People who watch television shows often clamor for answers nowadays. And television shows play to this, spinning out endless mysteries — for example, Last Resort wants us to obsess over who sent the fire order, and why the Secretary of Defense was replaced, and just what are those minerals on the island. But usually, the interesting questions have to do with why, rather than how. And last night's Last Resort finally answered (for now) the most pressing question: Why are these sailors still obeying Marcus Chaplin?
To some extent, "Voluntold" is a story about the cost of going along with whoever's holding the power. A lot of the episode focuses on Brannan, who is horribly fucked up over the fact that he nominated Redman to be killed by Serrat last week. Brannan is a ticking time bomb, because he hates the fact that he got coopted and turned into a coward by going along with Serrat's games — even though he may have saved himself and Cortez in the process. So in the end, Brannan decides to try and fix it, by going along with another person's games: the newly minted Secretary of Defense, who has issued orders to capture or kill Marcus Chaplin. Brannan takes a live grenade onto the Conn and tries to hijack the submarine, only to find out that the Secretary really just wants Marcus and the rest of them dead.
Like we said a couple weeks ago, Last Resort seems to work really well when it's asking questions about the legitimacy of power and authority, the same sort that Game of Thrones often asks. (The show works less well, notably, whenever it veers into trying to make us care about the characters on the island, whose story always feels peripheral to the real story. Serrat, Nutella Girl, Sierra... I just don't care about any of them.)
I'm still betting that Last Resort is going to have to descend into full-blown dystopia pretty quickly, or else I'm not sure it can sustain its premise for long. Last night, Admiral Shepard mentioned the possibility that America could be under martial law soon, and Kylie's dad also seemed to hint that another shoe was going to drop soon. We're still pretty early in the first season, and I'm guessing by next May the season will be ending with either a full-blown global war, or the U.S. turning into 1984. Or both.
So it's good that we're asking these questions about what makes power legitimate now. So anyway, the crux of the episode is when Marcus Chaplin faces up to Brannan's "grenade hijack" stunt, and basically offers a rationale as to why Marcus disobeyed an order, but Brannan should keep obeying Marcus anyway. Standing up to authority is good, Marcus suggests — it's what America was built on. But they both took an oath to defend the Constitution, and that may mean not obeying orders blindly. By letting Brannan talk to Sec Def Curry, Marcus allows Brannan to see for himself that Curry is only interested in sinking the sub as part of a coverup of the Pakistan incident. So not only is Marcus the only thing keeping his crew alive, but he's also earned a kind of legitimacy from not trying to kill his own people.
This saves Marcus from full-blown desertion, because as a kind of hail mary pass, he's put up a "Stay/Go" list, letting members of the crew write down whether they want to stay on the submarine or just go home — although it's not entirely a meaningful exercise, since the would-be deserters wouldn't really have any place to go.
Meanwhile, Kylie almost gives up looking into the mystery of the fire order, after she learns that her father told her boyfriend to steal the prototype of the cloaking device from her safe, because the President asked for it. But then Kylie realizes that the government is at least as interested in covering up where the Colorado was before the fire order (i.e., near Pakistan) as what happened after the fire order was given. And meanwhile, King suddenly becomes curious about why he and his SEAL team assassinated someone in Pakistan — but unfortunately the guy he wants to question about this is no condition to answer, and then his SEAL buddies scram with their sick friend. (Leaving King to bury his dead friend on the island.)
So are just a handful of people curious about why we nuked Pakistan? Or is this a topic of eager discussion in the public square? Apparently the doctrine of nuclear first strike whenever we feel like it is referred to as the Bolton Doctrine — is this a reference to former U.N. ambassador John Bolton? Is he President now, in the Last Resort universe? The press is hounding Sam's wife Christine, but are they asking tough questions elsewhere? In any case, a video of Christine screaming at the TV cameras about the nuclear coverup and saying that she wants answers seems to get regular rotation on cable TV news.
Oh, and there are some minerals on the island, but Nutella Girl lies to Serrat about them, and meanwhile she tells Sam that the island is special and has more wealth than he realizes. I'm hoping it's Dilithium.
So the episode ends with Marcus — finally — having made a case for why his people should be following him as a matter of more than just expediency. Why there might be a principle at stake here. And we've had more of our frustratingly brief glimpses of the United States moving towards military dictatorship. Will Marcus ever get the public trial for treason that he so desperately wants? And if he does, will he be able to convince other people to stand up and question? Way more than answers about who lied about nuking Pakistan, I'm fascinated to see how this show answers the questions it's raising about when you should obey orders, and when you should ask questions.