Damn it, Last Resort, I knew you were going to pull this shit.  Right after it’s announced that you will not return for a second season, you cagily put out a clunker just to lower my guard, then come back with the best episode you’ve ever done, and the first to really deliver on the promise of the pilot.  I had just made peace with this, you bastard.

It turns out Chad the SEAL is much more tolerable when they focus on the SEAL part, rather than just being Chad, brooding love machine.  I still find Hopper, who we learn this week kicked off this whole mess by following DefSec Dutch’s (who got his best moment of the series completely off screen, telling Chaplin “this is why you don’t hijack a nuclear arsenal and conduct rogue foreign policy”) order to plant nuclear material and kill the UN weapon inspector, to be the more interesting of the pair, but I can deal with that.

Pretty much everything tonight was directly tied to the crew of the sub and the international situation they’ve created, and not coincidentally it was much stronger without romantic subplots or attempts at exploring island culture or much action on the among the DC socialite scene.  It also put the pressure squarely on Marcus, and giving Andre Braugher a genuinely intense dilemma is never a sucker bet.

That dilemma comes in the form of the previously-absent Pakistanis, which is a welcome twist.  I like that they’re saying they haven’t been a force in the prior episodes because, well, having your capital nuked will put a country on its heels, and not just because the show just forgot about the whole situation once it established its premise.  The character of the admiral was much more shaded than required for a one-off adversary, which just made him even harder for Marcus, who prides himself on being a thoughtful man, to deal with than a total hardass.  Also, it tickled me that he pretty much directly quoted Patrick Swayze in Point Break when describing his designated executioner as “a mechanism” that will kill the hostages no matter what happens to his boss.  Which okay, I’ll admit that one’s a bit niche.

The hostage situation had high, dire, personal stakes to it, which is all I can ask for from a thriller.  But on top of that, it put more personal responsibility for the situation on Marcus than was strictly necessary.  Braugher is certainly good enough to make us understand that he feels responsible for his crew and for the whole situation being his idea, but the knife is twisted further by the admiral being such a reasonable type and telling him that he was inspired to take action by Marcus’s defiance of his superiors.  Which is not bullshit or provocation; what is Marcus doing if not forcing the militaries of the world to meet his demands by threatening the safety of their families?

And compounding that is that Marcus can’t even cave to the Pakistani demands even if he wants to, without revealing that he doesn’t have the launch key.  Cortez ends up caving and returning the key via Grace, at which point Marcus executes a nice turnaround by threatening to blow up the admiral and his mechanism’s hometown, information subtly extracted from Marcus’s desperate attempts to reason with him.  This is great stuff, as breathless a suspense sequence as anything the show has produced.

It’s resolved with a raid on the boat by the SEALS and Sam, who basically forces his way onto the mission by saying “hey, I’m the main character here, guys, so deal with it.”  Paul takes a couple bullets along the way, and I know we’re supposed to sympathize with him just a little now that…shit, something with a kid, probably?  Whatever it was, he will not be missed on my end.  Once this happens, a second team of SEALs swoop in and grab Christine and the rest of the families, like Lucy pulling the football from Sam’s Charlie Brown.  Oh, and he sees her kiss him goodbye, which is fine because the rest of the episode is so good that it can stand a little dash of Three’s Company at the end.  We’re building up a nice head of steam going into the last handful of episodes.

Of course Last Resort would start living up to its potential right after it gets cancelled.  Of course.   The good news is Shawn Ryan is now developing a show for HBO.  I don’t know that didn’t happen the moment The Shield went off the air, but the tragic trifecta of the Terriers, The Chicago Code, and Last Resort’s demises will be worth it if that show lives up to its potential.