ABC's Last Resort is undoubtedly one of this TV season's boldest shows. But that also makes it one of the riskiest.
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Co-created by The Shield's Shawn Ryan and screenwriter Karl Gajdusek, Last Resort tells the story of Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher), the captain of the nuclear submarine the USS Colorado. When Chaplin and his executive officer Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman) question an order to fire warheads into Pakistan, their sub is fired upon by another American vessel, forcing them to take up residence on the French Polynesian island of Sainte Marina until they can piece together what happened and prove that they aren't traitors.
But can the show sustain its high-action, serialized premise on a female-skewing network like ABC? The creators certainly think so. "We wanted to tell very emotional, epic stories," Ryan tells TVGuide.com. "That's why we ended up at ABC."
Adds Gajdusek: "There's a perception with a big submarine that we may be a military show. [But] this is not a show about warfare in any way. This is a show about people in a time of conflict. ... We [dwell] in the realm of people living out their emotional lives in these extraordinary circumstances. We're an incredibly emotional show."
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At the heart of the show is the relationship between Marcus and Sam, the latter of whom feels he owes an as-yet-unrevealed debt to the former. "In a lot of ways, the story of Last Resort is the story of these two men," Gajdusek says. "Sam feels loyalty and respect to his captain [and] will follow him, he thinks, to the ends of hell."
But is Marcus a man who should be followed? Although he made the moral decision not to fire on innocents with only questionable orders in hand, he is also breaking a code of conduct many of his sailors believe in strongly. "Chaplin had never imagined a situation like the one he's in and he's being challenged in every way," Braugher says. "What happens when we're branded as renegades and terrorists is that we ultimately have to depend upon ourselves. There's no backup. There's no coordination. There are only 150 men and this submarine, and we're either hiding from or taking on the entire U.S. Navy."
Adds Ryan: "He's a man stuck between principles because he does feel that he and the crew were wronged. He's determined to bring that to light. But in future episodes, he's going to have to make a choice between pushing to make things right and pushing maybe for what's the best thing for his crew."
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Along the way, however, Sam and Marcus may not always see eye-to-eye. "The biggest drama we can have is to set up this relationship and then put them on either side [of a situation] and really watch them battle," Speedman says. "I think [Sam's] going to be forced into a leadership position. The leadership position is going to be against Marcus, and he's not going to want to do it. But for the good of the people and the good of the cause, I think he's going to have to."
Also struggling with leadership issues is Lt. Grace Shepard (Daisy Betts), the daughter of an admiral who has earned a high rank even though she's relatively green. "She's struggling to find the correct and proper way to lead and to inspire others," Ryan says. "She's someone who has probably put a personal life in the backseat as she's pursued this. But she's someone I think audiences will root for. If there are times when there might be a disagreement between Sam and Marcus she's someone that might be able to come in and be the deciding vote."
While their countrymen back home have written off the sailors as traitors, the crew of the Colorado won't exactly be welcomed with open arms by the people of Sainte Marina. But as they establish dominance, might the sailors fall into the same traps as their government?
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"They quickly realize that they are now the power," Gajdusek says. "One of the undisguised parts of our show is that power does corrupt. We don't see these as unchangeable people. Major characters can go very interesting places and be brought back again. So, we don't think that Marcus or our Sam are going to be only the perfect stalwart leaders of righteousness throughout our show."
However, both Ryan and Gajdusek view their characters as heroes. "These men and women are patriots," Gajdusek says. "They're not fighting against America with a capital A. They are turned against an executive gone off the rails, if you will. A government that... has gone too far and done some things that are flat-out wrong. For us, that's a very fertile ground to explore what is really at the heart of ideas of patriotism and love of country and what are the dark sides of those same ideas."
And, yeah, there will still be a lot of action. "The stakes are super high every single minute," Ryan promises. "There are people who want to kill them. There are people who want to discredit them every single minute of the show. I think the story going forward will only get bigger and wider in scope. This is a show with a canvas as big as the whole world. We could literally do scenes in almost any country on the globe."
Last Resort premieres Thursday at 8/7c on ABC.