Andre Braugher and Scott Speedman

Last Resort co-creator Shawn Ryan knows he could stand to gain more viewers. Thus far, the show has averaged just 7.8 million viewers and a 1.9 in the demo. Fortunately, he thinks Thursday's episode (8/7c, ABC) is an engaging hour, both for fans who have already sampled the show and newcomers who are curious about diving in.

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"I think it's a perfect time for people who haven't seen the show to come and check it out. It's a great entry point," Ryan tells TVGuide.com. "I love the episodes that came before, but there was something that clicked on a lot of different levels for us on this one. This felt to me like everything the show could be when we had all our cylinders pumping."

The episode's chief focus is on Captain Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher) and his executive officer Sam Kendall (Scott Speedman), two of the men who questioned an order to fire a nuke at Pakistan and were then fired upon by a fellow sub. As they sit down with Defense Secretary William Curry (Jay Karnes) to negotiate a deal that could end the standoff between the crew of the USS Colorado and their country, Lt. Grace Shepherd (Daisy Betts) takes command of the sub and leads a small crew on a (eventually) deadly mission to repair and secure the perimeter surrounding the island the crew has made its home.

As the negotiations intensify, it appears that Marcus is more interested in taking his case before the American people than accepting a plea deal that Sam believes is the best for the crew. Could the duo no longer be on the same side of the issue?

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"They care about each other... and yet we all know that you can have family members or close friends that you love and adore that you still fundamentally disagree with," Ryan says. "This is an episode that allows us to test the boundaries of that friendship, and see how each of them reacts to each other. You see the lengths to which Marcus will go to protect Sam. But is it worth betraying Sam to protect him?"

Or is Marcus even interested in protecting Sam and the other sailors he's gotten mixed up in this mess? "I think you'll never be entirely sure," Ryan says. "I think you have to wonder whether there isn't an element of ego and power corrupting that might be seeping into Marcus. That's certainly something that we're going to play with."

After all, Marcus, who is estranged from his wife and recently lost a son who was killed in action, doesn't have nearly as much to go home to as Sam or his other men. "Is there something in him that wants to keep playing this game and wants to be at the center of the universe? That's a tempting thing," Ryan says. "The best so-called villains are always the ones that could be the heroes in another movie. [He has] points of view that are entirely defensible and he has a code that you can understand. He just happens to be in opposition to the heroes that you're watching.  The question is: How much does he care what people think as long as he's respected, feared and obeyed?"

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Meanwhile, Grace will finally get a taste of what it's like to have her orders followed. She's forced to bring along Chief of the Boat Prosser (Robert Patrick) for her mission, and even though the two have a bit of a rocky past, Grace's leadership during a battle might silence Prosser's dissent once and for all. "We wanted a story that would really test the mettle of Grace," Ryan says. "[We wanted] to see how she would come through this kind of situation and to see what kind of respect she might or might not earn from those around her in these circumstances."

Also uniting in this episode are Christine (Jessy Schram), Sam's wife back home, and Kylie Sinclair (Autumn Reeser), one of the few people stateside who believes Christine's ramblings about the government conspiracy involved in the USS Colorado disaster.

"It's a good thing for us going forward," Ryan says of teaming the two characters. "It kind of streamlines the stories going forward because in the first batch of episodes, we've had to have a separate Kylie and a separate Christine story. Now we've crossed the streams, and the two of them together seems to us more valuable than the sum of the two of them apart."

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But the far trickier math comes into play off-screen. Although Last Resort is improving its timeslot over the quickly canceled Charlie's Angels last season and boasts decent gains in DVR playback, the show's long-term future is far from certain. But Ryan remains optimistic.

"We're a couple weeks away from knowing anything for sure, [but]we've been holding our own fairly well in a very tough time slot. And if people like the show, they should keep watching and get a friend or two to watch. We'd love people to check this out. That's the best way to keep us on the air."

Last Resort airs Thursdays at 8/7c on ABC. Check out an exclusive first look from Thursday's episode below:

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