Test Pilot is a semiregular feature sharing my first impressions of the pilots for next season’s shows. These aren’t reviews, since these pilots can be rewritten, recast and retooled before airing, and the shows that eventually get on the air can prove much better or worse. But premature opinions are why God invented the Internet, so let’s get on with…
The Show: Last Resort, ABC
The Premise: Having just crossed the equator on routine peacetime duty, the nuclear sub Colorado receives orders to launch a nuclear strike against Pakistan. But from whom? And why? Before launch, Capt. Marcus Chaplin (André Braugher) realizes the command came through a secondary station meant to be used only if the U.S. were devastated by a nuclear attack, which it hasn’t been. When refuses to fire without an explanation, U.S. forces fire cruise missiles at the Colorado. On the run with his crew—and a couple of special-forces soldiers under suspicious orders—he hightails the wounded sub to a remote island with a NATO station and declares a nuclear standoff with the American government until he can figure out what is rotten in Washington, and who’s trying to start a nuclear war.
First Impressions: This is how a pilot should work. Last Resort’s first hour may not be a tour de force like, say, the opening of Lost, but it does a lot in a little time. It establishes a snappy voice and the dynamic among Chaplin and his crew (including Felicity’s Scott Speedman as his second-in-command). It sets up secondary lines of tension among characters such as a new female lieutenant (Daisy Betts) trying to assert her authority among the skeptical old boys (including Robert Patrick as an old-school master chief). It hints at 24-style intrigue back home in Washington, and builds to a tense climax that not only establishes Chaplin as a stand-up guy, but complicates him by suggesting he has a bit of a messianic streak. And it does this without letting plot crowd out the characters, as creator Shawn Ryan did in his textbook pilot for The Shield.
Do I Want to Watch Another Episode? Definitely. Given that the pilot sets up the basic conflict of the show as a very, very long hostage standoff, I’ll want to see how the show will sustain and evolve over a season or more. And so far the characters off the Colorado feel much more generic than those on-ship. But it’s distinctive and absorbing, and for now, I’m willing to go deep with it.