The Last Ship, Season One – Review and Contest

So, have you felt it yet?  Do you feel it right now?  The sense that something is missing from your weekly routine, a little bit of awesome, apocalyptic, well-acted, largely accurate and respectful naval porn?

Well, I’ve been feeling it.  After a season that was either exactly as long as it needed to be (without all the fluff or pointless episodes that British series avoid with their shorter seasons, but which are endemic to American 22-24 episode seasons) or way, way too short (c’mon, you know you wanted more, as long as its the right kind of more), The Last Ship has left us.  How was the inaugural season?  Where did it soar and where did it fail?  And what’s in it for you if you care either way?

Read on!

Characters:  The Goods:  I gotta hand it to the two primary stars, Eric Dane and Rhona Mitra.  Cap’n Crunches and our Doctor Va-va-va-voom-virology were very well played, carrying considerable gravitas as well as being very easy on the eyes.  I was totally unfamiliar with Eric Dane prior to this (not a big Gray’s Anatomy watcher), but I had seen Ms. Mitra in a number of films prior to this, and was already a fan.  I think she rather classed up the whole affair.  Eric Dane played Captain Chandler as a man I’d want to follow, making him decisive, strong, and still caring for his crew.  Between the writers and his performance, we got ourselves a high quality CO.  And he did righteous anger very well. That being said, the Tom Chandler role could have been slightly more nuanced.  We did have scenes of vulnerability and doubt, but he seemed a little too good to be true sometimes, all lantern-jawed hero and never the bereft father and husband, or the CO far out of his depth having a moment of frustrated weakness where he explodes on a subordinate that simply didn’t deserve it.  But that’s a minor point.  As for Rhona, she played Dr. Rachel Scott as strong, fierce, intelligent, (a little haughty perhaps), and with both a sense of pride warring with frustration at having been doubted by her community.  I really, really appreciated that she never struck me as Denise Richards playing Dr. Christmas Jones in that excreble James Bond flick.  I believed and appreciated Rhona Mitra in her role (and she can still be my Doc anytime).

In regards to highpoints among our supporting cast, both in terms of writing and performance, my favorite was Tex (John Pyper-Ferguson), followed closely by everyone’s favorite XO, CDR Mike Slattery (Adam Baldwin).  Tex was just a joy to watch, providing some much needed comic relief while also being a badass.  Plus he had some moments of depth, vulnerability, and sorrow, especially as he began to realize his love would remain unrequited.  As for Jayne/Casey/XO Slattery, the great Adam Baldwin, I love that dude.  He played this role with much less humor and a great deal more doubt and uncertainty than I’m used to seeing from him in roles, but that was definitely the right tone to take here.  In fact, I could have done well with a lot more conflict and friction between him and Chandler.  There were moments, but they were always fleeting.  I also wish, like with Chandler, that they would have seemed more affected by the apocalypse going on around them.  Still, whether he was shooting terrorists with a 5 inch gun, or overriding his CO and continuing to look for him against orders, you knew that Slattery (the ex Chicago detective????) was the guy you wanted in your corner.

Lastly, I have to give props to our villains, Alfre Woodard, Ravil Isyanov, and Jose Zuniga.  They were all played well, with the only unfortunate point being that there was no over-arching villain as a Big Bad for the season, and they never had enough screen time.

The Less Goods:  First of all, there were no bad performances here.  That’s why this is “Less Good” than “Bad”.  But there were some roles that — whether due to their writing or the way they were played — they just bugged me and did not contribute as much as I might hope in a perfect show.  First of these is the CMC, Master Chief Jeter, played by the very good Charles Parnell.  The CMC just seemed to be too much of a saint, but instead of Jesus, he put his faith in Tom Chandler.  That’s just a bit over the top, and unlike any CMC I’ve ever met.  It got a little old, and frankly I thought it was building to a good death for him during the episode where he volunteered to have the vaccine tested upon him.  Then there is Quincy (Sam Spruell), who was just a whiney, badly manipulative, weak weasel.  As a villain he was lame.  As a protagonist, he was creepy.  Maybe that’s exactly what they wanted from him, but I just didn’t see Rachel Scott putting her faith in him.  And then we have our main points of ire:  our Two Sexy Lieutenants Being All Sexy Together.  Danny Green (Travis Van Winkle) and Kara Foster (Marissa Neitling) got better as the series went on, mostly because they were separated from one another, but every “relationship” moment was like nails on a chalkboard.  Were these characters designed to mark off some screenwriting checklist block requiring a romance?  When they were doing their jobs, they were perfectly acceptable.  When they interacted or fought or made-up, though, it was full of suck.  Sorry, guys.

Lastly, I’ll repeat a plea I made several times before:  Where are all the goddamn enlisted roles.  The USS NATHAN JAMES is an officer-fest, and that’s not good.  They make up only about 10% of the crew, but they make up 99% of your speaking roles.  There are stories to be told there, stories that will echo with your audience, and not just the one or two shoehorned in weak roles you did have for them.  I fully expected to have a strong antagonist among the crew for Captain Chandler, someone who realizes with the demise of the US and the Navy, they didn’t have to follow Chandler’s orders any more.  Is a mutiny story aboard a ship a trite cliche?  It can be, but it was still a chance to bring conflict and realism and more enlisted participation into the story.  We had weak officer counseling!  So where were the 10% of the crew that end up taking up 90% of your time?  Where were the fistfights and/or suicides among a crew under the stress of the end of the world?  Why was there never a fragging incident or a CO’s Mast that busted down an undisciplined crewman?  And not to be negative entirely, where were the scenes of a crewman showing up an officer, of an enlisted person being selfless, or inventive, amazing Chandler and earning his respect and gratitude?  Because that stuff, good and bad, is what happens aboard ship every single day.  But all we got was a chess-playing cook and a gunner’s mate that wanted to time out of service during an emergency.  Kinda weak sauce, writers. 

Wow, looking back at a lot of that last paragraph, there’s also a lot of points which apply equally to plot so . . . .

Plot:  The Goods and Less Goods:  The Last Ship deviates significantly from the novel of the same name, and that is to its benefit, as that source novel is quite dated and involved the hopeless situation of a nuclear war vice the threat of a viral apocalypse which allows for the crew to positively affect things.  We have all the big stakes here:  global apocalypse, a small crew on one ship against the world, pandemic, lost loved ones, a last desperate chance at a hopeful conclusion, external attacks, action, explosions, and conflict, conflict, conflict!  If the story had ever paused, or had an episode to spare, I’d suggest they could have added a decompression episode, a Sunday at sea or a Crossing the Line ceremony to show the crew letting loose a little and having some nice character moments, but maybe next season.  Like I said before, the episodes and the season were very tightly written with no extraneous eps (except for one . . . ).  The setup in the pilot was PERFECT, the conclusion was DAMN GOOD, and they kept the tension well-ratcheted for the most part, resulting in some middle-of-the-season eps that were equally amazing.  I had my favorites, as I’m sure you do, which is the gist of the contest I mentioned earlier, and more on that later. 

Were there things I would have changed?  Of course!  Continuing with what I mentioned in Character above, the show could have benefitted from a Big Bad to carry through the season instead of episodes where sometimes the only antagonist was bad fortune and there situation.  Now, many of these episodes were necessary, but if we could have had a hint of an overarching Antagonist as well, I’d have done it.  Maybe introduce Alfre Woodard earlier, make her their cheerleader at home, so when she turns out to be L’il Miss Hitler, it’s even more jarring.  Maybe give Roskov a scene or two in more episodes, even if the Russians were nowhere near the main action.  I’d also have had more incidents of desperation or interactions with other vessels, where the crew as a whole was forced to confront the deadly realities of the disease, though the episodes where that did occur were much appreciated.

Only one episode actively pissed me off, and I think you’ll know it if you’ve been reading these.  That one ep exemplified all my fears of a Navy TV show, mostly because that was the one time the writers and consultants truly failed in terms of Naval Realism.

Naval Realism:  The Goods:  They actually filmed about 85% of the series on actual US Navy destroyers, and that setting shined through.  The tech jargon was spot on for the most part.  All the pieces and parts were there and they were properly used, properly manned, and properly referred to.  This was a very respectfully crafted show, and almost reaches the high point of Naval Porn (which I consider a term of endearment).  This show (I hope) will be a good recruiting tool for the Surface Navy (which is my Navy).  I usually had a happy smile on my face while watching this show. so Thank You for almost getting everything right.

The Less Goods:  A lot of the plot tropes they used had Captain Chandler (and the XO and CMC) in the center of the action, which is ludicrous.  The Skipper doesn’t get to go on many, if any tactical away missions.  They also gave the NATHAN JAMES superpowers, allowing her to shrug off missiles, rockets, and bullets without damage, to operate over the span of entire oceans without fueling or provisioning, to hack into satellites and facilities with impunity, and to stash her helicopter in a third hangar that simply doesn’t exist.  But all of that is allowable when compared to the season’s only true stinker episode, Episode 4:  “We’ll Get There” (But you’ll probably give yourself a lobotomy before you do, so you can stand all the STUPID).  I won’t rehash it here, but I AM TOTALLY FINE IF THEY COMPLETELY RETCON HOW THE SHIP WORKS during the next engineering-centric episode, or, alternatively, if THEY NEVER AGAIN HAVE AN ENGINEERING-CENTRIC EPISODE.

A reminder, cast, crew, producers, and writers:  I’m available as a consultant, and I work CHEAP.

Contest:  So, that’s it.  I LOVED the first season of The Last Ship and can’t wait to see how the plot develops and the characters grow next season.  I can only hope they keep with the show’s central conceipt and STAY ON THE DAMN SHIP, instead of becoming a knock-off of Jericho or The Walking Dead, fighting the apocalypse upon land, with only passing references to the NATHAN JAMES.  And I want to thank you all for sticking it out and reading my reviews.  I’ve never enjoyed such high traffic on my blog before.

As a way of thanking you, since I don’t have any Last Ship  swag, I do have some sci-fi navy fun to offer.  Here’s how it goes:  Out of the season’s ten episodes, which were the best?  Give me your top 5, in order, on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, in the comments below, or via e-mail.  The first person(s) to match my list (or get closest) will win a free copy of my military sci-fi novel A Sword Into Darkness, in either e-book, trade paperbook, or audiobook (your choice)!

So, what are your top 5 episodes and why!?  Enter early and play often!  And THANK YOU ALL AGAIN.

Audible ASID – For FREE!!!

I may have mentioned it before, but I really, really, REALLY love the story I told in A Sword Into Darkness.  I get it, I’m biased, but I really did try to write the best story I could, mixing all the elements of science fiction I love together, while also offering up an homage to my favorites of the genre.  What resulted is a story that is both classic, fun, and makes you think, presenting some new twists on an old idea, a melange that is more than the sum of its parts (that’s not just me saying that, by the way).

And while I do love my book, I never experienced it fresh as a new reader until I heard Liam Owen’s narration of it, produced by Sci-Fi Publishing.  The audiobook of ASID simply MUST BE EXPERIENCED.  I adore this amazing thing, this amalgamation of my thoughts and another’s voice.  As I said in a previous post, whether you are new to the story or you enjoyed it in print already, you will love the audiobook of it all over again.  And it was so effortless enjoying it that way, I’ve been turned on to audiobooks from a number of authors and producers, enjoying them while I work, work out, or commute.

Here’s the offer, though:  Audible gave me 25 free copies of the A Sword Into Darkness audiobook, and I’m not sure who to give them out to.  I’ll be offering some up as prizes in a contest soon, but if you are a reviewer and you’d like to experience (or re-experience) ASID, drop me a line in the comments, on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or via e-mail.  All I’d like in return is a listen and a fair shake on your review which you would then share with others.

And if you are not a reviewer, but you’d still like some audible ASID-y goodness for free, you can always start your 30-day free trial of Audible.com and get that puppy for gratis, nothing, nada, zip, ∞ times the value of what you paid. 

Links to my new ASID Gallery page can also be found at the toolbar to the right, or here.  Take care, all.

The Last Ship, Episode 10 – “No Place Like Home” Review

Noooooooooooooooooooo!

It’s over.  The season is done and DONE DAMN WELL.  How did it go out?  What bodes for the next season?  How will I ever carry on till next year?!?

Too much with that last one?  Yeah, probably.  I’ll survive and so will you (if only so we can see how this all pans out).  On to the review!

Episode Summary:  Ashore, we see that Tom Chandler’s family is all sick with the Red Flu, and Poppa Chandler decides its high time they got outta there and found some help, especially for his daughter-in-law who is the most advanced with the disease.  Aboard the NATHAN JAMES, it’s muster-for-vaccine time, and everyone is getting the shot.  We catch up with several members of the crew, the CO and Dr. Rachel Scott share a moment of victory, with Rachel sticking it to Tom (not the other way around, get your minds out of the gutter, ‘shippers).  The CMC and the XO muster key crew members and tell them that they’ll be closing the coast en route to Fort Detrick and USAMRIID (the military version of the CDC), and they’ll be close enough to shore, that they may pick up cell signals and be able to call home.

The ship closes Norfolk, and the crew tries to get calls, but no joy.  In CIC, they are trying to raise the Army on the radio, but no joy.  The folks in SSES hijack a Keyhole spy satellite from the Air Force and get shots of Fort Detrick, where they find that USAMRIID, and ONLY USAMRIID has been destroyed.  Unsure what to do next, things look bleak, but the COMMO detects a signal from Baltimore, updating daily, that actually invites the NATHAN JAMES to contact them in order to work on the vaccine if they show up.  The captain calls up the folks that sent the message and it turns out to be Mrs. Granderson, the Navigator’s mom (played WONDERFULLY by Alfre Woodard), who was some sort of high mucketymuck in the President’s security council, but she survived the demise of the government, and has partnered with the Baltimore and Maryland Police to restore order.  She invites them all to Baltimore and Chandler accepts.  Meanwhile, Quincy is having a very strained re-unification with his wife, and Tom’s Dad has forced his way into the Baltimore quarantine zone, past a bunch of warlords.

The ship reaches Baltimore and they are greeted by official police and Mrs. Granderson, unaware that they were almost assassinated by rival warlords that REALLY don’t like her much.  She takes an official party ashore consisting of Tom, NAV, GUNNO, the CMC, and Sexy LT 1 (though he’s earned his respect from me now, so let’s just call him Danny from now on), and a few security bubbas.  Granderson drives them past streets filled with the dying and the starving and into a cordoned off office block in the city, where things are near-pristine.  She shows off the utopia they are managing there, with working power, schools, and a whole brand-spanking-new virology lab where Rachel can mass produce the vaccine.  Tom is very appreciative, but he really wants to get started on trying to find his family.  Granderson encourages him to go, she catches up with her daughter, and Rachel is in 7th heaven.  Tex feels rejected, so he takes off, but not without giving Rachel a goodbye kiss to end all goodbye kisses.  Aboard ship, the police form up and start getting vaccinated.  Ashore, the warlords are desperate to get control of the vaccine and keep it out of Granderson’s hands.

Tom eventually reaches his dad on the radio, and they head out to rendezvous out in sick-town.  SPOILERS ABOUND FROM HERE ON OUT, so proceed with caution.  Tom and his team, with civilian security escorts, reach the spot where his dad said his family was, but they have apparently gone on to Olympia, the sports complex where the sick go for treatment.  He wants to go, but the civilians say he can’t, despite the fact that they are all vaccinated and immune now.  This devolves into a Mexican standoff that ends with Navy on their feet and the Baltimore PD minders all dead.  Granderson gets this news and starts acting a lot more sinister.  Rachel discovers that the treatment the Baltimore team has been using to slow the spread of the disease is nothing of the sort.  Instead, it is a death sentence.  She confronts Granderson, and we discover that the NAV’s mom is actually taking a page out of Hitler’s playbook and doing a little multi-ethnic cleansing in order to support her little meritocracy.  The warlords are revealed to be the sane ones, who only want to uphold the Constitution.  And the police left on NATHAN JAMES get the drop on the XO and proceed to take over the ship, since they are the only ones carrying pistols (which they use on poor Quincy).  And at Olympia, Tom finds his family and gives them their vaccines, but it is too late for his wife.  They get out of there, but the Skipper also finds out that Granderson is purposefully killing the infected and using their bodies as fuel in the power plant.  The End.  Cliffhanger!

The Goods:  This episode expanded the plot tremendously, just as I hoped with the episode before last.  The dangling plots are wrapped up, and we were given a humdinger of a cliffhanger.  Alfre Woodard is GREAT.  She underplays megalomania and the cleansing of undesirables well.  She was a very pleasant surprise here.  Eric Dane, Tex, Rhona Mitra, and Adam Baldwin all have some great moments here, but Eric Dane and Rhona Mitra get the meatiest written roles for the recurring characters.  Ms. Woodard does outshine them, however, but through no fault of their own.  I loved Tex confiding in Admiral Halsey (the dog).  I loved his arc here, where he’s going off to be Mad Max because Rachel didn’t love him back.  I also liked the dawning pangs of jealousy and regret on Rachel’s behalf.  The ‘shippers will be delighted with Tom’s wife being dead, but I felt sorry for her somewhat thankless role here.  I liked Tom’s Dad and his drive to get his family to safety.  I liked the nod to dwindling fuel resources and the need to ground their UAV and helo.   I love (and hate) the cliffhanger.  BUT MOST OF ALL, I love the last act switcheroo and really really appreciate the advertising and teasers that completely hid the resulting surprise.  Was my mind blown by the turnaround?  No, there were plenty of hints before all was revealed, but it did surprise me sufficiently, it hangs together well, and it gives Alfre Woodard a chance to be the bad guy for once.

The Less Goods:  Why is everyone queuing up on the forecastle to get vaccinated?  Shit’s WINDY up there.  Also, I was unaware a DDG’s SSES could hack into an Air Force spy satellite in order to get free spy pics (free cable and ESPN, yes . . . useful intel, no).  I have a real problem with the chubby police LT getting the drop on the XO and the whole ship.  I’m uncertain they would be allowed to roam around armed without escort, though complacency does happen, especially at home and with reasonable authority figures.  I’m wondering about Granderson’s philosophy and would like it to be better defined.  I wish the ship had been a little more central to the plot this time.  I haven’t seen the ship FIGHT in several eps now, and this is the only decent naval porn I’ve ever gotten in the modern era.  One continuous issue again bugs me, which I’ll mention here:  all speaking roles with any weight go to the officers and the CMC.  Where is the enlisted love?  Lastly, how good a fuel does a human body make?  A dried, dessicated corpse, sure, but we are wet bags of meat and juice.  Does that burn sufficiently well?  It’s not a concept I’m keen to look into, as it conjures images of the Holocaust, but the scientist in me does wonder.

So, that’s it for season 1.  The goods definitely outweigh the bads, and we are left with a fine close for the season.  Tune back here in a couple of days for a contest and a discussion on your favorite characters, moments, and episodes!  I can’t wait for season 2!

The Last Ship, Episode 9 – “Trials” Review

Here it is — the penultimate episode of the inaugural season of television’s best semi-post-apocalyptic near-future naval science fiction!  How does it measure up with the rest of the season?  How well does it set up the season finale?  Does it commit egregious sins of engineering?  Does it kick ass!?!?

Ha, ha, hee, hee — READ ON, DEAR READER!

Plot Summary:  We start off with the latest episode of The Walking Dead, ummm, sorry (I get confused).  We actually start off in the woods with Tom Chandler’s pop, dragging a freshly shot buck toward a mobile home.  He’s bein’ a good neighbor, trying to share his bounty with the folks down the road, but they inform him that they have the “Red Flu”.  He leaves the deer in order to give them at least a shot and returns home to his cabin with Tom’s wife and girls.  She’s been out foraging, which he warns her to be careful with.  It ain’t Disneyland out there anymore.

Aboard the USS NATHAN JAMES, it is a time of reflection and change.  Physician-of-my-dreams Dr. Rachel Scott is converting her lab over to a testing ward for human trials of her vaccine, of which there has been one positive subject, her Central American monkey.  Meanwhile, we say goodbye to our young sailor killed last episode.  Post funeral, the Skipper vows not to lose another one (proving you shouldn’t give orders you know won’t be obeyed or make promises you know you can’t keep), therefore he intends to volunteer as one of the six subjects of the vaccine trial.  The XO (Adam Baldwin RULES!) shuts him down FAST and HARD, reminding him that they just saved his sorry ass.  But someone from Command needs to go into the trial, so the CMC informs them both that he’s already approved to go.

Hmmmm, one black guy in a medical horror episode, and who already has a demeanor of Christian martyrdom?  I wonder who’s going to be our first sacrificial pathos-building death today?

The six volunteers are the CMC, the CHENG, Kara (Sexy LT 2), Petty Officer Miller (our ginger wallflower from the tactical teams), Petty Officer Maya Gibson (the chick pining for her boyfriend during the candlelight vigil in episode 2), and TEX!  Tex keeps the jokes coming and they all nervously laugh their way through receiving the vaccine (which consists of two parts: a decoy to protect the body from infection, and another component that builds antibodies), and then the virulent virus itself.  At first everything is hunky-dory, and we get a bunch of nice character growth moments for all these characters about to die.

Ashore, Tom’s wife is raiding a Radio Shack for supplies and shortwave radio parts.  But she hears an encounter outside between an infectee and a ruthless survival type, which ends abruptly and messily for the infectee.  Tom’s wife skeedaddles, not noticing that she was hiding out right next to a recently dead infectee.

In the trial, the Skipper and XO can only look on in impotent horror as things begin to go bad.  Fevers, rashes, delirium, hemorrhages, convulsions, etc.  All bad, but also not symptoms associated with the Red Flu, and nothing the monkey ever experienced.  Kara almost dies convulsing from fever and an important detail is revealed that has a huge impact on Danny (Sexy LT 1).  Tex reveals the raw emotion he feels for Dr. Scott, free of any joking.  And Maya dies, breaking Miller’s delirious heart.  Chandler has Slattery invite all the crew down to say their goodbyes, since none of these poor bastards are gonna make it.  He says his goodbyes to the CMC.  Meanwhile, Rachel and Quincy are throwing everything against the wall, to see what might stick.  They practically drain poor Patrice of her blood plasma, hoping it will stabilize things, but no joy.  Then Rachel has a medical techno-babble epiphany.  The symptoms are not of infection, but of an auto-immune response!  The human gene our Typhoid Marty added to the original virus means this foreign human DNA is spreading through-out their bodies, and they are thus rejecting their own flesh.  The vaccine has indeed suppressed the virus, but the piggyback DNA was doing itwn level-best to kill them anyway.  Rachel mixes the primordial strain in with the vaccine, and BANG/ZOOM, it works!  Everyone immediately improves, withe the Sexy LTs bein’ all sexy together appearing to be an item again, Tex telling more jokes, the CMC (almost) dying for our sins (wait just a minute there, Tommy Boy), and the CHENG proving to be a workaholic.  Rachel and Tom Chandler hug (giving more material for the slash fan fiction written after last week’s kiss) and she announces that this is both a vaccine for the uninfected and a cure for the infected!

Ashore, Tom’s wife fixes her family a meal with her own two hands, then begins to feel the effects of the virus.

Dun, dunn, dunnnnnnnnnnnnn!  Dramatic cliff-hanging ending, y’all!

The Goods:  This episode belongs to Rhona Mitra and our character-and-cast “B” team.  It took 9 episodes, but I finally didn’t want to tear my eyes out while spending time with our happy, Sexy LTs.  I reserve the right to hate on Danny and Kara later, but this time they owned their roles and felt like necessary characters.  Burial at Sea!  Yeah, it’s awful, but it’s also a fascinating, exciting, and (thankfully) rare event.  We got off the ship and foreshadowed the events to come (Walking Dead meets The Last Ship), and we see a glimpse of some post-apocalyptic action.  I’m predicting next season will be all about either their efforts ashore, or them ferrying the vaccine worldwide.  No engineering sins today, which I worried about last week, since we spend so much time with the CHENG.  Tex is great, as always, and Quincy and Chandler have a necessary scene about moving forward.  The XO appears to be a Rachel-convert, which is great growth for that character.  I appreciate that my expectations were upset, in that the CMC did not perish!  And I love that they really do have a vaccine and treatment for the virus.  This show makes progress, and we aren’t treading water through the same episode and situation over and over again.

The Less Goods:  Cap’n Crunches and our WARFIGHTER XO largely get sidelined here.  I get it, but i miss those magnificent bastards.  Nothing exploded (which is always lame).  Not enough detail about the goings-on in the outside world.  I need more than a tease, please, but maybe next week.  Too much virology techno-babble, and I have no way of judging if it was nonsensical or not.  Why are dead bodies so uber-infectious?  They aren’t breathing any more in order to spread the virus, so what is it about them that kicks the virus into high gear?  Maya should have worn a red shirt, the poor gal.  She pretty much only had time to remind us of her dead boyfriend, and we knew she was doomed.  Everyone keeps talking about the distance to the CDC, but they also keep forgetting they have a whole helo in one of the hangars, which could, I dunno, maybe  FLY THEM TO THE BEST LAB in the nation.

Soooo, a well-accomplished, necessary story-line. without all the usual fun explosions and stand-offs, but totally enjoyable nonetheless, and congrats to Rhona Mitra for giving me my favorite episode of yours yet.  And I believe this set up next week with perfection.

Vaccines! Cures! Battles ashore!  Family reconciliations!  All this can be yours next week in the season’s ULTIMATE conclusion.  Catch up with you then!!

The Last Ship, Episode 8 – “Two Sailors Walk Into A Bar . . . .” Review

First of all, just to get it out there, that joke was terrible.  But the episode was damn fun!

This one was firing on all cylinders, implausible but fun.  We got answers, we got XO Slattery as a tactical god, we got confrontations and gunfights, ‘splosions galore, and the tidying up of a number of plot points.  Good job, Last Ship, good job.

Plot Summary:  Carried over from last week, CAPT Chandler and Tex are brought aboard the Russian cruiser.  Tex gets batted around and Tom protests, whereupon he is told that he doesn’t give orders there.  Chandler gets taken to Admiral Ruskov’s dining room, where he meets Quincy’s wife and kid.  He’s cool with the kid, reassuring her that her daddy loves her, and then playing stone-faced to Ruskov’s threats, sticking to name, rank, and serial number despite a final offer by Ruskov to go into business together, selling the vaccine to the highest bidder.  Chandler gets thrown into the brig in the same cell as a beaten Tex, under the watchful eye of one guard armed only with broken english.

Aboard the NATHAN JAMES, XO Slattery answers the HF radio when Ruskov calls.  He seems almost shocked into inaction, trying to answer whether or not he will trade Dr. Scott and her research for the Captain and Tex.  But he is deep planner nonetheless, using the extended time on the radio to better pinpoint the bearing to the Russian cruiser.  Down below, Dr. Scott has made a breakthrough and developed a working vaccine with Patrice’s DNA.  While the XO and the tactical staff try to come up with some way of getting the skipper and Tex back, Rachel busts into CIC with the offer of giving herself up.  They have the vaccine now, so Quincy and Rios can carry it the rest of the way, while Ruskov will get what he’s asking for and they get their people back.  Everyone wins (except one Rachel Scott). XO Slattery is a never say die sort, however (Adam Baldwin RULES!).  Rachel is to be a decoy and distraction while they sneak aboard to stage an escape.

She gets boated, and then helo’d onto the cruiser, where they frisk her and remove her life jacket, unaware it has a hidden beacon aboard to guide in the US tactical team.  She is taken before Ruskov and she demands to see the Skipper and Tex.  As soon as she sees Chandler, she rushes up and gives him a big, open-mouthed kiss, all to Tex’s dismay.  Ruskov chuckles and sends the boys back down below, while she takes Rachel to see Typhoid Marty and test the vaccine.  She quickly realizes that Marty is an immune carrier and the source of the human gene mod to the virus.  He gets weaselly and demands that she share the vaccine’s credit with him.  That pisses her off and she brings down Ruskov, who arrives angry at Marty for leading him on so long.  Then Ruskov goes full bad-guy and has Rachel vaccinate one of his own men, then exposes him to Marty.

In their cell, Tex is having an existential crisis due to Rachel’s kiss with Chandler, but Tom reveals that she passed an exacto razor blade and a note telling them the assault would begin at 0400.  At the designated time, Chandler calls the guard over to let him go to the head, whereupon he and Tex grab the guy, slit his throat, and escape.  They go through the ship, knocking off sleepy Russians and gathering weapons.  The tactical team has also snuck aboard, and they’ve killed a bunch of engineers and have rigged the non-nuclear half of the steam plant to blow.  They hook up with Chandler and Tex, who proceed to go find Rachel.  She’s still in the cruiser’s makeshift virology lab, waiting for either her patient to live or die.  But the Russians have realized that Chandler and Tex have escaped, so they go for her.  She pulls a .45 she had secreted away and kills the officer sent to fetch her, just before the tactical team comes in and rescue her. We finish with a running gun battle, triggered explosions going off all over the ship.  Chandler makes it a point to rescue Quincy’s family and they all get off before the Russian missiles explode within their tubes.  During the firefight, the ostracized enlisted man from last week proves himself, but gets shot and dies.  They all make it back to the ship, fade to black.

The Goods:  Ruskov calls Chandler out on his egotastic propensity to go on tactical missions when he should have his men lead.  XO Slattery being all crafty and planning out the perfect op to take out the superior Russian cruiser from within (Adam Baldwin RULES!).  The kiss, and Tex’s reaction to it, both at the time and later.  Ruskov (I hope he survived . . . .).  Guns!  Explosions!  USA, USA!!  Quincy getting reunited with his family and the surely awkward conversation that followed immediately after when his ass was placed back in custody.  Rachel Scott kickin’ ass, and shooting first, silencer or no silencer.  And the bittersweet ending, with our ostracized crewmember proving himself in the end, then getting killed.  The lack of any hint of engineering detail (except CONAS) and the COMPLETE lack of any sexy LT 1 & 2 nonsense.  This episode was not emotionally deep like episode 6, but it kicked the most ass since episode 2.

The Less Goods:  Having a WW-II battleship stand in for a modern Russian battlecruiser.  Guys, I get that you need a ship to film on, but did you have to include a tracking shot that CLEARLY includes turrets of triple 16″ guns.  Were you aware there is an ACTUAL Russian frigate up in the Fall River, MA naval museum?  I realize it is smallish, but you can’t get more accurate than the real thing!  Having everyone escape from said battleship while it is CLEARLY still moored to something.  The mechanics of the vaccine test, in that I’m pretty sure you can’t be exposed to both the vaccine AND the deadly virus near simultaneously and have a reasonable expectation of immunity.  And while I appreciate XO Slattery being more decisive this week than last, I wish he’d been MORE deadly and take-charge.  Adam Baldwing HAS the acting chops.  Release the BADASS!  I don’t hold it against him.  It’s the way the character is written and he is portrayed fine, but he could be SO MUCH MORE!  Moving on, the Russians have no waterside security, no radar, no lookouts, and can’t shoot worth a damn.  How did they get to be a super-power, again?  The gunbattle is  fun, but WAY too un-realistic.  Not enough character interaction in this ep, but that’s okay.  This sort of thing is all about the spectacle, and of that, this one has LOADS.

Now, with so many things wrapped up, I’m thinking the last two eps this season have GOT to turn everything topsy-turvy . . . AND I CAN’T WAIT!

 

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 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.

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