ABC's New "Last Resort" TV Show Might Be More Steampunk Than You Think
Is "Last Resort" Steampunk? Well, no. I mean, how could it be?
For those not familiar with this television show, it's about the crew of a nuclear submarine, the USS Colorado, who go rogue after receiving false orders to launch nuclear missiles at Pakistan. They take refuge on an island, using their submarine's nuclear capabilities to deter attack or invasion. The captain declares their island a sovereign state, a nuclear power unto its own right, from which they fight back against the world.
Nothing about this sounds Steampunk. It's a very realistic, modern show that deals with thoroughly contemporary issues including mistrust of the government, war in the Middle East, submarine warfare, and more. And yet, as I watched this show, I couldn't help but be recalled of a certain book I'd once read:
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne.
In the book, Captain Nemo has renounced his citizenship of the world, declaring himself his own sovereign nation. His base is on an island (not really mentioned in 20,000 Leagues but discussed extensively in The Mysterious Island), and he strikes out against the rest of the world in his submarine. Granted, it's not a nuclear submarine, but considering that nuclear radiation hadn't even been discovered when 20,000 Leagues was written, I think we can forgive him. It was certainly a nuclear submarine in the 1954 Disney film.
The story of "Last Resort" focuses on the crew of the submarine; there's no Aronnax to be the entry point for the average reader because this is all modern technology and politics. The average viewer is already familiar with it. Instead, the story focuses on "Nemo" himself (Captain Chaplin), and tells his "origin story", so to speak, which was entirely glossed over in the book.
So while the tone and style of "Last Resort" is almost entirely dissimilar to 20,000 Leagues, there still remains enough of a similarity that it's hard to write the connection off as being insignificant. I don't think that the writers of the show set out to write a modern day 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but that seems to be exactly what they've done.
The original story of 20,000 Leagues just wouldn't work in a modern setting due to the advances in technology over the years. The ocean isn't quite as mysterious as it once was, and the rest of the world has caught up and surpassed Verne's technological vision. The Nautilus would need to be quite an amazing feat of engineering in order to "wow" a modern audience the way the original did.
So is "Last Resort" Steampunk? No. Even if it were a direct remake of 20,000 Leagues, it still might not necessarily be Steampunk. However, the show is almost the polar opposite: while Steampunk takes the past and makes it science fiction, this show takes the past and makes it modern fiction! It removes all sci-fi elements and tells a very similar story using only available technology.
Steampunk is more than just a genre or movement: it's also bringing attention to the ideas of the past. Those ideas will find their way into modern culture through many different outlets, most of which may seem entirely unrelated to Steampunk and yet will still share a tenuous connecting thread. Steampunks created that thread by showing interest in the past on a massive scale, and its effects may be as unpredictable as "Last Resort"!