“I don’t know who I am here.”
“You think you know him? You don’t.”
“Let me remind you who you are.”
“You know me, Joe. All of you. You know me.”
There’s carefully layering your themes into the dramatic substance of your story, and then there’s whatever it is Last Resort does this week. I’m reminded of my favorite exchange from Whit Stillman’s Barcelona, in which Chris Eigeman’s character explains that he understands subtext to mean “a hidden message or import of some kind,” but wonders what the meaning that lies right on the surface, above the subtext, is called. “The text,” he is informed. “Blue On Blue” had an awful lot of text.
Let’s back up a bit. As the episode begins, dozens of American warships are closing in on the 200-mile no-man’s-land Marcus Chaplin has declared around the USS Colorado and its new island home. Sensing that it’s only a matter of time before they’re attacked, Chaplin activates the Perseus prototype—that is, the invisibility gizmo invented by Kylie Sinclair. It works like a charm, as does Chaplin’s ordered firing of a disabled torpedo at the nearest submarine as part of his “How crazy am I?” strategy.
Not everyone is observing the neutral zone, however, as a commercial airliner passes within 40 miles of the island. Close enough, Sam observes, for a Delta Force team to parachute in and catch them by surprise in a matter of hours. He rounds up a team of his own to intercept the invading force, but not everyone is sold on the idea of engaging American troops. Navy SEAL James King is content to hold down a barstool, while COB Joe Prosser, cooling his heels in what passes for a jail cell on the island, sees the mission as an opportunity for one of his loyalists to “accidentally” put a bullet in Lt. Shepard.
Back on the mainland, Sam’s wife Christine is being put through a good cop/bad cop interrogation designed to get her to persuade her husband to mutiny against Chaplin. And troublemaker Kylie is, well, making more trouble by blackmailing her state department mole with the tawdry details of his bachelor party. (Said mole later ends up in the hospital in a vegetative state, but Kylie does get what she wanted out of the deal: a slip of paper reading “Order 998”—presumably the fire order sent to Marcus on the Antarctic network.)
The episode’s big action sequence, in which Sam’s ragtag team gets the drop on the Special Forces team (in the straight-outta-Lost location I alluded to last week) is a disappointment on several levels. It’s not staged particularly well, for one thing; this is the second week in a row where someone is about to die, but is saved at the last minute by a gunshot out of nowhere. (In this case, the surprise gunman is King, becoming the reluctant, Han Solo-ish hero every show like this has to have.) But the scene also turns a no-win situation into a cop-out. Our heroes wrestle with the moral dilemma of “sending a complement of American body bags home,” except whoops, it turns out the invaders are actual a Russian Spetsnaz team sent to acquire the Perseus device. Moral dilemma solved!
A bit of a sophomore slump was probably inevitable, given how well-oiled and meticulously assembled the pilot episode was. There’s an old adage in the music business that goes something like, “you have your whole life to make your first album and only a few months to make your second,” and the same sort of principle applies here. That’s not to say that “Blue On Blue” is a terrible episode of television, by any means. The larger conflicts still feel fresh and exciting, and Andre Braugher continues to put on an acting clinic. The revelation that his son has already been killed in Afghanistan is something I probably should have guessed, but Braugher makes Chaplin’s heartbreak so believable, it’s hard to be cynical about that particular development. (And at the other end of the emotional spectrum, this is not someone you want threatening to turn your city to glass.)
The episode’s biggest flaw is its need to underline and highlight its themes. When the chips are down, in the moment of deepest crisis, do you really know the people closest to you? Do you even know yourself? These are the sort of questions that should be answered through dramatic action, not by characters recording video messages that basically say, “Well, now I know who I am!” Here’s hoping that, as the writers grow more confident in their material, they can leave the CliffsNotes behind.
- We didn’t see the Mayor and his hostages, Brannan and Cortez, this week. Their absence has been noted, however, so presumably we’ll be catching up with them soon.
- Dichen Lachman (Dollhouse) is a welcome presence on this show, although her Tani hasn’t been given much to do besides pouring drinks for King (and painting his face). Here’s hoping that changes soon.
- TV numbers confuse me, but I gather last week’s ratings were not encouraging. Could this be because the episode was available online for weeks ahead of time? Tonight’s result may be more telling.