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.”