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 2 – “Welcome to Gitmo” Review

To mis-quote Crocodile Dundee, “That’s not a gun . . . THIS is a GUN!”

5″ / 62 caliber for the WIN!!!

Soooo, yeah, I just watched the second episode of TNT’s The Last Ship, and though I feared a second episode slump might reveal a loss in quality and fidelity from the excellent pilot, I was very pleased instead.

The plot, in brief (SPOILERS!), started where the pilot episode left off, with our duplicitous pa-Ruskie lab assistant, Quincy, talking over a secret sat-phone to his unidentified compatriots, who tell him to delay the USS NATHAN JAMES’ mission on the ground in Guantanamo Bay as long as possible.  That mission is to gather supplies, food, and fuel so dear Dr. Rachel Scott, MD, PhD in SV (Sexy Virology) can synthesize a vaccine for the terrible possibly-weaponized virus infecting the world.  She butts heads with the XO, whereupon XO Slattery butts heads with Captain Tom Chandler.  The Skipper forces a pledge of loyalty out of Jayne — I mean Slattery — and they head to Gitmo for beans, bullets, and bandages.  As they head south from Mayport, we get a little more in depth with the crew.  We check in with our lovebird lieutenants, hear the COMMO warn her people to monitor distress calls, but to ignore them and to remain at EMCON, a prayer group shows off pictures of their missing loved ones, tactical crews train for land clearance ops, and we find out that the fuel they took from the cruise ship last episode is bad, but the Captain said to burn it at flank speed anyway, which gives the XO pause.

NATHAN JAMES reaches Gitmo, and a quick aerial survey reveals that it looks deserted.  The ship moors pierside (a difficult trick without tugs) in order to refuel, and two tactical teams head out to get medical supplies and food.  The teams encounter the dead victims of the virus, but are able to mask-up in time to avoid infection.  The Captain goes all Captain Kirk and embeds with one of the tactical teams, and — sure enough — he is the first to encounter a real live person.  This survivor stops them just in time to avoid a booby-trap, and he reveals that he is the last civilian security operator on the base, and that he and his compatriots had released the last few remaining Al Qaeda prisoners out of compassion, only to find themselves immediately betrayed.  The terrorists killed Tex’s buddies (no shit, that’s his name) and are now waiting to ambush all three teams and then attack the ship pierside. 

Boom, terrorists semi-sneak attack on two fronts.  The refueling team gets shot at first, and the Chief Engineer takes a hit from shrapnel.  Desperate to protect his people and the fuel, XO Slattery goes all WW-II on Al Qaeda and introduces them to a little something called NSFS, Naval Surface Fires Support.  Boom, one round of 5″ high explosive shell ruins the terrorists’ day and refueling is able to recommence.  Then the medical supply team gets pinned down, which is a problem since they are running out of air in the infected building.  The skipper sends some shooters from his team to support them, and he continues with Tex and a few others to the food warehouse.  In the food warehouse, we get firefight number 3, Tex goes all Splinter Cell and takes out a terrorist with a knife, but he is captured and held for hostage.  The lead terrorist Amir demands NATHAN JAMES leave and claims half the food for himself and his five remaining guys.  The CO counters with reason, while at the same time keying his mike and relaying his intentions to the ship through overly elaborate dialog.  The XO gets his drift and drops the hammer one more time, blowing up the SE corner of the warehouse (my GOD, man, think of all those Twinkies!!) with a 5″ shell, and allowing the CO and the tactical team to finish off the war on terror.  It all ends with relationships mended, the ship topped off, new badass comic relief on board (Tex), and with the arrival of a warship of NOT-Brits (they appear to be the Russians hinted at in the beginning).

The Goods:  The naval chatter and use of ship-as-setting still works very well.  Investigation reveals that the NATHAN JAMES is two ships, the USS HALSEY (DDG 97) and USS DEWEY (DDG 105), both of which were built in Pascagoula, MS, where my two destroyers STETHEM and LASSEN were built.  I again appreciate the dedication to realism.  I only saw one obvious hollywood set representing a ship-space, which was the Communications Room, but that is to be expected.  That space is soooper doooper seekrit.  I liked the tactical training on the ship, and the inclusion of more crew doing more things.  A ship is a living thing, with its cells comprised of her crew.  I really liked the prayer/memorial group.  I appreciate them giving more attention to the issues of logistics this week, even if it still seems that they think maneuvering a ship and conducting refueling is as simple as pulling up to Pump Number 7 at the Texaco.  I liked the disagreement between the XO and CO, even if it was a bit cliche, and I like Tex.  I think he’ll add a new perspective and some needed comic relief.  AND I LOVE ME SOME MOTHER FU**ING FIVE INCH GUN ACTION, even if elements of it were problematic.

The Less Goods:  I have a fear that they are laying the groundwork for a trite mutiny storyline, with the XO and CO at loggerheads.  Please don’t.  Second thing, I just don’t give a shit about our two star-crosse LT’s working through the stress of having a relationship aboard ship during an apocalypse.  I’m still dissatisfied by the Captain deciding on his own not to send a team inland last week in order to go to the virology lab the DOD had set up for them.  He made it sound like it would be a 200 mile trek through a wasteland, but you have a HELO, Dude!  You can FLY THERE!!  I hated the Skipper going all Captain Kirk and joining the away team.  I get the dramatic reasons for doing it, but HE DOES NOT train with those tactical teams and he would be a liability.  I understand the dramatic reasoning, and even approve from a story-standpoint, but the CO would not be among the first folks going ashore.  That’s dumb.  Then there’s the whole issue with burning bad fuel at flank speed.  Yeah, you gotta burn what you have available, but these engines are not the reliable old Dodge truck motors you depend upon at the farm.  These are gas turbine jets in a box, which are VERY finicky about their fuel, and you ain’t got the parts support you need.  Chandler should be babying those gas turbines.  And while I appreciated the spreading-of-the-wealth and giving more enlisted folk more screentime, all the major roles are still with the O’s.  Now, if you want a good sympathetic antagonist from which to foment mutiny, having a disillusioned 1st class petty officer or Chief with a good case and reasoning would be a great one.  You know, someone who reasons that the Navy does not exist any more, so why are they following Chandler still? And, finally, while I love me some 5″ action, it’s a lot tougher than pointing at a spot on a map and pushing a button.  Effective NSFS requires spotters and Gun Liaison Officers ashore, correcting your fire.  They did not have that, could not have known where to aim, and the shells are not that accurate, they should have had a couple of misses, and the explosions were more like what you’d get out of a 16 inch shell rather than a five inch one.  Still, it makes for a badass scene-closer.

Next week, USA vs. Russia, surface navy battle!  Tune in and then read about it here!

 

The Last Ship – Pilot Review

Yeah!  Naval Porn!

Hi, all, Tom Mays here, naval surface warfare officer and The Improbable Author of A Sword Into Darkness, the finest space navy awesomeness to be had on the printed page.  For those of you who don’t know me, I have pined for years for a mainstream entertainment that would do for US Navy Surface Warfare what Top Gun did for naval aviation and Crimson Tide and The Hunt For Red October did for the bubble-heads:  kick some ass and show the hoi polloi all that is amazing and cool about the surface navy.  I love me some destroyers, cruisers, frigates, and amphibs, and I would love for the rest of the world to love ’em too.

My hopes have been burned in the past.  I squee a little bit every time I see a destroyer or an amphib featured in a movie or a program, but unfortunately they are always just backdrop.  JAG was a tragedy in both a naval realism sense as well as for basic plot and drama.  Of Battleship, we need not speak.  That movie should be buried alongside all those Atari ET cartridges from the 80’s.  Then I saw the promos for The Last Ship, and I dared to hope once more (even if Michael Bay was the producer and he had already ruined the Transformers).  Would this finally be the program that restored my faith that Hollywood could properly showcase my brother and sister tin-can sailors?

Short answer:  the first signs look pretty darned good.  Longer answer:  I really enjoyed it, it did not offend my naval experience too badly, and I’m looking forward to reviewing future episodes here as well.

The plot, in brief (SPOILERS!), is that a virulent virus has popped up in Egypt that makes Ebola look like the sniffles.  Sexy virologist (is there any other kind?) Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra, who can sample my fluids any day) sees what no one else can, that the virus is unstable and finding a vaccine will require a primordial sample, before it started mutating.  This puts her aboard the USS NATHAN JAMES (DDG 151) (if I was the screenwriter, I’d have to have gone for the USS BACARDI), which will ferry her and her assistant to the arctic, where they will sample the melting permafrost to find the original virus that birds picked up and re-exposed to humanity.  This is all done under the guise of cold-weather weapons testing for a new style of surface-to-surface missile, all to assuage the concerns of studly C.O. CDR Tom Chandler (Eric Dane, women want him, men want to be him . . . or want him too, it’s a new Navy).  After 4 months of fruitless searching, cut off from all contact home, she finally finds what she’s searching for — just in time to be attacked by Russians searching for a cure!  Naval air to surface battle ensues and CDR Sexy, ummmm, Chandler demands to know the truth!  And the truth is that the world is now 80% infected, and Chandler and his crew must deal with broken national governments, desperate armed factions, and the loss of all they know in order to develop a vaccine and safely get it to the surviving population.

The Goods:  whomever procured the use of an actual ARLEIGH BURKE Flight II-A destroyer and acted as the naval technical liaison should be commended.  I did not want to tear my eyeballs out while watching them get everything wrong.  They got a LOT actually RIGHT!  The set is either an actual ship, or a really, really good facsimile.  The bridge and CIC chatter is correct, even to the point of identifying the correct watchstations for conducting certain actions, or the names of the various weapons mounts.  The actors portray the appropriate amount of gravitas, and if they do dip a bit into over-the-top melodrama, it’s ENGAGING melodrama. The plot is swift and hangs together well, and the dialog is pretty good.  They brought up current events in a fairly non-egregious way, everything from global warming (the melting permafrost exposing a primordial virus) and the end of Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell (the female navigator mentions wanting to visit Paris with her girlfriend).  Plus, its best good point:  ADAM BALDWIN is the freakin’ XO, Mike Slattery, even if he was a bit underutilized.

The Less Goods:  Cue the obligatory sexy LT’s bein’ all sexy together.  I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but should secret relationships be the focus of the story, especially when its pretty much the only defining moment for one, if not both characters?  At least it wasn’t the CO or XO.  The pilot is too officer-centric.  Our enlisted outnumber the O’s 10 to 1, and their stories are just as vibrant as those wearing commissioned rank.  Don’t let this be Star Trek, where no one actually does any work below the rank of ensign.  The Russians can’t shoot worth a damn.  The aerial engagement happens WAY TOO CLOSE to the ship.  EMCON doesn’t mean that you can’t receive signals, just that you can’t transit ’em, so they should have known about what was happening in the news, even if they couldn’t call out.  If Dr. Scott was calling off the ship, the folks in a-space-that-I-shall-not-name would have known about it, since they check EMCON compliance. The CO restoring power to the ship down in Engineering is just AWFUL.  I actually winced at the stupid.  They gloss over the XO’s personal loss far too quickly.  I’m hoping they fix that later.  Time, distance, fuel states, and provisions issues are entirely random and glossed over.  A destroyer CANNOT operate independently for 4 months.  They haven’t got the parts, the fuel, or the food.  It would have been a lot more realistic if the doctor had deployed aboard an AO class supply oiler, with the destroyer NATHAN JAMES providing security escort.  The pretty doctor could have done her experiments in a larger, more private area, the destroyer would have all the food and gas she could need, and the Russians would have a ship to sink, which would then necessitate bringing the scientist’s research lab equipment aboard CDR Chandler’s ship (and it would give that first battle a lot more impact).

But, in this case, the Goods really do outweigh the Less Goods.  That was not the case with the Last Resort, the AWFUL navy-ballistic-missile-sub show from last season.  That show had promise, but just dived right into stupid, and didn’t come up after it reached crush depth.  Based on what I’ve seen so far, the Last Ship looks like a good bet for your entertainment hour!