Despite “Grey’s Anatomy’s” long-running success, the preceding hour has been something of a black hole for ABC. So while “Last Resort” (in that context, a somewhat ironic title) is arguably the fall’s most enticing pilot, enthusiasm should be tempered by the challenge of bringing viewers to an intricate, adult-oriented conspiracy drama in this Thursday slot, much less on network TV. Such disclaimers notwithstanding, the opening hour is crisp, tense and full of possibilities, arming the show with considerable storytelling artillery as it navigates these treacherous waters.

Comparisons to the movies “Crimson Tide” (especially) and “The Hunt for Red October” are inevitable, and well deserved, though there are echoes of other conspiracy-oriented dramas, all of which seem particularly suited to an age where institutions are distrusted.

That said, the cynicism within the show could equally extend to its commercial fortunes, and there’s reason for skepticism how often those impressive underwater shots and action scenes in the front-loaded pilot will be replicated going forward. More pointedly, the second hour proves a bit of a mess, and while still watchable raises concerns “Last Resort” could begin taking on water quickly.

Although best-known for “The Shield,” producer Shawn Ryan also produced “The Unit” for CBS, and has a strong feel for dealing with the military — here, a submarine captained by the sturdy Capt. Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher), with Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman) as his loyal right hand.

The crew is introduced in a playful moment, as the ship passes the equator and dances to “La Bamba.” Soon enough, though, they rescue a mysterious team of special-forces officers who are stingy with information, and subsequently receive orders to fire a nuclear missile at a foreign target through unorthodox channels, prompting Chaplin to question what’s happening on the surface.

A cool customer, the Captain ostensibly wants to know what’s going on, but his failure to carry out the directive makes the sub a rogue vessel, forcing him to begin plotting contingencies; without giving too much away, his decision to seek refuge with his dangerous payload — while bringing about a temporary truce — raises more questions than it answers, which is no doubt how the producers want it, at least in the pilot.

Written by Ryan and Karl Gajdusek, and directed by feature helmer Martin Campbell, “Last Resort” plays like a high-stakes chess game, with shifting loyalties and ample uncertainty regarding who can be trusted. While it’s hard to anticipate the next several moves, Braugher, Speedman and supporting players like Robert Patrick (a “Unit” alum) provide incentive to tag along for the voyage, at least for awhile.

If the second episode is indicative of its course, “Last Resort” would hardly be the first big-ticket prototype to promise more than the series can deliver. Even so, in terms of new network fare worth sampling, far from the last resort, this should really be the first.

Last Resort

ABC, Thurs. Sept. 27, 8 p.m.

  • Production: Filmed in Hawaii by MiddKid Prods. in association with Sony Pictures Television. Executive producers, Shawn Ryan, Karl Gajdusek, Marney Hochman, Martin Campbell; producer, Jean Higgins; director, Campbell; writers, Gajdusek, Ryan.
  • Crew: Camera, Rohn Schmidt; production designer, Jim Spencer; editors, Angela M. Catanzaro, J. Kathleen Gibson; music supervisors, Evyen Klean, Janet Lopez; casting, Rebecca Mangieri, Wendy Weidman. 60 MIN.
  • Cast: Capt. Marcus Chaplin - Andre Braugher XO Sam Kendal - Scott Speedman Lt. Grace Shepard - Daisy Betts Tani Tumrenjack - Dichen Lachman Seal Officer James King - Daniel Lissing Mayor Julian Serrat - Sahr Ngaujah Sophie Girard - Camille de Pazzis Kylie Sinclair - Autumn Reeser Christine Kendal - Jessy Schram Master Chief Joseph Prosser - Robert Patrick With: Bruce Davison.