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 7 – “SOS” Review (and other stuff)

You ever had a day just sorta get away from you?  (Note, if you’re only here for the Episode 7 review, feel free to skip a bit, brother, down to the bold.)  I had all sortsa responsible intentions the night this aired, but dang it if “The Strain” didn’t come on right after and get me distracted.  So, fine, I’ll post in the morning.  But then the kids had to be driven to 4H day-camp, and after that, well, you gotta get the lawn mowed.  But that’s all routine, stuff that SHALL NOT STAND in the way of those clambering for my words.

But then this happened.  I was e-mailed out of the blue by a fan of my Daily Science Fiction short story, “The Rememberists” which appeared recently.  And this fan had an unusual request.  They wanted me to write a super short story as part of this grand online scavenger hunt.  Specifically, they needed a published SF author to write an original short story of no more than 140 words that contained the Supernatural actor Misha Collins, the Queen of England, and an elopus (which, naturally, is a hybrid elephant-octopus . . . how do you not know these things?).

Well, that’s just ludicrous.  There’s no way I was gonna play in that sandbox.  I had reviews to write and lawns to mow.

Heh.  So, of course, by the time the lawn was done I had the whole story in my head.  I fat-fingered it into the computer, spent twice as long editing it down to 140 words, then sent it off to accolades and hurrahs galore.  But by the time it was done, I had to leave to host my area writing seminar and there-ya-go, day lost.  Soooo, many apologies for the lateness of this review, and if you wanna see my Misha Collins / Queen Elizabeth / Elopus short story, check back here next week when I’m allowed to post it!

Review

Whew!  Lemme get my breath here.  Building off the acting chops and dramagery of the last “Last Ship” episode, “SOS” had me calling for help at the end.  That was some goooooooood naval fiction, y’all, probably the best “thriller” episode yet.  This one had it all: high stakes, background info, redemption, sacrifice, combat systems scenarios, and a cliffhanger ending.  Lemme tell all-o-youse abouts it.

Plot Summary:  We begin with a flashback to our Russian Typhoid Marty, warning a colleague about the incipient epidemic, but saying he has a radical theory about how to treat it.  His buddy scoffs, until Marty insists he knows it will work because he has already tested it upon himself.  Buddy recoils in horror and flees, whereupon Marty’s wife arrives, coughing cutely, foreshadowing that the virus was not weaponized, but Marty turned himself into an immune patient zero for the altered virus.  And now he is aboard the Russian nuclear cruiser, commanded by Admiral Roznakov/Ruskov (I’ve seen it spelled both ways), which is fully repaired and on the hunt for the NATHAN JAMES

Back in the apocalyptic present, in Radio, our young COMMO freaks out about one particular distress call among the dozens they have been monitoring.  Seems that this girl had been aboard a fishing boat off Puerto Rico, first with 50 people, then 15, and now she is the sole survivor, out of supplies, but not sick even after being surrounded by the infected.  Dr. Hot (sorry) Scott is telling ACTING GOD ERIC DANE / CAPT Tom Chandler that she’s almost outta monkeys.  The virus’ tricky human gene mod has proven resistant to all her attempts at vaccination.  News of a possibly immune girl gives her hope, however.  The Skipper decides he has to risk it, so he calls out as an American fishing boat captain, asking the girl to provide her GPS coordinates.

Of course the Russians hear him and immediately see through the ruse.  They set a matching course and the race is on.

NATHAN JAMES and the Russians both remain over the horizon from one another and the girl’s fishing boat, which puts them about 35 to 70 miles from one another.  NATHAN JAMES takes two RHIBs over, with two tactical teams containing (of COURSE) the CO, Tex, one of our disgraced Petty Officers who tried to jump ship last episode, and the GUNNO.  After an in-depth search, they locate Patrice hiding in a cabin.  Patrice is freaked, but they convince her to go with them, just in time for the Zodiacs from the Russian cruiser to make their appearance.  The CO and Tex take the Russians on, guns blazing, while the other RHIB zig-zags back to NATHAN JAMES with Patrice.  Chandler and Tex take out one Zodiac, while the other makes a break for the fishing boat to see if they can recover anything.  The CO’s RHIB starts heading back to the destroyer, but their boat has been shot up pretty damn well and it sinks rapidly, leaving the pair of them in the ocean all alone.  Tex asks Chandler to call for help or beacon their position, but the Skipper purposely left their personal beacons behind.  As for the radio, he makes one call, telling the DDG to cease all rescue efforts, abandon them at sea, and stick to the mission.

The story splits into three parts, one with the CO and Tex sharing some nice character moments as they futilely swim toward a distant reef, aboard the NATHAN JAMES as XO Slattery (Adam Baldwin RULES!) considers whether to follow the Skipper’s final directive or to disregard it since he is now in command, and finally aboard the Russian cruiser, where Ruskov continues to act like a creepy megalomaniac, threatening Quincy’s wife and kid, as well as his own men.  Everyone is soon enough searching over the horizon for the Skipper and Tex.  NATHAN JAMES uses their helo, the Russians use a UAV (which the Amerikanskis promptly shoot down, comrade), and Dr. Scott discovers that Patrice has a natural immunity to all strains of the virus.

Soon enough, Chandler and Tex get fished out of the ocean, but this is a cliffhanger rather than a happy ending, as he finds himself hoisted aboard Ruskov’s helo, held under gunpoint!  Dun, dun, dunnnnnnnnnn!  What’s gonna happen next week!?

The Goods:  Answers!  The virus was not weaponized.  Instead it was born from the hubris of a benevolent Dr. Frankenstein.  Damn you, Science, and your cautious insistence on following protocols!  Tex is from Reno!  He and Chandler have some great character moments while they float around (kudos to Eric Dane for week number two), and I love the glee the Skipper had as Tex revealed he was all hot for Ms. Rhona Mitra.  I don’t blame you, big guy, I don’t blame you at all.  Ruskov is an unapologetic BAD GUY, and that is campy, but fun.  I like the progression of the plot, even if the situation with Patrice came about was very, very convenient.  Danny (Travis Van Winkle) did a great job this week, and he had a great scene with the XO (Adam Baldwin RULES!).  The aftermath of his relationship with Kara is a hell of a lot more interesting than the relationship itself ever was.  The RHIB on Zodiac battle was some exciting action and a lot of fun, as well as the UAV vs. SM-2 scene.  The challenges of over-the-horizon search and targeting were handled well, even if the details were not quite correct.  I liked that they addressed it as that is how the modern Navy does business.  I appreciated the nod they gave to the challenges of finding someone lost at sea.  And I really like the surprise of the wrong helo picking Chandler and Tex up (though it wasn’t that surprising of a surprise, it was handled well).

The Less Goods:  I asked for more focus on the enlisted side of things.  Pity they could not have found a better story than this one sailor dealing with his rejection after essentially being a selfish, indecisive prick.  Protocols for dealing with infection on this show REALLY need a good reality check.  The CMC and Dr. Scott greet Patrice with absolutely ZERO barriers:  no clean suits, gloves, or masks.  Kiddies, that chick has been living in a virulent disease-ridden environment for a couple of months.  Even if she is immune, she might either be a carrier, or at the very least be contaminated internally and externally with fluids rife with the virus.  That girl needs some extensive decon before she is not a danger to them all.  Then there is the CO’s breaking of EMCON.  He gave a nod to maintaining subterfuge, but he could have done a LOT better.  Mask your voice and accent!  Tell everyone you’re a Panamanian trawler!  Have someone with an accent speak for you!  Next, the XO’s indecisiveness.  I get that he is in charge now, and he has to balance loyalty and honor against the mission, but the character is very wishy-washy about the choice.  This is not a dig on Adam Baldwin, because that guy RULES, but the writing here for the character could be more in keeping with what has been established before.  Helo’s have special maneuvers for providing data to their mothership without giving away where that ship is, so it would have been nice for them to handle that better.  And, though I love having an SM-2 surface to air missile blast away a UAV, energizing the SPY radar is a horrible move if you want to remain unlocated.  It doesn’t matter if it was only up for 30 seconds, that thing is like a beacon and there is no way the Russians could not have counter-targeted them.

So, a GREAT episode with the promise of even more next week.  This is a fine follow-up to the acting high-point of last week and I grow as a fan each episode.  See you next time, and don’t forget to check out “The Rememberists” (it’s only 1000 words).

 

The Last Ship, Episode 6 – “Lockdown” Review

Eric Dane, you magnificent bastard, this episode is all yours and you owned it.  Nice job, Cap’n Crunches!

In what I believe is the second ship-centric episode with the NATHAN JAMES all alone in the big blue, “Lockdown” succeeds in all its major plot and character points, where the previous “bottle” episode “We’ll Get There” failed completely.  A number of threads begun in previous eps come to fruition here, as well as a part of something I had been anticipating for several shows now.

Plot Summary:  (I’m actually on-time this week, so if you are a West Coaster or you live in Hawaii, you may wanna skip this section until it airs in your time-zone)  This episode opens immediately after our boat crew’s return to the destroyer.  They all get decontaminated and have to deal with the issue of their condition after tangling with El Toro in the last episode.  The XO and CMC advise Captain Chandler to keep the details of what happened ashore as they obtained their test-monkeys on a need to know basis.  Ole Tom likes to play it straight, however, so he not only tells the crew about the battle ashore, he tells them about encountering the infected villagers.  And then he goes overconfident and he paints their mission in rosier terms than he needs to, saying that with the monkeys for testing, they are only days away from a working vaccine and they are all headed home!

Of course, reality is somewhat less optimistic.  While Sexy LT 1 (Danny) deals with his relationship to Sexy LT 2 (Kara) and friendly jabs from Tex, and the crew continues to monitor ever-more depressing distress call, Dr. Rachel Scott kills a passel of monkeys as her vaccine strikes out over, and over, and over again.  As she starts to run out of monkeys to test upon, the CO and XO consider that they may have to turn the ship around and return to Nicaragua for more of the little simians, thus violating his promise to the crew, Quincy plants the seeds of doubt and mutiny, telling Petty Officer Bacon (quite truthfully) that the CO is hiding the truth from them and that the vaccine might be a failure.  And into this steadily more intense environment of mistrust and worry comes the titular lockdown, as Danny collapses with fever, bleeding at the mouth.

Everybody freaks, certain that either the dead monkeys have infected them, or the crew carried the virus back despite Dr. Scott’s tests, or something else.  Dr. Scott assures them it is not the superbug, while Doc Rios arrives in full CBR gear, panicking everyone.  Tom Chandler errs on the side of caution and locks down the ship, putting everyone in CBR suits and shutting all the ventilation aboard down, which indicates to Rachel that he does not trust her.  Rios takes Danny’s blood for testing, and Kara arrives in the crew lounge with Danny, despite the lockdown.  Rumors abound, but it turns out that Danny only has dengue fever — which is bad, but not super-virus bad and not a danger to the crew.  Rachel goes back to testing, pissed at the skipper, the crew starts fracturing, and Chandler bitches out Kara.

The final straw is when 16 sailors — spurred on by Quincy — request to be released from the ship since their enlistments are technically up.  Should they let them go, or stop-loss them and keep them aboard against their wishes?  Chandler then has to face up to his decision-making over the last few days.  They gather the whole crew on the flight deck and he comes clean.  The skipper admits to screwing up, that he was wrong about the viral-testing process, wrong to get their hopes up, wrong to doubt Dr. Scott, etc., but he stresses that they still have the same mission and the crew deserves to know the true stakes and circumstances, even if it is not the news they’d like to hear.  He allows them to listen to some of the distress calls, then even lets the whole crew see the virology lab and hear about the painstakingly drawn-out process of vaccine testing that Dr. Scott has to go through.  Chandler also addresses the enlistment concerns, saying if those 16 want to leave, he won’t stop them, but he won’t ferry them home either.  If they want to leave, they have to leave the next day on one of the RHIBs.  Instead, all 16 re-enlist.  It ends with Danny on the mend, Kara standing extra watches for violating the lockdown, and Quincy losing his chess set for trying to incite mutiny.

The Goods:  Eric Dane, that’s some damn-fine acting.  Kudos.  The skipper is shown to be flawed, but he perseveres and actually turns his mistakes into strengths.  They stay the hell out of engineering (thank you).  They made the Sexy LTs bein’ all sexy together sub-plot semi-palatable and both LTs are shown to be high-schoolish idiots who deserve extra watches for the tediousness of their relationship.  They almost killed off Danny, which is not quite as good as killing off both Sexy LTs in a horrifying shark-jumping accident, but it’s better than nuthin’.  The plot also shows their mission somewhat losing ground, which is a nice dose of reality.  Science takes its time and takes a toll on everyone’s hopes and patience.  Use of Circle William as a Damage Control setting.  Here’s a big one:  enlisted personnel show up in this one and even get lines.  If there were a Bechdel test for enlisted personnel in a Navy show, it probably still wouldn’t pass, however, since all their conversations are directly about officers.  I loved the NO-SECRETS reveal of the lab and Dr. Scott’s talk.  And my favorite bit, other than Eric Dane this week, the show accurately portrayed the only documented phenomenon to move faster than the speed of light in a vacuum:  the velocity of a rumor aboard ship.  Crazy shit spreads through there like the world’s fastest and most error-prone game of “Telephone” ever devised.

The Less Goods:  I think the actors portraying Danny and Kara are very pretty and talented at their craft, but their star-crossed tale still blows and brings the show down.  I foresee them getting back together STRONGER THAN EVAR after this.  If only dengue fever was communicable through stolen kisses, this shit would finally be over.  The show had some enlisted participation, but they essentially portrayed the panicked villagers in a Frankenstein movie, ready to burn down the castle and kill the monster they feared, only calming down when a wise officer counseled them.  Are there panicky, selfish sailors?  Of course, and that bottom 10% of your crew does indeed take up about 90% of your time with bullshit, but I would have loved to have seen a counterpoint to the 16 guys that wanted to abandon ship, some lower-ranked voice of reason telling them that they were being selfish, full of crap, and cowards about duty.  Also, I felt it was cheap when Bacon was so easily swayed by Quincy’s lies and twisted half-truths.  I know Bacon was freaked out by the rumor-mill, but he HAD TO KNOW Quincy was full of shite.  Final Less-Good:  not enough Adam Baldwin awesomeness.

Again, a win for the series, and a particularly good one for the whole cast, especially Eric Dane.  Thank you, Last Ship!

 

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.

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