Daisy Betts and Andre Braugher star in ABC's "Last Resort." (Mario Perez / Associated…)
Much complicated business transpires in "Last Resort," a new military-political conspiracy thriller with tropical trimmings — thus the weak pun of the title — premiering Thursday on ABC. (The review screener came with a flow chart.) Most of it I will not discuss here, so as not to ruin the surprise for anyone who might "accidentally" learn something about the show by reading a review of it.
Here are the main elements of the pilot, more or less in order, with the plot mostly removed. (Still, feel free to skip to the next paragraph.) Submarine. Navy SEALs. "La Bamba." Establishment of character, character relations and attractiveness of main cast, suggesting possibility (in later episodes) of sex. (Continues as additional attractive characters are introduced.) Questioning of suspicious orders arriving through an unexpected channel. Exciting kerfuffle. Political chaos back in Washington. Never-tested cloaking device tested. Extra-political intrigue back in Washington. NATO listening post. French people. Tropical island. Tropical island bar. Tropical island bartender. Island kingpin (criminal). Navy SEAL as tired American gunslinger. More kerfuffle. Various games of chicken. Video message to the world. Standoff.
That's the gist of it.
In any case, to make too much of its multi-pronged and tangled narrative would be to do the show, created by Shawn Ryan ("The Shield," "The Chicago Code"), a bit of a disservice. Given a boatload — yes, I said it — of fine performances and an attractive milieu, it remains very much worth watching even when it feels like the writers are depending on your inattention or forcing their characters to act improbably in the service of a puzzle-plot that at times feels held together with string and tape and white glue.
Indeed, as much information as the show throws at you — it comes out of the gate fast and furious, given the need, for its own survival, to make a big splash fast — nothing that happens in the three hours I've seen is as important as the simple fact that it stars Andre Braugher as a submarine captain. (Andre Braugher, people. In a submarine.) With his viola voice, solid bearing and the special mix of gentleness and resolve he's brought to this and other parts, most famously the great Det. Frank Pembleton on "Homicide: Life on the Street," he is the skipper you'd follow (almost) anywhere.
"You know me," he tells his crew, at a point when their loyalty might reasonably be tested. They do, of course, most of them, and so do we.
Braugher is really reason enough to investigate "Last Resort," but there are others, including Scott Speedman as Braugher's stalwart XO; Robert Patrick as his alienated old friend and shipmate; Camille de Pazzis as a NATO worker; Daniel Lissing as the aforementioned SEAL; Sahr Ngaujah as the kingpin; Jessy Schram as the woman Speedman left behind him; and, most striking, Dichen Lachman as the proprietor of the local gin joint.
Lachman draws you in by doing little; she makes you forget you're watching television. Even without Braugher here, I would check in to watch her work. (Lachman doesn't have much to do in the pilot, but stick around.)
This is the sort of intricate, heavily populated serial that often fails on network television — possibly the 22-episode season is stretched too long and thin to support the material — and it's hard to know whether "Last Resort" will repay that investment. But that is a question for a later day. For the moment, I am onboard.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Rating: TV-14-L (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with an advisory for coarse language)
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