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!

 

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

  1. I was a bit surprised that the Captain’s quarters are so big — but maybe they are; I dunno. If they really went all Star Trek, every member of the crew would have their own quarters.

    I haven’t heard they’re filming interior scenes aboard the ship. If I had to bet, I’d bet that gym was a set, and not intended to be a hangar.

    Although they did film aboard ship, it’s quite possible that a few exteriors aren’t real either. I’d be stunned if the ones in this episode weren’t, but they can surprise you. Here’s a video of special effects with a lot of exterior scenes done elsewhere:

    Some TV shows (like Boardwalk Empire) put special effects videos like that one on YouTube. I’ll be checking YouTube at the end of this season just in case this show has one.

    • They either have EXTREMELY faithful sets recreated, or they did do extensive filming inside the two destroyers the Navy loaned to them. I think the latter would be more practical. That is a DDG-51 Flight II-A hangar, but their continuity director apparently thought no one would notice the lack of a helo or the lab they established earlier. And, frankly, no one else but a destroyer sailor would, so I could give that one to them. As for the CO’s cabin, the interior is guide spacious, and he has two spaces. One is the outer office they’ve shown, with that crazy course and speed indicator in the overhead, plus he has a full size bed and private head attached to the office. The Hollywood-ism is that the passageway shown outside the CO’s cabin looks like the Main Deck passageway outside the Engineering Log Room, rather than the 02 level p-way in Fwd Officers Country. But that’s just a nitpick, no objection here.

      • It would still be good if the hangar was a set simply because fooling you would show excellence in attention to detail, and it would be nice if they had such high standards. But it’s a bit much to hope for in a TV series. One thing I hadn’t factored in is that there are only 10 episodes this year (and renewed for 13 next year). That may not be enough that it would make sense to build a hangar set. I should say I was P-3C aircrew in the ’80s; and mostly saw ships from 300 ft. away, with two brief exceptions, and have no clue what a DDG hangar looks like.

        But it sounds like you’re saying that the CO’s quarters were a set, and a very good one. My suspicion is that some things with electronics are much more likely to be a set.

  2. Couldn’t bear this episode. I switched off when they went to do battle with the bad guys. As you said, full Star Trek away team, bar the guy in red who gets killed. And forgetting about The Mission in favour of gunfights. And letting the doctor-who-can-save-the-world off the ship. But also, the human gene pool is getting shallower by the day, so it’s not a good idea to kill anyone, however evil.

    Interesting your point about officer-centric plots. In the UK we have this idea that US armed services don’t allow their NCOs much initiative. My son is in the British army. A US Army officer was attached to his unit and proceeded to direct preparations for an inspection. The senior NCOs basically told him to sod off back to his office and his paperwork They could cope. The US officer was quite impressed by this. Perhaps it’s different in the US Navy?

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