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Last Resort’s series finale Controlled Flight Into Terrain was a faithful reflection of the show. It featured a few moments of brilliance lost in mostly irritating melodrama. In spite of its shortcomings, the finale very effectively used a cliché, touched a chord with its examination of service and duty, and brought some of its characters exactly where they needed to be.
Before the finale, because of its very nature as a military drama, the show dabbled with the themes of service and duty a few times, but they were never as central to an episode as in the series finale. The story picked up roughly where it left off with the quarrel between Sam and Marcus, the XO now in the brig and still convinced he was right to try to relieve Chaplin of his command. The Chinese move made sense in the world of Last Resort, but it was amusing that the captain decided to take the XO with him to the sub instead of leaving him on the island. It was obviously a ploy to get Sam into the action as it had no military sense, not even for someone as alien to military tactics as myself. However, given how close Sam and Marcus had been over the course of the series, their feud was disturbing enough for the viewer to welcome anything that would help them try and sort things out, so it was an easily forgivable ploy.
What was extremely annoying though is what happened on the sub, even though seeing Lt. Grace Shepard in a gunfight was neat. There is nothing more irritating than villains without decent motivation. As characters, they have to make as much sense as protagonists, and although the COB's incentives fitted very well with the story, those of the mercenaries didn't. Their mutiny in the mutiny had all the signs of an easy way to raise the stakes toward the end and solve a couple of quarrels. An easy way to get Grace, the COB, Sam and Chaplin on the same side again. Unfortunately, the ploy was too blatant and didn't have enough going for it to be as easily forgivable as the first one.
Marcus and Sam worked things out with a bit of awkwardness and some humor in a scene that, even if not stellar, was much better than what I feared, but the real gem was what happened between the COB and Grace. After finally obtaining the trust of the captain last week, here, alone with Prosser who had already caught a glance of what she was capable of (and had acknowledged it with a salute), she confirmed his recently formed good opinion of her and possibly forever changed his hardliner opinion on females in the military. Their relationship is a personal favorite because it showed a clash between two radically different generations and approaches to military service.
On the one hand, the COB represents a very conservative idea of the service and an almost visceral attachment to the home country, and on the other hand, Grace by virtue of being female is grounded in a more modern take of what the military should look like. Despite those differences, the finale showed that the two are much closer to Captain Chaplin than they are to the XO. Controlled Flight Into Terrain executed the cliché of the captain going down with his ship almost perfectly with another solid performance by Andre Braugher. Everything Chaplin said to justify why he had to stay made sense and Sam had no choice but to leave. That last conversation could also be construed as the final lesson from his mentor, the one giving him a sense of purpose. That quest for a purpose, for a side to be on, is the one thing that made the XO very different from the COB and Grace, but made him very much like Kylie Sinclair, the young Washington D.C. insider.
To me, Kylie is the single most remarkable character in Last Resort. No matter how unlikely such a transformation in Washington D.C. might be, the way the show allowed her to grow was just right. It's a pity that her boyfriend was not as convincing as a martyr as she was as a person looking for a purpose, but then again that is a testament to how uneven the series has been.
In the D.C. arc, the storytellers again chose the easy way out. There’s never been any “coup” in the U.S., but the country has lost a few presidents to “lone” gunmen and in a way, Kylie was just that, a lone gunwoman who decided to take things in her own hands when the conspiracy fell apart. This way, there wasn’t any crack in the U.S. Jeffersonian democracy, as the country kept the same rule of law and carried on as it did during previous (real world) president assassinations. Last Resort got to punish the president for his hawkish foreign policy and cast him as the bad guy, which means that the series made us side with a president's assassin. If it feels a bit odd and a waste of a good character, it's because the series overreached and should not, in my opinion, have gone down the "coup" route with what the president was accused of. However, it's interesting that the show is at odds with the real world, seemingly signaling that such executive actions should be considered damning enough for "upstanding civic-minded men (and women)" to care enough to want to replace the leader of the free world.
Back on the island, aside from the knife in the tree, James King's swan song was completely unremarkable, but I liked the sight of Sophie touching the screen showing Sam, the man not emotionally available for her. The way Christine Kendal found her way back to D.C. is another example of the show, just like it did for James King's attempt to kill for his girlfriend, putting drama ahead of substance or consistency. Last Resort never understood that it wasn't a theater play or a TV soap opera. Controlled Flight Into Terrain brought the story to a conclusion, but it did it while channeling the good as well as the bad from the series, leaving us until the end with mixed feelings.