The Last Ship, Episode 5: “El Toro” Review

Thank the gods of action TV tropes!  This was not a groundbreaking episode, but it was a good ‘un, and a definite breath of fresher air after the implausible series nadir of last week.

Sorry (again) for being a day late.  My day/night job LOVES having me work Sundays lately, but that’s why God gave us the DVR (on the 8th day, I believe).  The bad part is when the elves that live within the DVR decide to cross the ‘trons and fail to save the episode for when you get off work at 4:30 AM.  Thus, I had to wait for that other heavenly miracle – the Amazon Instant stream today – to catch me up.  But caught up I am, and I’m much the happier for it.

Plot Summary:  First, to be clear, THEY STAY COMPLETELY OUT OF ENGINEERING THIS WEEK!  Yeah!  This show knows it works best when it sticks to the main deck or above, and I’m FINE with that.  It opens with CHENG and the Skipper reminiscing about the mutual nightmare of last week’s episode and passing by a work crew assembling boxes in which to capture monkeys.  They have reached the coast of Costa Rica where Dr. Scott figures monkeys on which to test her vaccine ought to be easy to find in the jungle.  Unfortunately, Radio reveals that the coast is inundated with distress calls and signs indicating the whole country is in the midst of bloody revolution.  They aren’t ready to engage in any nation-building, so Doc Scott has them head for an alternate barrel of monkeys, a primate preserve located in Nicaragua (because there’s no possible reason to expect bloody revolution in quaint little Nicaragua).  Tex and Rachel share a character moment as he tries to get her to forgive herself for her lies and start eating in the wardroom, and the Skipper and XO/Jayne share one in the Cap’s cabin (Adam Baldwin RULES!).

Off the Nicaraguan coast, Captain Tom “Studly” Chandler doubles down on the bold stupidity and has all three elements of the Command Staff (CO, XO, and CMC), Sexy LT 1, Tex, the COMMO (for no obvious reason), the GUNNO, and our sexy virologist herself take both boats up-river, leaving CHENG and the Navigator in charge of the NATHAN JAMES.  At the preserve, instead of finding monkeys, they are attacked by zombies / infected villagers chanting “El Toro” (as in “dying of this dumb virus is a whole lotta bull, senor”).  They retreat for the boats, where they surmise they might have better luck up-river, further away from the area villages, but it is already too dangerous to expose Dr. Scott.  So, a lone boat with the CO, XO, CMC, Sexy LT 1, and the COMMO continues up, out of radio contact, with Tex and the Doc sent back to NATHAN JAMES.

Up-river, they run across a stranded yacht, the EL TORO, then land and head for the nearest Monkey-Mart.  But, wouldn’t you know it, our young ginger COMMO steps in it, literally, and is wounded/poisoned by a trap, whereupon they are captured by uninfected gunmen, all of whom belong to the stranded drug kingpin El Toro.  The Bull (as I like to call him) has set himself up as a warlord, ruling the impoverished uninfected villagers like a really shitty king, and he doesn’t take CDR Chandler’s aggressive American posturing very well.  He does let them treat the COMMO though, then invites the Skipper and XO to dine with him on monkey tartar.  Cue the tense dinner-time standoff, with the Bull acting like a despotic ass and the skipper making vague threats about his own Deus Ex Navis off the coast.  You can tell Chandler would like to end the Bull’s reign, but there’s nothing much he can do under the circumstances.  Eventually, the posturing fails and they make a deal for their freedom and a whole load of monkeys.

But bad guys can’t stop being bad guys.  While loading the monkeys, the Bull’s men send a recalcitrant villager lass over to the infected side of the river as punishment, causing XO Slattery and Sexy LT 1 to get all uppity.  They get buttstroked (and not in the good way) and the Skipper has to practically bow to the Bull in order to get them released.  The Bull laughs at them, sends them on their way with the monkeys, and basically tells them that he’s going to be de-virgin-izing the village mayor’s young daughter and will kill her if they send back a UAV or missile strike back toward him.  The sailors leave unarmed on the RHIB, but the XO can’t take it, figuring what good is it to save the world if the world they allow to exist isn’t worth saving (Adam Baldwin RULES!).  Thus the boat sneaks back and they go all Solid Snake on the Bull’s 13 heavily armed guards.  Final tally:  all sailors survive, all bad guys get killed, the villagers are freed, the mayor gets revenge, virgin honor remains intact, monkeys are captured to use as guinea pigs, and the NATHAN JAMES sails on.

The Goods:  They stayed the hell out of engineering and gave us an action-packed episode that satisfied on almost all counts.  It is a TV Trope-ish episode, with few surprises, but some good character moments, nice tension (kudos to Eric Dane), and decent action.  Adam Baldwin gets to be a badass instead of getting stuck on the ship.  El Toro is a nasty enough heavy, even if he is pretty cliche, and I liked that he sees himself as their savior and not their oppressor.  Rhona Mitra works out . . . vigorously.  Tex gets some nice moments with Dr. Va-va-va-voom-virology and they both get to quote-check Mark Twain.  I like that the CHENG is left in charge and I’m glad to see her back up on her feet.  I like the zombies/infected villagers.  The action is good (if implausible, since three unarmed officers take out a whole platoon of alerted bad-guys), and appreciated the situation with the strongman/criminal type in charge.  It is something that would happen and does happen, and it makes a nice underground plug for the 2nd Amendment (an armed populace is a free populace).  I also liked that they did not use the NATHAN JAMES as a get-out-of-trouble-free card like they did in previous episodes (my Deus Ex Machina / Deus Ex Navis comment).

The Less Goods:  This episode didn’t retroactively go back in time and canon and undo all the stupid left over from last week.  There were no real surprises and it played it safe with genre cliches, but I enjoyed it regardless.  Star Trek syndrome, in that they brought the entire damn command staff on an away mission, including the one person they absolutely cannot lose (Dr. Scott).  The CO, XO, and CMC shouldn’t be going out to fetch monkeys, and Dr. Scott should draw a damn picture if she’s concerned about them getting one species of monkey rather than another.  The show is still too officer-centric.  Neither of those RHIBs had a bos’un, a boat engineer, a gunner, or a bow-hook aboard.  Why the hell did they bring the COMMO along?  WHERE ARE ALL THE 200 ENLISTED FOLK supposedly aboard?  The NATHAN JAMES apparently has 3 hangars, since one is being used as a lab, one is storing the helo they seem to always forget they have (until they need it), and now one is being used as an expansive new gym.  Destroyers do use their empty hangars as gyms, but you can’t have both at the same time.  When the helo detachment is aboard, the Forward Pallet Staging Area and various passageways and fan rooms get turned into gyms, but I imagine it would be hard to film there.  Then there is the matter of CHENG as the next senior officer aboard.  Chief Engineer on a DDG is usually a first tour Department Head job, with a LT in charge who might make LCDR during their 18 month tour.  Then they leave the ship and go serve as a Squadron Materiel Officer or they go become a CHENG on a cruiser.  They only stay aboard for an extended tour if they are commissioning the ship or if they need a “get well” tour, as in they screwed up and need to stay aboard to make good FITREPs and repair their career.  This sometimes happens if an officer gets a DUI or another civil black mark on their record, which COULD BE a very interesting turn to take for the show.  Usually, the third senior officer on a DDG is the CSO or Combat Systems Officer.  They are a second-tour Department Head and are usually filled by a LT or LCDR who was formerly the Weapons Officer on that same ship or another of the class.  But that is mostly an inside-baseball sort of complaint, and I can’t imagine that even occurred to the writers or their consultants.\

I unreservedly recommend this ep.  The Goods again out-weigh the Less Goods, and it is back on track.  I’m still waiting for the inevitable mutiny episode, or a breakdown in military structure aboard.  Maybe next week, or maybe the show will surprise me.  And be sure to check back here for a review as well!  Tell all your friends!

 

The Last Ship, Episode 4 – “We’ll Get There” Review

Note:  Sorry this review is a day late, but when the day/night job calls, you answer (or you end up feeding your family garbage ramen, cuz that’s all yo’ po’ ass can afford).  SORRY!

So!  Episode 4:  Enter the Stupid.  Ugh.  I think this show has done an OUTSTANDING job of balancing respect for the US Navy, a dedication to fairly honest naval realism, post apocalyptic military sci-fi drama, and fun-but-hackneyed soap-esque melodrama.  The chatter is good, the characters are cool, the plot is awesome, the settings are true to the service, but one thing has stood out as a detriment in every episode thus far:

THEY CAN’T ENGINEER WORTH A DAMN.

In the pilot, Cap’n Crunches holds a generator fuse in place with his bare hand in order to recover from an electromagnetic pulse.  In episode 2, they deal with shitty fuel and gummed up fuel nozzles through the power of “It’s no longer convenient to discuss.”  In episode 3, they do egregious crimes with the physics of radar systems, though the actual engineers remain behind the scenes for the most part.

In episode 4, we have an engineering-centric, ship-stranded-at-sea, “bottle” episode, and suddenly all I see are flaws.  The worst part is, they are largely unnecessary flaws.  The Last Ship obviously has experienced naval consultants.  They get so much background right that I’m willing to forgive the little bit wrong they do for the plot’s sake.  In this ep, however, you can tell that either NONE of the consultants are engineers or the writers just disregarded them.  And that’s what pisses me off.  There were ways to do this episode that would have made engineering sense, but they chose not to, either as a sin of ignorance or willful disregard.

(The alternative also occurs to me, that the Navy told them to get it all wrong in order to avoid giving away engineering operational secrets, but they could have looked at a DDG-51 engineering diagram out of Jane’s Defense Weekly and still gotten it more right.)

Okay, on with the review.  First, the plot summary:  It starts off with a sweet flashback to better days, with CO Chandler’s family sharing their private goodbyes right before the NATHAN JAMES departs on deployment.  Then we switch to the present, with Tom Chandler torturing himself by listening to distress calls down in Radio.  The XO checks in on him and we see some nice character moments for ol’ Slattery (Adam Baldwin RULES!).  Then we have Hot Virologist Rachel Scott make a breakthrough on the vaccine, but she needs Quincy to finish the prototype.  The Cap’n allows Rachel to try convincing our old traitor, but no joy.  Meanwhile, Sexy LT 1 is showing Tex around the ship, where they run into Sexy LT 2, all tense with each other since 1 dumped 2 for the stupidest reasoning on the planet.  So, of course Tex wants to make a play (I love that character).

Then the power fails, threatening progress on the vaccine and stranding them in the middle of the ocean without enough water.  And here is where we enter the land of Obscene Nonsensical Engineering (ONE).  It seems that a fire near the Low Pressure Air Compressors were caused by a lack of seawater cooling to the engines / generators, since escaping from the Russkies through that canal somehow ripped off all their filters (??????).  A loss of power and propulsion makes the situation desperate, but they do manage to restore juice to the lab and conjure up an hour of propulsion each day so they can limp toward an island that might have water.  Oh, and the XO threatens Quincy with keelhauling unless he helps out Rachel (Adam Baldwin RULES!).

And then the casualties get even more dire.  All power and propulsion goes kaput, such that they are going to both die of thirst and die never knowing if the vaccine would have worked.  They eventually cool the bio-samples by putting them in an armored case and dangling them below the cold thermocline in the ocean.  And what do our intrepid Engineer/Writers do?  Why, they rig three parachutes as kites, launch them with line-casting rifles, and SAIL a 9000 ton warship to Gilligan’s Isle!  And — SOMEHOW — this is fast enough to turn the propeller shaft, which — SOMEHOW — generates electricity to keep the vaccine cool (but not enough juice to make water).

Long episode shorter, it works, they reach the island, Rachel Scott is appreciative, the Captain honors the MPA, the CHENG just lays around, Quincy is humanized, the crew parties on the beach, and Sexy LT 1 regrets dumping Sexy LT 2.

The Goods:  There are good elements here still.  I like the character moments for Chandler and Slattery, I like that they finally gave a real nod to the problems of maintaining a destroyer at sea without a logistics chain, even if EVERY SINGLE DETAIL WAS FUBAR.  I like using the thermocline as a cooling water blanket, even if it was impractical.  I like the XO’s threat, though I have no idea how a homicide detective in Chicago would ever have developed the time-in-rank and experience to make it as a CDR in the surface navy and as XO on a destroyer.  I liked the stargazing.  I even liked the plot.  If I had no idea how a destroyer worked, I might even have thought it was clever.

The Less Goods:  Unfortunately, I’m a former Chief Engineer / Engineer Officer on a DDG-51 Flight II-A.  Writers, if you wanna get this stuff anywhere in the ballpark next time, DROP ME A LINE, I WORK FOR CHEAP.  This episode didn’t even make an attempt to hit naval realism.  Is the NATHAN JAMES supposed to be an electric drive ship?  That’s the only way it even starts to approach common sense.  Turning the shafts does not generate power.  Losing all power only makes you lose propulsion because you can’t run the electric lube oil pumps and seawater coolers any more.  The electric plant and the propulsion plant are totally different animals, by design.  Three parachutes won’t move a 9000 ton warship unless Neptune himself is blowing on them.  You can’t rip the seawater filters off by running aground (they’re inside the ship, though you can wreck the cowling over the seachest).  And here’s one most won’t notice, but the MPA or Main Propulsion Assistant is always a Chief Warrant Officer or an Engineering Limited Duty Officer, kind of like a senior technical rank even above the Chief Petty Officer levels.  The Chief Engineer is usually a 1st (or 2nd) tour Department Head and a Line Officer, trained in Engineering basics, but experienced as a manager and a tactical officer.  The CHENG relies on the MPA for technical know-how, not the other way around, as it was here.  Again, The Last Ship tends to be an officer-fest.  We need more enlisted-ranks appreciation. And, lastly, Sexy LT’s 1 & 2:  I still couldn’t care less about you.  In your twosome, only Tex as a third party is interesting.

So, this is a mis-step, but I remain faithful and hopeful.  As the title suggests, I think the Goods usually outweigh the Less Goods and I think — together — that “We’ll Get There.”

The Last Ship, Episode 3 – “Dead Reckoning” Review

Yeah!  More 5″ gun love!  Plus vessel borne IED’s, torpedoes, restricted waters navigation, Russian standoffs, betrayals, love lost, and some radar cross-section goodness, all on this latest episode of TNT’s respectful naval porn.

My synopsis:  the Russian cruiser that snuck into Gitmo Bay to threaten our worthies aboard the USS NATHAN JAMES gives definition to their threat by demanding both the primordial virus and Dr. Rachel “Va-va-va-voom-virology” Scott be turned over to them.  Cap’n Crunches (CDR Tom Chandler) proves he’s no pushover on the bridge-to-bridge radio and recommends they meet ashore.  Turncoat scientist Quincy, Tex, and a full tactical team accompany them to the faceoff between Chandler and Admiral Roznakov.  Roznakov has gone full-on megalomaniac, and he seeks to use the virus to establish himself as Master of All He Surveys, with Chandler either falling in line or getting sunk.  Chandler sticks to his patriotic guns and offers a sample of the virus, but refuses to give up the Doc, reasoning that the Russians can’t attack his ship without losing what they want, and even if the Russians can block the bay forever with their nuclear-powered cruiser, they’ll run out of food and eventually have to let the NATHAN JAMES escape.  Roznakov counters by blowing away one of his own men, saying he’s prepared to do what he must, and now he has one less mouth to feed.  They each return to their respective ships, and the Russkies up the ante by mining the bay, while Chandler’s navigator locates a small canal they might be able to escape from if they can clear some coral out of the way.  Tensions mount further when the Russians kill the team Chandler sends out in a semi-submersible to survey the canal, and our Skipper retaliates by blowing the Russian small boat team out of the water with a 5″ round, and threatens to kill them unless Roznakov retreats over the horizon.

Then Quincy tries to force Rachel Scott off the ship at gunpoint so he can deliver her to Roznakov.  That plan goes south when security sees him, and it devolves into a tense standoff on the messdecks, with Quincy threatening to expose the whole crew to the virus.  Rachel talks him down and Quincy is arrested.  We then find that he’s not exactly a black-hat traitor.  He had been sharing info with the Russian virus team, but after the fall, Roznakov intervened and kidnapped Quincy’s wife and kid(s), forcing him to betray the NATHAN JAMES or his family would die.  His plan had been to take Rachel and the virus on a RHIB and trade them for his loved ones.  This gives Chandler a plan.  He will now send in our two sexy LTs in love, dressed as Quincy and Scott, armed with a wired-to-explode small boat to disable the Russian cruiser (like the USS COLE, bad memories for me on that note).  While that ploy goes on, the NATHAN JAMES will sneak out at EMCON, leaving behind a radar decoy made of aluminum foil in order to fool the Russian’s radar systems, then navigate the treachorous canal, which they will clear with a torpedo.  Long story short, the plan works, the Russians are disabled, the NATHAN JAMES scrapes her way out of port, our sexy LTs break up because our detached SEAL can’t handle a strong, confident woman, and Quincy challenges the Skipper to say he wouldn’t have done the same thing if his family had been held hostage.

The Goods: More 5″ action, this time in HSMST mode (High Speed Maneuvering Surface Target); special navigation detail love; much muy macho posturing on both ships; finally a good, identifiable antagonist, with the promise of more to come; Quincy having a reason for his traitorous deeds; using 5″ shells and C4 as an IED; the ending with our Russian Typhoid Marty;  Chandler echoing good ol’ Admiral Arleigh Burke himself:  “This ship is built to fight, you better know how!” Radar Cross Section discussions; Prairie and Masker get mentioned (though the show does not bother explaining what they are); and, of course, the venerable Mk 54 TORPEDO killing some coral.

The Less Goods: Jesus Christ, I’m ready for our two sexy LTs being all sexy together to CEASE being a subplot on this show.  It is ham-fisted and tedious.  Their argument and breakup were completely ridiculous and I’m ready for one or both to die.  There are much better characters and better relationships that could be explored instead of this trope-ish tripe.  I love the character of Roznakov and am intrigued by that last scene, but blowing away his own man was needlessly over the top and a blatant invitation for his hard-drinking XO to mutiny.  The two-man semi-submersible was kinda stupid.  That sorta thing don’t exist, except with special warfare perhaps.  Why would it have been on the ship?  Much better and more realistic would be if they had used a UUV (Underwater Unmanned Vehicle), which some models of Flight II-A destroyer were outfitted with as a minehunting platform.  Mentioning Tomahawks as an anti-ship platform, unless this is the super-special secret variant they were testing in the pilot episode.  Better to use SM-2 or an SM-6, or a VLS-enabled Harpoon missile.  There once was a TASM proposed, but it went away in the 90′s.  And though I love the nod to DDG-51 class’s RCS being as low as 10 feet of aluminum foil, I’m pretty sure just stringing up 10 feet of aluminum foil on the pier and then driving away slow at EMCON will not result in you being invisible to radar.  They shoulda gotten shelled by the Russkies as soon as their radar return split from the one left on the pier.  Radar is not an either-or type of system.  It returns whatever is out there, including your relatively stealthy destroyer, regardless of whatever you put on the pier.  If they are confusing this with chaff discrimination, that might be an out, but then again, NO.

But, as before, the Goods HEAVILY OUT-WEIGH the Less Goods, thus I remain happy as both a casual watcher and a career naval Surface Warrior.

Don’t forget to check out next week and lemme know what you think about my reviews as well as the rest of the site!

ASID Review Round-Up

Hey, all!  Just a quick note before The Last Ship comes on (followed promptly by a review of this week’s episode against the Russkies), but ASID has gotten several fairly glowing pro reviews over the last few weeks, and I’ve been remiss about sharing them with you.  Partly that’s because of the Day Job, and partly it’s because I’ve been working on new material (Demigod mostly, but a little bit on the A Sword Into Darkness game).  Mostly it’s because I’m a huge scatter-brain.

First, if you haven’t seen it yet, you should check out Carol Kean’s exhaustive review over at Perihelion SF (Warning! Contains Explicit Science!).  She’s a treat on Twitter and really delved into the story, even though it is not her favorite kind of tale.

Then, semi-out-of-the-blue, the great Eric S. Raymond asked for a review copy and really turned out a fantastic review of A Sword Into Darkness.  This guy KNOWS hard SF and military SF, and he really seemed to have enjoyed himself with it.  Even better, he has name-dropped ASID (in a positive way) in several of his subsequent reviews.  That really pleases me and inspires me to do even better with the eventual sequel.  Check ‘em out, and the comments are especially lively as well!

Another good thing about the ESR review was that it led to the this here Eric Wilner review on his blog.  Eric Wilner is one of those lively commenters on ESR’s site, and he gave a really good accounting of his own thoughts regarding ASID.  And if you check back to the posts prior to his review, you’ll find several blog posts inspired by the book where he examines some of the elements of the plot completely separate from where I went.  Very interesting.

And lastly, I may have mentioned Castalia House before, but they are a Finnish publisher breaking some very exciting ground in e-publishing and the European market.  Their SF editor is Vox Day, who has been and can be a provocative and perhaps devisive figure in science fiction circles.  I dunno about all that.  It all happened before I became active.  I can tell you that he was always very reasonable, pleasant, and clever in his conversations with me, so I’ll say nothing about the controversies of the past.  I can tell you that Castalia House has big plans and has some very strong authors launching from beneath their banner like John C. Wright and Tom Kratman.  I was almost wooed over there as well, but have decided to remain with Stealth Books and stay independent for now (not that their offer and opportunity was not enticing and more than fair — it was).  Quite separate from all of that, however, one of Castalia House’s reviewers picked ASID up out of the blue, unaware they had been interested in publishing me, and their blogger produced another balanced, and highly positive review here!

So, if you want to check out what others thought of ASID (aside from the 250 customer reviews and 4.5 stars on Amazon) either before reading it, or after trying it out yourself, I urge you to check out these pro-reviews.  And then check back here for more thoughts on The Last Ship!

The Last Ship, Episode 2 – “Welcome to Gitmo” Review

To mis-quote Crocodile Dundee, “That’s not a gun . . . THIS is a GUN!”

5″ / 62 caliber for the WIN!!!

Soooo, yeah, I just watched the second episode of TNT’s The Last Ship, and though I feared a second episode slump might reveal a loss in quality and fidelity from the excellent pilot, I was very pleased instead.

The plot, in brief (SPOILERS!), started where the pilot episode left off, with our duplicitous pa-Ruskie lab assistant, Quincy, talking over a secret sat-phone to his unidentified compatriots, who tell him to delay the USS NATHAN JAMES’ mission on the ground in Guantanamo Bay as long as possible.  That mission is to gather supplies, food, and fuel so dear Dr. Rachel Scott, MD, PhD in SV (Sexy Virology) can synthesize a vaccine for the terrible possibly-weaponized virus infecting the world.  She butts heads with the XO, whereupon XO Slattery butts heads with Captain Tom Chandler.  The Skipper forces a pledge of loyalty out of Jayne — I mean Slattery — and they head to Gitmo for beans, bullets, and bandages.  As they head south from Mayport, we get a little more in depth with the crew.  We check in with our lovebird lieutenants, hear the COMMO warn her people to monitor distress calls, but to ignore them and to remain at EMCON, a prayer group shows off pictures of their missing loved ones, tactical crews train for land clearance ops, and we find out that the fuel they took from the cruise ship last episode is bad, but the Captain said to burn it at flank speed anyway, which gives the XO pause.

NATHAN JAMES reaches Gitmo, and a quick aerial survey reveals that it looks deserted.  The ship moors pierside (a difficult trick without tugs) in order to refuel, and two tactical teams head out to get medical supplies and food.  The teams encounter the dead victims of the virus, but are able to mask-up in time to avoid infection.  The Captain goes all Captain Kirk and embeds with one of the tactical teams, and — sure enough — he is the first to encounter a real live person.  This survivor stops them just in time to avoid a booby-trap, and he reveals that he is the last civilian security operator on the base, and that he and his compatriots had released the last few remaining Al Qaeda prisoners out of compassion, only to find themselves immediately betrayed.  The terrorists killed Tex’s buddies (no shit, that’s his name) and are now waiting to ambush all three teams and then attack the ship pierside. 

Boom, terrorists semi-sneak attack on two fronts.  The refueling team gets shot at first, and the Chief Engineer takes a hit from shrapnel.  Desperate to protect his people and the fuel, XO Slattery goes all WW-II on Al Qaeda and introduces them to a little something called NSFS, Naval Surface Fires Support.  Boom, one round of 5″ high explosive shell ruins the terrorists’ day and refueling is able to recommence.  Then the medical supply team gets pinned down, which is a problem since they are running out of air in the infected building.  The skipper sends some shooters from his team to support them, and he continues with Tex and a few others to the food warehouse.  In the food warehouse, we get firefight number 3, Tex goes all Splinter Cell and takes out a terrorist with a knife, but he is captured and held for hostage.  The lead terrorist Amir demands NATHAN JAMES leave and claims half the food for himself and his five remaining guys.  The CO counters with reason, while at the same time keying his mike and relaying his intentions to the ship through overly elaborate dialog.  The XO gets his drift and drops the hammer one more time, blowing up the SE corner of the warehouse (my GOD, man, think of all those Twinkies!!) with a 5″ shell, and allowing the CO and the tactical team to finish off the war on terror.  It all ends with relationships mended, the ship topped off, new badass comic relief on board (Tex), and with the arrival of a warship of NOT-Brits (they appear to be the Russians hinted at in the beginning).

The Goods:  The naval chatter and use of ship-as-setting still works very well.  Investigation reveals that the NATHAN JAMES is two ships, the USS HALSEY (DDG 97) and USS DEWEY (DDG 105), both of which were built in Pascagoula, MS, where my two destroyers STETHEM and LASSEN were built.  I again appreciate the dedication to realism.  I only saw one obvious hollywood set representing a ship-space, which was the Communications Room, but that is to be expected.  That space is soooper doooper seekrit.  I liked the tactical training on the ship, and the inclusion of more crew doing more things.  A ship is a living thing, with its cells comprised of her crew.  I really liked the prayer/memorial group.  I appreciate them giving more attention to the issues of logistics this week, even if it still seems that they think maneuvering a ship and conducting refueling is as simple as pulling up to Pump Number 7 at the Texaco.  I liked the disagreement between the XO and CO, even if it was a bit cliche, and I like Tex.  I think he’ll add a new perspective and some needed comic relief.  AND I LOVE ME SOME MOTHER FU**ING FIVE INCH GUN ACTION, even if elements of it were problematic.

The Less Goods:  I have a fear that they are laying the groundwork for a trite mutiny storyline, with the XO and CO at loggerheads.  Please don’t.  Second thing, I just don’t give a shit about our two star-crosse LT’s working through the stress of having a relationship aboard ship during an apocalypse.  I’m still dissatisfied by the Captain deciding on his own not to send a team inland last week in order to go to the virology lab the DOD had set up for them.  He made it sound like it would be a 200 mile trek through a wasteland, but you have a HELO, Dude!  You can FLY THERE!!  I hated the Skipper going all Captain Kirk and joining the away team.  I get the dramatic reasons for doing it, but HE DOES NOT train with those tactical teams and he would be a liability.  I understand the dramatic reasoning, and even approve from a story-standpoint, but the CO would not be among the first folks going ashore.  That’s dumb.  Then there’s the whole issue with burning bad fuel at flank speed.  Yeah, you gotta burn what you have available, but these engines are not the reliable old Dodge truck motors you depend upon at the farm.  These are gas turbine jets in a box, which are VERY finicky about their fuel, and you ain’t got the parts support you need.  Chandler should be babying those gas turbines.  And while I appreciated the spreading-of-the-wealth and giving more enlisted folk more screentime, all the major roles are still with the O’s.  Now, if you want a good sympathetic antagonist from which to foment mutiny, having a disillusioned 1st class petty officer or Chief with a good case and reasoning would be a great one.  You know, someone who reasons that the Navy does not exist any more, so why are they following Chandler still? And, finally, while I love me some 5″ action, it’s a lot tougher than pointing at a spot on a map and pushing a button.  Effective NSFS requires spotters and Gun Liaison Officers ashore, correcting your fire.  They did not have that, could not have known where to aim, and the shells are not that accurate, they should have had a couple of misses, and the explosions were more like what you’d get out of a 16 inch shell rather than a five inch one.  Still, it makes for a badass scene-closer.

Next week, USA vs. Russia, surface navy battle!  Tune in and then read about it here!

 

The Last Ship – Pilot Review

Yeah!  Naval Porn!

Hi, all, Tom Mays here, naval surface warfare officer and The Improbable Author of A Sword Into Darkness, the finest space navy awesomeness to be had on the printed page.  For those of you who don’t know me, I have pined for years for a mainstream entertainment that would do for US Navy Surface Warfare what Top Gun did for naval aviation and Crimson Tide and The Hunt For Red October did for the bubble-heads:  kick some ass and show the hoi polloi all that is amazing and cool about the surface navy.  I love me some destroyers, cruisers, frigates, and amphibs, and I would love for the rest of the world to love ‘em too.

My hopes have been burned in the past.  I squee a little bit every time I see a destroyer or an amphib featured in a movie or a program, but unfortunately they are always just backdrop.  JAG was a tragedy in both a naval realism sense as well as for basic plot and drama.  Of Battleship, we need not speak.  That movie should be buried alongside all those Atari ET cartridges from the 80′s.  Then I saw the promos for The Last Ship, and I dared to hope once more (even if Michael Bay was the producer and he had already ruined the Transformers).  Would this finally be the program that restored my faith that Hollywood could properly showcase my brother and sister tin-can sailors?

Short answer:  the first signs look pretty darned good.  Longer answer:  I really enjoyed it, it did not offend my naval experience too badly, and I’m looking forward to reviewing future episodes here as well.

The plot, in brief (SPOILERS!), is that a virulent virus has popped up in Egypt that makes Ebola look like the sniffles.  Sexy virologist (is there any other kind?) Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra, who can sample my fluids any day) sees what no one else can, that the virus is unstable and finding a vaccine will require a primordial sample, before it started mutating.  This puts her aboard the USS NATHAN JAMES (DDG 151) (if I was the screenwriter, I’d have to have gone for the USS BACARDI), which will ferry her and her assistant to the arctic, where they will sample the melting permafrost to find the original virus that birds picked up and re-exposed to humanity.  This is all done under the guise of cold-weather weapons testing for a new style of surface-to-surface missile, all to assuage the concerns of studly C.O. CDR Tom Chandler (Eric Dane, women want him, men want to be him . . . or want him too, it’s a new Navy).  After 4 months of fruitless searching, cut off from all contact home, she finally finds what she’s searching for — just in time to be attacked by Russians searching for a cure!  Naval air to surface battle ensues and CDR Sexy, ummmm, Chandler demands to know the truth!  And the truth is that the world is now 80% infected, and Chandler and his crew must deal with broken national governments, desperate armed factions, and the loss of all they know in order to develop a vaccine and safely get it to the surviving population.

The Goods:  whomever procured the use of an actual ARLEIGH BURKE Flight II-A destroyer and acted as the naval technical liaison should be commended.  I did not want to tear my eyeballs out while watching them get everything wrong.  They got a LOT actually RIGHT!  The set is either an actual ship, or a really, really good facsimile.  The bridge and CIC chatter is correct, even to the point of identifying the correct watchstations for conducting certain actions, or the names of the various weapons mounts.  The actors portray the appropriate amount of gravitas, and if they do dip a bit into over-the-top melodrama, it’s ENGAGING melodrama. The plot is swift and hangs together well, and the dialog is pretty good.  They brought up current events in a fairly non-egregious way, everything from global warming (the melting permafrost exposing a primordial virus) and the end of Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell (the female navigator mentions wanting to visit Paris with her girlfriend).  Plus, its best good point:  ADAM BALDWIN is the freakin’ XO, Mike Slattery, even if he was a bit underutilized.

The Less Goods:  Cue the obligatory sexy LT’s bein’ all sexy together.  I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but should secret relationships be the focus of the story, especially when its pretty much the only defining moment for one, if not both characters?  At least it wasn’t the CO or XO.  The pilot is too officer-centric.  Our enlisted outnumber the O’s 10 to 1, and their stories are just as vibrant as those wearing commissioned rank.  Don’t let this be Star Trek, where no one actually does any work below the rank of ensign.  The Russians can’t shoot worth a damn.  The aerial engagement happens WAY TOO CLOSE to the ship.  EMCON doesn’t mean that you can’t receive signals, just that you can’t transit ‘em, so they should have known about what was happening in the news, even if they couldn’t call out.  If Dr. Scott was calling off the ship, the folks in a-space-that-I-shall-not-name would have known about it, since they check EMCON compliance. The CO restoring power to the ship down in Engineering is just AWFUL.  I actually winced at the stupid.  They gloss over the XO’s personal loss far too quickly.  I’m hoping they fix that later.  Time, distance, fuel states, and provisions issues are entirely random and glossed over.  A destroyer CANNOT operate independently for 4 months.  They haven’t got the parts, the fuel, or the food.  It would have been a lot more realistic if the doctor had deployed aboard an AO class supply oiler, with the destroyer NATHAN JAMES providing security escort.  The pretty doctor could have done her experiments in a larger, more private area, the destroyer would have all the food and gas she could need, and the Russians would have a ship to sink, which would then necessitate bringing the scientist’s research lab equipment aboard CDR Chandler’s ship (and it would give that first battle a lot more impact).

But, in this case, the Goods really do outweigh the Less Goods.  That was not the case with the Last Resort, the AWFUL navy-ballistic-missile-sub show from last season.  That show had promise, but just dived right into stupid, and didn’t come up after it reached crush depth.  Based on what I’ve seen so far, the Last Ship looks like a good bet for your entertainment hour!