BLUF Review: The Last Ship, Season 2 Premiere, “Unreal City; Fight the Ship”

Bottom Line Up Front:  Your favorite televised naval porn is BACK, baby!  (Note, if you’re looking for navel porn, sickie, you need to google better.)  The Season 2 premiere of TNT’s The Last Ship kicks off with a bang, wraps up dangling plot lines, and allows us to start the season off fresh.  I liked it a lot.

Short synopsis (with spoilers):  Starting off immediately following last season, CDR Tom Chandler / Cap’n Crunches (Eric Dane) rescues his dad and his kids from the Olympia cure center / charnel house where the evil politico Amy Granderson (a delightfully scenery-chewing Alfre Woodard) is killing off the infected do-nothing, regular folk to make room for her Nazi-esque meritocracy.  Dr. Va-va-va-voom-of-virology, Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra) and Granderson’s Navy daughter try to talk Lady Hitler out of her utopian megalomania while negotiating for lab access to manufacture more of the cure.  Meanwhile, aboard the USS NATHAN JAMES, the Maryland state police under Granderson’s control have taken control of the ship, shot last season’s idiot Quincy, and have the AWESOME XO SLATTERY (WE LOVE YOU, JAYNE!  FIREFLY FOREVER!!!) (Adam Baldwin) under guard.  The crew is rounded up and immediately use their greater knowledge of the destroyer to start retaking control.  The bad guys tear the ship apart to find the primordial strain of the world-ending virus so they will have sole access to the cure, but the ship’s doc hides it within the emergency kit he’s using to save Quincy’s life.

Pops and the CMC watch the kids and deal with a go-nowhere subplot about the young son developing a fever (He has Red Herring-itis, I believe).  Chandler, GUNNO, and Sexy SEAL LT (who actually started to grow on me last year, hackneyed relationship aside) take the power plant where they’ve been burning bodies in order to generate electricity (Soylent Power is PEOPLE!!!) and meet up with the anti-Granderson rebellion.  Quincy kills himself to keep his wife from being used as a pawn and to protect the location of the primordial strain, and the XO is locked in the chart room, which he immediately escapes from using the world’s most obvious escape scuttle.  The XO sets up shop in the . . . ummmmm, Room of Plot Convenience and utilizes a God-like level of system control to help the few free sailors aboard ship slowly take out the police.

Battle ensues aboard ship and ashore.  In the end, minor characters are dead, the cure is safe, Sexy LT Nr. 2’s baby is un-sacrificed, Evil Alfre Woodard commits suicide, Tex is back kickin’ ass and makin’ quips, and the NATHAN JAMES is again under Chandler’s and Slattery’s control.

The Goods:  All the characters you loved from last year are back and the show is not much changed.  If you loved it then, you’ll love it now.  Annoying characters are dead (Bye bye, Quincy!  Farewell to your plot thread and family!)  Everything is reset so we don’t need to worry overmuch about Baltimore tying us down to one location or the action moving entirely ashore.  The action kicks ass and there are some great pyrotechnics.  The US Navy is again granting unfettered access to real destroyers and filming on board well.  Eric Dane, Rhona Mitra, and Adam Baldwin all do great work here.  Sexy Seal LT Nr 1 has a fantastic line when Granderson calls for a status update on the power plant — best line of the episode.  Tex is again my favorite.

The Less Goods:  The villains and hench-persons are entirely too lawful evil.  I get it.  Things were bad before the ship got there.  Were they “no longer care about my humanity” bad?  These cops go Full Nazi awfully damn fast.  Chandler and his kids hardly give a thought to his/their wife/mother, who just up and died a few hours before.  Quincy pulling his own life-plug and squirting copious amounts of blood as he dies looks like a deleted Baron Harkonnen scene from David Lynch’s Dune (I kept giggling throughout, which is probably not what they were going for).  I again shout “Shenanigans!” to the whole concept of burning freshly dead bodies to use as power.  We are bags of wet meat.  If you want to turn me into a Power-log, you’re gonna have to let me dry to a husk first, or else most of your power and efficiency will be lost boiling off my fluids.  In regards to the baby-scare, I’m not sure that’s how vaccines work.  Mom getting vaccinated does not make her baby’s stem cells automatically immune.  The show’s fidelity to the internal layout of the NATHAN JAMES takes a huge dip here, where the movement and sense of place aboard the destroyer becomes completely confusing and arbitrary.  Engineering techno-babble is — AGAIN — complete shit.  I dread any upcoming ep in which our red-headed CHENG is the central character or conflict.  The worst USN-sin, however, is XO Slattery’s internal ship monitoring and control room.  The closest you could get to what he’s doing is in the Engineering Central Control Station or one of the Damage Control Repair Stations (DCRS / Repair Locker), but there ain’t no such space aboard a destroyer where you can monitor all these remote cameras, turn lights on and off, and basically Deus ex Machina his sailors to victory.  But he does get to axe the fat statey in the chest, so I’ll allow it.

In the end, the episodes kick butt, they made me smile a lot, and only cringe a little.  The goods outweigh the less goods, so this gets two thumbs up from me.  Judging from the previews of the season, it looks like more of the same regarding exclusionary/racist/Nazi societies taking hold ashore, but we also get to play with a rogue British nuclear ballistic missile submarine Captain determined to reverse the American Revolution.  Finally!  We can fight the true enemy:  people who add milk to their tea.  Until next time, ta-ta for now!

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!