‘Last Light’ Review: Matthew Fox’s Return to Television Is a Disaster of Its Own Making

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Though it may feel like a lot longer, it was a year ago this month when we first got news that actor Matthew Fox would be returning to television with the Peacock limited series Last Light. Following the conclusion of Lost in 2010, he had popped up in a few movies here and there though had largely stepped back from acting. Thus, the surprise announcement that he would be joining a new project provided a sense that it must have been a excellent story to bring him back to screen. Alas, that couldn’t have been more wrong.

Adapted from the book of the same name by Alex Scarrow, the five-episode series centers on petro-chemical engineer Andy Yeats (Fox) who gets thrown into the middle of an energy crisis that will soon tip the world into chaos. The reasons for this are initially a mystery, but the oil that serves as the lifeblood of our modern infrastructure is no longer working as intended. It then falls to Andy to hit the road to investigate the cause of the issue as all aspects of modern society as we know it becomes impacted. As he does so, he struggles to then make his way back to his family now that most conventional forms of transportation are no longer viable. His wife Elena (Joanne Froggatt) has to look after their son Sam (Taylor Fay) who was just about to have surgery to address a degenerative eye disease that is causing him to lose his sight. Separate from all of them is their daughter Laura (Alyth Ross), who disapproves of her father’s work and is most concerned about the growing catastrophe facing the climate. As this family drama plays out, various government officials such as Karl Bergmann (Tom Wlaschiha) try to address the problem, though always seem to remain one step behind.

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The first question with a show like this, that boldly bills itself as a thriller, is whether it is actually exciting or intriguing. The first episode shows some promise, scattering all the characters in different locations with the looming threat of an extended separation always hanging over them. There’s even an action sequence that initially felt reminiscent of a harrowing moment from the final episode of the great new series The Old Man. However, Last Light is nowhere near as grounded and gritty in how it stages its action. Instead, it feels clunky and forced before quickly ending as soon as it started. There is no tension to it, as the story shows us how it ends before flashing back. While not an entirely uncommon framing device, it ends up robbing the scene of any weight. This serves as a problem that drags down the show writ large; nothing ever feels like it has much of any stakes. Despite many moments that are practically shouting at you about how serious things are, everything always seems to be mostly okay. One episode ends where a character seems to be in serious trouble, only for the next one to pick up with the problem apparently solved offscreen. It reminded me of another recent show from the streamer, The Undeclared War, which had similar shortcomings though now looks downright dazzling by comparison.


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What makes it worse than Last Light being rather boring is how it repeatedly talks down to its audience. Much of this is baked into the narrative, which tries to convince you that a twist that can be seen from a mile away is actually a thrilling subversion. While it is abundantly obvious almost immediately what is coming, the story drags it out for so long that you want to shout for it to just get it over with already. Even when it is crystal clear what the deception is, there are still several agonizing moments where characters inexplicably act oblivious to what is happening. The truth is staring them right in the face, and the show carries on with the charade for an absurd amount of time. What should be a key moment is deflated of any explosive potential in this execution, leaving little reason to care about where the story is going next. Perhaps there was a genuine concern that audiences wouldn’t pick up on the reveal, but the manner in which it spells everything out is done to a ridiculous extreme, so excessive it becomes insulting. The story is nowhere near intricate or complex enough to require this approach, yet Last Light behaves as if it is actually the most multilayered work you’ve ever seen. Not only is this far from the case, but it is hard to connect with any of the characters who all are so flat that the actors are left with very little to work with. Fox does his best to bring some passion to the scattershot scenes he gets, but they are so dispassionate that it just begins to feel like a losing battle. Any spark he provides is completely extinguished.


More frustratingly are the thematic aspirations of the show that it is nowhere near equipped to pull off. There are a host of moral dilemmas and questions that the plot keeps dancing around, though it never has the courage to really dive into them. Without giving anything away, Last Light really seems like it is wanting to take a stance on the existential threat facing the planet and all of us living on it. From the very first episode, we see how Laura disagrees with what her father now does for work and how it continues to enable the problem. The resolution to this conflict, both the familial and global one, is a cowardly cop-out. Last Light reveals itself as a show without any courage in its convictions, playing out like the television equivalent of a politician giving a canned speech about unity that is utterly devoid of substance. There have been many great recent works that grapple with how grim the future of the planet is and the desire to take radical action to address it from Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves to Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. Both of those stories are profoundly honest and appropriately sorrowful. Last Light is more akin to a corporate PR response that seeks to muddy the waters, a story that paints with such a broad brush that it becomes a bland malaise.


It all makes for a show that is ambivalent at best and deceptive at worst. This extends all the way up to some final key scenes that attempt to explain away its own timidness with a rushed monologue over the top of stock footage. Whether realized or not, it ends up morphing into the type of shallow inspirational video content that would be produced by the oil and gas corporations of the world to avoid responsibility for how they exacerbated the very problem we find ourselves in. Last Light is a show that is not responsible for any of this nor could it fix it, but it is hard to think of a recent work of fiction that has so thoroughly failed to tell a story that authentically engages with the crisis facing the planet. For a show that clearly thinks it is making revelatory observations about the state of the world, it could not come across as more off-target. The result is an experience that is both dull and despondent in equal measure. Last Light is hardly able to justify its own existence, failing at being entertaining or incisive and cementing its place as one of the most misguided shows of the year thus far.


Rating: F

You can watch all five episodes of Last Light starting September 8 on Peacock.



Source
Las Vegas News Magazine

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