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!