16 Nov 2012 10:03 am

The "Revenge" of "Last Resort"

So far, there are two more shows dominating my Hulu time My favorite is "Last Resort", a political thriller about a submarine crew on the run from a government conspiracy. My second-favorite is "Revenge", about a young girl out to get even with the people who framed and killed her father. Aside from a healthy dose of intrigue, the two shows couldn't be more different. While "Last Resort" is easily my favorite show this year, I think it could learn a thing or two from "Revenge". No, I'm not saying the crew of the U.S.S. Colorado take up residence in the Hamptons instead of the fictional island of Sainte Marina. What I am finding is that "Revenge" has plenty of what "Last Resort" is missing - a cast of anti-heroes and anti-villains.

On a surface, both shows have an anti-hero in the lead role. "Last Resort" has Marcus Chaplin, played by Andre Braugher, the captain of the USS Colorado who takes extreme measures when he refuses to follow a suspicious order from Washington. "Revenge" has Emily Thorne, played by Emily VanCamp, a mysterious young woman who comes to the Hampton to a launch of conspiracy of her own, only to find herself pitted against a far larger one. Both characters are sympathetic yet morally ambiguous, but even after launching a nuke at his own country (he intentionally misses), Chaplin are far kinder in nature than Thorne, who has made it clear she will use everything and everyone in her life to achieve her vengeful goals.

The real problem "Last Resort" runs into is the a painful lack of believable villains. Set during a fictional American regime in the not-so-distant future, the government villains of "Last Resort" seem desperate to trounce people, countries and the Constitution for no reason whatsoever. So far they've nuked Pakistan, refused to bury's Chaplin's son, who died serving in Afghanistan, and are trying (unsuccessfully) to use the Executive Officer's wife against him through deception and media smears. The one face we can put to this is Jay Karnes' delightfully smarmy Secretary of Defense William Curry. When he's finally face-to-face with Chaplain and asked to explain his action, he just go on and on about the American empire, imperialism, yada yada. If he had a mustache, I'm sure he'd be twirling it.

On the other hand, the villains of "Revenge" are ultimately very human ones. Madeline Stowe's Victoria Grayson betrayed Emily's father in every way possible (include that one). She's petty, calculating and cruel. But as horrible a person she is, she feels quite a bit of remorse for her actions, and genuinely loves her children. None of this undermines how utterly two-faced she is (best seen when she gives Emily an empty wedding present during Emily's short engagement to her son). Her husband Conrad is even more slimy, and just better at hiding it. There's also many others, including Mason Treadwell, an egotistical writer who was convinced of the innocence of Emily's father, and then sold out to the Grayson's. There's also Emily's own mother, who about as crazy as a bag of rabid cats, and the Gray-Haired Man, an assassin who killed Emily's father - and then fell in love with said mother.

Sure, you could say "Revenge", as a soapy modern re-imagining of "The Count of Monte Cristo", is prone to such contradictory characterizations. But lest we forget, another great show - "The X-Files" - had similar characterizations, with starkly named figures like "The Cigarette-Smoking Man" who were as equally sinister as they were sympathetic. The closest we have to such a character in "Last Resort" is Serrett, a local warlord who genuinely goes out of his way to protect NATO scientist Sophie, but who manages to enrage the entire crew of the USS Colorado by kidnapping (and in one case, killing) their number. It's a little like watching Loki tick off the Hulk - just replace the Hulk with Batman. It's not going to end well for Serrett either way.

"Last Resort" has had a bumpy ride so far on ABC. It's met with extremely positive reviews from fans and critics alike, but it's also met with low ratings, leaving the submarine show in a story waters. If
"Last Resort" wants to see at least a second season - like "Revenge" -
then it needs to up the ante on both the characterization of the captain, and more than anything else, the villains threatening the USS Colorado. If the showrunners aren't careful, the lack of believable or otherwise interesting villains may just torpedo the show altogether.

(That's it for this rant. Check out a new Blue Yonder next week.)

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