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Last Resort – Big Chicken Dinner Review: Anger, Riots and Hard Choices After Thanksgiving

In terms of structure and storytelling (but not adrenaline), Big Chicken Dinner was arguably the best episode of Last Resort to date, better even than the series premiere. It managed to give us some new revealing insights into characters we were somewhat familiar with, advanced the story with subtle pushes, dealt with the subject of rape using the right notes (mostly), and largely contained the chief irritating character’s negative impact on the series.

The story used Thanksgiving to bring the crew and the residents of San Marina together before wreaking havoc on the fledgling newly formed community. In just a few words, the captain’s speech captured the essence of the romanticized modern take on the origin of the holiday. Besides Andre Braugher’s delivery, the scene worked well because it mirrored the alleged story of the encounter between cultures in North America. Unfortunately, the differences that were celebrated in the feast quickly became the foundation of the rift that followed.

The fact that the rape story seemed to come out of nowhere was not an issue, and I would argue that it even helped, especially as the episode had the good sense to bring people together before suddenly unearthing a story that would make them choose sides and deal with old demons. Aside from the overly cruel local punishment, which did not really need to be so barbaric to prompt Chaplin into action, every other detail of the storyline perfectly fit in. The patriarch had already been introduced as someone who left “civilization” for the island, so his defense of local traditions made sense, but a personal favorite is what the story did with his daughter Tani and Lt. Grace Shepard.

Grace Shepard
Tani has been portrayed as sticking around only for her sibling, wishing she was miles away from the small island and from her father. Her relationship with James made sense because it seemed as much an escape as a result of a natural yearning for affection. With the islanders burning her bar and seemingly disavowing her, the insightful comments of her father came back to her, “How long do you think you can keep one foot in the water and the other on the shore?” I liked how the show introduced with that sentence the need for her to make a choice between the island and the world, which for her is not only a choice of residence but also a choice of culture.

Last Resort has always been more about the XO Sam Kendal than any other character, which is why Grace remained very elusive despite her screen time. Before this episode, we didn’t know her beyond the fact that from her first steps in the army, she’s been fighting to prove her worth in a world where being a woman and an admiral’s daughter is not very helpful. Big Chicken Dinner practically reintroduced Grace by showing the viewer a side of her that cannot be ignored. The episode first cornered her into defending an accused rapist (which is an honor a woman is arguably more likely to decline than a man), and then used her to walk us through a drama that quickly seemed less like a plot device and more like a relevant story in its own right.

Erita, the alleged victim, quickly made the totalitarian approach to justice by the islanders fade away as a background noise because the viewer could feel for her. Grace first tried to follow the evidence, but the contrast between Anders and Erita’s attitudes during their respective interrogations spoke volumes. The story did well to oppose Grace to Chaplin who, for all his righteousness, would have very much liked for his engineer to be innocent. That confrontation set up the stage for her emotional revelation later.  All that was competently done, but the real craft is how throughout the storyline, images of the struggle in the wood seen while Erita was telling her story were ultimately revealed to be Grace’s. Even the presence of Serrat, with his poor opening statement during the trial and the rigging of the jury’s vote couldn’t affect an emotionally strong storyline.

Sam had his own trial during the episode, one where he had to face the reality of killing a man with whom he had practically just shared intimate memories of his wife Christine. He took a while to open up to the Special Ops, but when he did, there was no doubt he was being honest.  Even Booth, who might have been lying all along,  appeared sorry when he realized his orders were to preserve the sleeper agent, which meant he had to get rid of the XO. One of the many reasons why those moments they spent together worked is that Sam appeared edgy enough to make the viewer wonder if he wasn’t buying into Booth’s stories and promises.

Kylie Sinclair

Although almost everything that happened on San Marina was much better than usual, and although the subject matter and Grace’s own history with the despicable crime of human frailty was heartbreaking, the emotional moment that stood out for me was in Washington D.C.. Kylie Sinclair was introduced in the pilot as some kind of D.C. hawk that prays on the weak and does everything to reach whatever goal she has set out for herself. Without being too obvious about the reasons behind her actions, the show made her choose to first help Grace’s father and then Christine Kendal. All that happened without the character showing clear signs of softening, even if she clearly wanted to do the right thing.

In Big Chicken Dinner, after being dismissive of women like Christine who might believe in the “white knight”, after coldly engineering a plan to exploit the weakness of a “lonely needy,” Kylie awkwardly tried to express some affection for another human being. She tried and Christine was kind enough to stop her from straining a muscle while attempting to say that she cared. It might be because the scene was extremely well written, it might be because Autumn Reeser is a much better actress than Daisy Betts who plays Grace, or it might simply be because we tend to root for arrogant people who try hard to become better people. No matter the reason, that moment was a remarkable step in the development of a character we have come to know even better than others (that are more prominent) not because of her backstory, but simply because of her actions and an engaging portrayal by Reeser.

In addition to all of the above, Cortez (the sleeper agent) literally has her hand on the heart of the sub now, the XO knows where the communication station is, and the electricity between Sophie and Sam (mostly on the lady's side) could light a light bulb. All things being equal, I think there is an argument to be made that if the series had followed its premiere with episodes like Big Chicken Dinner, it might have fared better on ABC. The episode was just the type of blend that has a little bit for every major viewer block and I believe managed to reconcile the adrenaline-fueled crowd with the more personal-drama leaning bunch.



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