tropical landscape of Sainte Marina Island. The roads are unpaved, the children play soccer in the street, the local bar looks a lot like the house in Swiss Family Robinson. Local kingpin Julian swings by the local NATO radar station, where local NATO professional Sophie is having a loud argument with her superiors about a missile that was apparently just launched in the Indian Ocean. Julian drops off a birthday present for Sophie. Julian seems like a nice guy, in that Joe-Pesci-in-Goodfellas way.

Down on the Colorado, the crew debates their next move. Turns out that the missile was fired from an American ship — meaning that the Colorado is more or less a rebel force now. Kendal makes the rebellion complete by declaring that Chaplin will be reinstated as Chaplin. A mouthy lieutenant mouths off and is relieved of duty. Chaplin tells Shepard to plot a course: “I think I found our oasis.”

Back in D.C., Grace’s father — Admiral Shepard — is called in for an emergency meeting. Rumors are circulating around DC that Pakistan fired on the Colorado. Kylie the Weapons Lobbyist tells Admiral Shepard that she knows the truth: Americans are firing on Americans. “You son of a bitch. You sank your own daughter‘s boat!” she says. Admiral Shepard clearly has no idea what she’s talking about.

But the news about Pakistan’s attack circulates quickly. While Sophie and her NATO ally watch in horror, the U.S. launches two nuclear missiles straight at Pakistan. It was an eerie moment: Two tiny red dots moved towards Pakistan on the map, and suddenly the red dots became much bigger red dots. At that moment, the Colorado surfaced in the harbor, and a squad of Navy commandos take control of the island. Chaplin and Kendal scamper into the NATO station. Sophie complains: This station belongs to NATO! Chaplin offers this as a rejoinder: “This station, and that sub parked outside, they all belong to me now.” Chaplin calls Admiral Shepard and tries to explain that the Colorado didn’t set out to be in open opposition to America — they were fired upon. Mid-conversation, a pair of shady-looking military dudes walk into the Admiral’s office and hang up the phone.

Enough with global geo-politics: Let’s have ourselves a drink! The Badass SEAL Who Looks a Bit Like Tom Cruise — actual name James King, although I’m not sure anyone actually said his name in the pilot — has stashed his dearly departed bald commander in the shack behind the local bar, and is currently getting his drink on. Julian walks up, flanked by a gang of tough-looking guys, and declares that he is the man in charge. James quickly maps out just how easy it would be for him to kill all of Julian’s men, one after the other. (The dialogue in the Last Resort pilot was crazy sharp, like testosterone poetry — check out my rundown of the 20 best lines here.) Julian ambles away, defeated but not broken. (ASIDE: Much as I enjoyed the fast pace of the Last Resort pilot, the long dialogue between Julian and James was the scene that really stuck with me — it’s a good indication that Last Resort will be able to supply lots of long-haul character drama, and won’t always need a nuclear bomb going off in every episode. END OF ASIDE.)

Kendal calls his angelic blonde wife and begs her to understand that he hasn’t done anything wrong. Their call is cut off, however, when the lights all go out in the NATO station. Kendal goes downstairs, only to discover a pair of mutineers have phoned central command. One of the mutineers — played by the same actor who essayed the part of Karofsky the Secret Gay Homophobe on Glee — tells Kendal: “We’re all dead, anway. You just don’t know it yet.” At which point Shepard shoots him.

NEXT: Just Crazy Enough

A pair of B-1 Bombers start bearing down on Sainte Marina, 15 minutes away. The crew flees back to the Colorado. A couple of seamen are missing, and Chaplin announces that they aren’t leaving without the crew. Instead, Chaplin tells the weapons crew: “Spin up Missile One.” For the third time in one episode, a pair of nuclear keys are hoist up and put into their firing stations. Third time is the charm: Chaplin and Kendal pull the trigger.

Chaplin calls up Naval command and tells him that there is “a bird in flight toward DC,” which is Navy talk for, “There’s a nuke in the air aimed straight at the White House.” Chaplin is told to initiate missile-destruct, by order of the President. Chaplin lays it out clearly: If those bombers don’t turn around in two minutes, then the missile will detonate. The bombers don’t turn. Chaplin gives a final eulogizing speech to his crew. “An attack is imminent. We won’t survive it. There’s no one else I’d rather be with right now.” (That last line probably speaks volumes about Chaplin’s character, not least the fact that he apparently has no one back home.) Chaplin tells Kendal: “Guess that desk job will have to wait.” Kendal: “I wasn’t built for desks, anyways.” They smile at each other. They give each other a thumbs up. They’re such good friends! They prepare to destroy the missile…and at that point, the bombers turn back.

Kendal prepares to destroy the missile. And here’s where the plot really thickens. Chaplin pulls out his nuclear key and announces that he has no intention of initiating the missile destruct sequence. “If they don’t think we’ll back up our threats, we’ll be dead in a week.” Kendal begs him to destroy the missile, but Chaplin refuses. The missile sails over DC and detonates a couple hundred miles off the coastline. The explosion is visible all along the Eastern Seaboard. “At that distance, no one will be hurt,” he says, clearly not concerned about the outside possibility that Little Timmy and Grandpa Joe finally decided to sail around the world and happened to be exactly two hundred miles away from DC when the nuke went off.

At this point, we go into a closing montage that sets a whole galaxy of subplots into motion:

-Chaplin films a video proclaiming the Sainte Marina is now the Independent State of Chaplinia, and if anyone makes any moves to attack, then the submarine will unleash fiery hell on the entire world.

-Kendal’s Angelic Blonde Wife is being kept in a room with white walls, forced to talk about her husband.

-Shepard looks at the man she killed. The mutinous Chief Prosser calls her a little bitch. She corrects him: “It’s you little bitch, Lieutenant.” Chief Prosser is taken away in handcuffs.

-Grace overhears the injured SEAl saying, “We killed the wrong people.”

-Kylie the Weapons Lobbyist packs a suitcase and prepares to go…somewhere. Suddenly, she’s joined by Admiral Shepard.

-Julian and his band of merry men look down happily at a pair of prisoners: Cortez and Brannan, last seen way back at the start of the episode.

-James watches the Pakistan conflict break out on the bar’s television. Having drank enough local alcohol to slay a rhino, he starts crying: “That was my fault. I made that happen!” The mute bartender hugs him as he cries. It’s fair to say that he’s won major Sensitive Guy points.

-Chaplin concludes his speech with this happy line: “Test us, and we will all burn together.”

Chaplin, Kendal, and Shepard all take a moment up on the roof of NATO. Chaplin, given a moment to philosophize, asks a loaded question: “What happened to the country I grew up in? We made it all a mess.” Then, the kicker: “We could do better. Right here. Start from scratch.” Kendal is confused: Didn’t we just do this to get home? Chaplin offers a thoughtful rejoinder: “Maybe this is home now.”

Fellow viewers, the sheer ambition of those final lines is frankly head-spinning. Are we watching a show about nation-building — Lord of the Flies with nukes and the potential for romantic subplots? Is Chaplin looking to set himself up as a benevolent despot, lord of all he surveys? How will all the various island factions — the SEALs, the mutineers, the NATO people, Julian and his men — play along with each other? Quite a bit to chew on. For now, start talking in the comments! Did you like the premiere? Will you come back next week? Are you getting “Lost meets Battlestar Galactica” vibes, or “The Event meets Persons Unknown” vibes? Let us know your thoughts on the episode, and click forward for an in-depth look at the cast of Last Resort.

NEXT: An in-depth look at the cast of Last Resort

The series premiere of Last Resort featured a massive cast of characters. Some of them were only onscreen for a scene or two, but the closing montage indicated that they would be extremely important to the future of the show. Some of them barely spoke. And some of them were dead before the first episode was even finished. Husbands and wives, fathers and daughters, best friends and mortal enemies, Navy SEALs and weapons lobbyists…it was a lot to take in.

As part of EW.com’s ongoing effort to simplify your viewing experience, please find a helpful guide to the characters on Last Resort below. Now you’ll never confuse That One Navy Guy Who Likes Hip-Hop with That Other Navy Guy Who Answers The Phone.

Captain Marcus Chaplin, a lifetime Navy man who wants peace but holds in his hands the possibility for total global destruction. Likes Mozart.

XO Sam Kendal, Chaplin’s protégé. Savvy enough to make a reference to the movie Bonnie & Clyde. Not an unattractive guy.

Lieutenant Grace Shepard, third-in-command. Admiral’s daughter. She is woman: Hear her roar.

Chief of the Boat Joseph Prosser, believes in following orders and looks like the dad who makes every Boy Scout trip a living hell.

Navy SEAL James King, great at negotiating. Appears to believe that he caused war to break out. May have a heart of gold.

Sophie Girard, NATO scientist. Is a French person, from France.

Nigel, Sophie’s NATO pal and an early frontrunner in the unofficial Redshirt Contest to decide which supporting character will die in episode 2.

Julian Serrat, the self-described man in charge of the Island. Appears to hold a dim view of American unilateralism.

Julian’s men, henceforth known as “Dopey,” “Grumpy,” and “Big Fella.”

That Bartender Who Was In Dollhouse, actual name “Tani Tumrenjack” according to press materials. Almost certainly has a shady past, given that she was in Dollhouse.

Kylie Sinclair, hotshot young weapons lobbyist. Somehow knows about the attack on the Colorado before most of the government. Great at exposition.

Robert, Kylie’s paramour, doomed forever to coitus interruptus.

Admiral Arthur Shepard, father of Grace and apparently unaware of the conspiracy which has taken over the government, which can only make you wonder if he is actually part of the conspiracy to take over the government.

Christine Kendal, angelic blonde wife of Sam. Has been taking business classes, but does she have the guts to start a real business?

The Kendal Family Dog, gives good reaction shot. Perspective on the philosophy of Mutually Assured Destruction currently unknown.

Seaman Cortez, totally badass and unofficial Jenette Goldstein of the Colorado. Winds up captured by local islanders.

Seaman Brannan, hip-hop theorist. Also captured.

Seaman Jones, disagrees with Seaman Brannan’s theories about hip-hop.

Sonar Operator Cameron Pitts, just trying to operate the sonar, man.

Lieutenant Cahill, relieved of duty. Fun fact! Played by actor Daniel Best, who a long time ago was the shady-but-lovable dude who kidnapped Kim Bauer on the series premiere of 24. I’m saying he has good luck with serialized action-adventure series premieres, is all.

Jeffrey Chaplin, son of Marcus. Fighting in a country with a desert.

The Injured Navy SEAL, has a bad tendency to ramble.

The Other Mutineer, maybe not important but survives the first episode.

The Shady Government Agent, suggests Rosa Klebb crossed with Nurse Ratched.

Special Guest Star: Uncle Mushroom Cloud, probably not the last time we’ll see him this season.

And let’s all hold hands and sing the praises for the dearly departed:

The Badass Bald Navy SEAL dude, currently stinking up the shack behind the bar.

Seaman Karofsky, really just not a likable fellow.

Presumably Quite A Few Citizens of Pakistan, shown here swallowed by the Evil Red Dot of Doom.

Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich

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