BLUF Review: The Last Ship, Season 2 Episode 4, “Solace”

Bottom Line Up Front:  KICKASS!  Miffed about the lack of action and new plot development last week?  Well, this one has it all, and all of it is done well.  We’re back to action-packed naval porn, and in a much more satisfying manner than in the season premiere two-parter.  This one stays on the re-watch list and would be a great entry point for new watchers this season.

 Summary:  Again, I’m playing catch-up like in the last BLUF Review, so SPOILERS ABOUND.

Ahoy! USS NATHAN JAMES is underway and en route antivirus labs in the southeastern US when intel informs them the Norfolk lab may not have just vanished. They may have gotten underway with their full lab setup and 15 docs aboard USNS SOLACE, one of the Navy hospital ships — which would be perfect for getting the cure all over the world. Cap’n Crunches, CDR Tom Chandler has the ship search for SOLACE, and they eventually find her.  Meanwhile, we get to know some new faces.  The ship’s SEALs and VBSS boarding teams / security force get augmented by some badass do-gooders: “Wolf” a Wolverine stand-in from the Australian Special Forces and Ravit, a tough but attractive butt-kicking lady from the Israeli defense force, both of which had been in Norfolk for an exchange course when the virus hit.  GUNNO is in love, but is instantly shut down, to Tex’s delightful amusement, and Sexy LT 2 notes to Sexy LT 1 that all the females are keenly aware of Wolf’s manly attributes.

They find SOLACE adrift with a pre-recorded message looping out on bridge-to-bridge and they worry they were too late.  The XO takes over and Cap’n Tom goes over with the boarding teams, including Wolf, Freckles, GUNNO, Sexy LT 1, Tex, and Ravit.  No signs of any life, they split into multiple teams, with Tex, GUNNO, and Ravit going one way, and the Skipper and the rest going the other. They find the virus labs good to go, but recently unmanned, and signs of a struggle.  Tex’s team finds bodies, plural, not dead of the virus, but all executed with shots to the head.  They are not alone.

The Skipper finds a bunch of docs and crew holed up in an operating suite, trying to save a wounded crewmember. They tell them they’ve been boarded by mercs looking for the cure, and they are killing everyone.  Both teams coordinate with NATHAN JAMES, who goes to GQ and brings guns to bear.  The mercs then make themselves known and firefights ensue. Freckles and Wolf/Wolf-man have some mutual badassery, while Ravit amply shows GUNNO and Tex how much of a take-no-prisoners-I-don’t-need-no-man kind of gal she is.  Great action here.  The lead merc, who had been in an intro scene earlier with his brother aboard an infected British submarine, challenges Chandler on who’s team is more lethal.  He is determined to kill everyone and get the cure.  Firefights and battles continue, with NATHAN JAMES’ snipers and Sexy LT 2 getting some kills in with the remotely operated 30 mm cannon.

Main Merc realizes he’s lost, and he skedaddles.  At the same time, Ravit, GUNNO, and Tex come on a tank room rigged to blow the ship, and Main Merc has the detonator!  Chandler chases the Brit merc, GUNNO takes a bullet for Ravit, and Tex + Ravit disarm all the bombs, the last of which Tex throws off the ship right as the merc triggers it.  SOLACE is saved, some bad guys and redshirts die, and Main Merc jumps into the sea . . . and never comes up.  NATHAN JAMES realizes the mercs had to come from somewhere, so they freak out and start searching for a sub. They get one SONAR hit, but then its gone and lost.

Later, Typhoid Niels is revealed to still be with the immune survivalists who hate the cure, and they are revealed to be working with the Brit sub merc force, including Main Merc and his brother.

The Goods:  THIS EPISODE KICKS ASS!  Everyone gets to play, new villains are revealed, we remain at sea and aboard ship like I like it, and somebody’s torso gets esssssploded with a 30 mm round.  The bridge chatter as they approach SOLACE is also very good.  Like I’ve always said, this show listens to its Navy tech advisors (except for whoever teaches them Engineering or tactics, because that shit is just painful).  The real hospital ships are MERCY and COMFORT, but it looks like the Navy let them film on a real one nonetheless.  Thumbs up!

The Less Goods:  I’m not sure you can use a 30 mm cannon as a sniper rifle, cathartic though it may be.  The Skipper pulls a Captain Kirk and goes with the boarding teams.  Ummmmm, no.  Also, SONAR doesn’t work or look like that.  The show also returns to its default position that positions of responsibility and importance MUST be manned by OFFICERS ONLY.  In a pinch, they draft a clueless ENS as the anti-submarine officer.  What happened to the SONAR chief or any of the petty officers?  ASWO?  Ah well, the complaints are minor, but they may be more next episode, as it looks to be an “The Enemy Below” ripoff.  I hope I don’t have to hate on their ASW as badly as I hate on their engineering understanding.

Verdict:  One of my favorites.  Great job, crew!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Improbable Year

Grab your champagne flute and somebody to smooch, y’all, because the year is done and done well.  It’s time to reflect and celebrate!  Stick with me as we reminisce about 2014 and look forward to what next year holds:

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Instead of going chronologically, I’m going to start with the little things, especially those you might have missed, and move up to the biggest things that impacted my year.

First, that which had the least major impact was my on-going and new projects.  I’ve learned that it is a tough thing to balance being a professional officer, a husband/caregiver, a father, and an independent publisher, and the thing that got the least attention in that mix was ongoing long-form work.  Short stories I was able to knock out with relative ease, with four published this year alone and another on hold with Baen’s Grantville Gazette for a possible buy.  Long-form, novel-length works proved to be my Achilles heel.  I have three projects in the hopper:  first, the sequel to A Sword Into Darkness, titled Lancers into the light, because EVERYBODY has been asking about it and I’d be a fool not to do one.  That one is still in the outlining phase, primarily since I needed a break from ASID, and also because I have two other projects to finish.  One of those is my long-suffering urban fantasy Echomancer, which is about 1/3rd complete and suffers from a lot of time/will/desire based writer’s block.  Basically, I hit a snag and never went back to it once I moved to other projects.  One of those projects is my last long-form unfinished work, which is going between the titles of Demigod and Dattoo, a Christian near-future hard-science young-adult philosophical thriller.  Is it a total genre mash-up?  Yes.  Is it going slowly?  Yes.  Is it my most exciting project and my best second bid for traditional publication?  YES.  So, the short answer is that I am working on the next book(s), but the going was slow in 2014, and I hope for more positive news in this next year.

Next in the highlight hit-parade is TNT’s “The Last Ship,” a great little show that premiered this year.  If you haven’t had the chance to check it out, you absolutely should on Blu-ray, DVD, or your streaming service of choice.  Eric Dane, Rhona Mitra, and Adam Baldwin star in a loose adaptation of William Brinkley’s 1988 post-apocalyptic novel.  It’s all about the last US warship, the destroyer USS NATHAN JAMES, which has escaped infection from a worldwide lethal pandemic, and which has the bead on a cure.  It is cheesy, fun, well-acted, well-plotted, and surprisingly accurate and respectful of how the actual US surface Navy works.  As a lark, I blogged about it all from a USN officer perspective and it did wonders for me.  It consistently brought the most traffic to the blog, and brought me a number of new fans as well, who took a chance on my reviews and tried out my books as well.  So, overall, a great success.

This next is not such a success story, at least in the relative sense.  Following good advice from my friend and mentor Jeff Edwards of Stealth Books that I needed to have something else out on the market to serve the audience that ASID was growing, I published five of my military and artificial intelligence short stories as a collection on Amazon Kindle.  REMO has been well-reviewed (39 Amazon reviews with 4.2 stars) and has sold all right, but it never has done the numbers that ASID did.  I may have been spoiled by how my first foray into independent publishing did, and I realize that collections don’t tend to sell as well long-form works, but I would have liked for it to have done better, for more people to have tried it out.  As of this post, REMO has sold 1937 copies on Kindle, with an additional 362 provided through Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (which I still get paid for).  That’s around 2300 more people that have enjoyed my stories than would have if they had stayed on my computer.  Good, but not as good as magazine circulation.  One story in particular, “Dogcatcher Blues,” is my favorite and — I think — is almost Hugo-worthy (though Baen did not originally buy it and I failed to shop it anywhere else), but I doubt any Hugo voters will ever see it.  I guess I have no room to complain, but relative to the rest of the year, REMO is my regrettable disappointment.

For this next paragraph, I have absolutely no complaint.  Short stories have been my sort of thing for a while now.  I started writing them years ago, to hone my skills and get my foot in the door of the traditional publishing industry, but success had eluded me.  I had two stories bought in years past, both by Baen publications (my favorite publishing house), but nothing to anyone else.  This year, in large part due to synergy with ASID’s success, I have published four stories in pro and semi-pro/amateur markets, with a fifth on tap for the new year.  I kicked ass in 2014 when it comes to short stories.  First was my sale of “The Rememberists” to Daily Science Fiction.  That story was HUGE for me, though it was my first flash-length story and literally VERY short.  I’ve had tons of tweets, facebook posts and fan e-mails from that one, along with two short-film producer/directors who intend to turn it into a film project.  Next, I came into contact with the crew over at The Writer’s Arena, who allowed me to participate in one of their short story contests.  Basically, you and another writer get a general topic and you each have to complete a short story in a few days, which the audience and two judges then vote on.  And my story, “The Gaslight Consultant” won!  That led them to checking out ASID (as well as my old Masters thesis online) and mentioning me a couple of times on The Human Echoes Podcast.  The first mention was all zany fun, and the second mention garnered me a very good, well-balanced review for ASID.  My next pro sale was as part of the Riding The Red Horse anthology from Castalia House.  I got an invitation to participate in their inaugural volume, and after a prompt from the editor Vox Day that they were looking for a literal sea story, I turned in “Within This Horizon,” which is now featured alongside stories and essays from Dr. Jerry Pournelle, Tom Kratman, Ken Burnside, Steve Rzasa, Christopher Nuttall, Chris Kennedy, and many others.  The association with Castalia House and RTRH has been all positive, leading to potential new projects and hopefully a chance to participate again next year.  And lastly, a little bit of victory fun.  For the holiday season, I participated in Liberty Island Magazine’s Alternative Holiday Fiction Contest, looking for genre-alternative Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus stories.  I turned in a cute little redux of the Christmas Truce of 1914, but this time between our AI robots and the combat drones of our bitter enemy Canada.  And it won the grand prize!

And the last bit of professional writing news had the second biggest impact on my life:  the independent publication of A Sword Into Darkness through Stealth Books.  I cannot thank enough my publishing partner Jeff Edwards and all the readers who gave me a shot.  You guys made my year.  As of this posting and not counting an unknown number of pirated copies (I’ve truly arrived . . . people are stealing my shit), I’ve sold just under 30,000 copies of my little military sci-fi / hard-science space opera.  Here’s how the percentages break out:

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As you can see, ASID is available in trade paperback, on Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, Kobo, iBooks, and as an audiobook read by Liam Owen from SciFi Publishing.  And it is a well-regarded debut novel, with 4.4 stars on Amazon out of 349 US reviews, 3.88 stars on the tougher crowd at Goodreads through 33 reviews and 525 ratings, plus reviews and accolades from Winchell Chung of Atomic Rockets, PT Hylton, Carol Kean at Perihelion SF, 20four12, PG’s Ramblings, Castalia House, Kaedrin Weblog, the Human Echoes Podcast, and others.  I even got the Christmas treat of making PT Hylton’s favorite 14 books of 2014 in song form:

I don’t know how others do on their debuts because I’m too new at this, but I’m very very very happy and blessed with how ASID has done.  And I’m very hopeful about the doors it may open up for me.  I got a whole lotta nothing from agents and publishers for the last three years, but over the last year I’ve proven that I can at least sell a well-regarded book as a solid mid-list author.  They say you should not use self-published titles on your query letters to publishers, but if I can tell them that on my own, with no resources other than help from friends and a few judicious ads and sales, I sold 30,000 copies of my debut. maybe then they’ll give me a closer look.  Oooor, I’ll just stick to the indie crowd and continue taking in 70% royalties instead of settling for 10-15%.

And last but certainly not least, the thing that had the biggest impact on my year.  It was not the job, though that did have biggish news and a may appear here next year.  It was not my kids, though I am very proud of them and the improvements in their grades and schooling.  It was not my personal health journey as that mostly involved me getting fatter and slower despite my half-hearted efforts.  No, the biggest thing for me this year was standing by my beautiful wife, Jen, as she kicked breast cancer’s ass.  She is an inspiration to me, and I don’t think she adequately realizes how proud I am of her, how humbled I am that she continues to put up with my crap and allows me to walk beside her in life.  This woman faced down a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, reconstruction, complications to her own gastric bypass from years ago, and all the ravages to the body, psyche, and soul that all of that can wreak upon someone, and she refused to let it break her.  In fact, she used it to inspire others to get tested and to persevere, no matter the diagnosis or prognosis.  She endured shaving her head (my son and I joined her in this), losing her hair, dealing with the pain of neuropathy, the fatigue, the burns, and the fear that it would all be for naught.  She had low days indeed.  Who wouldn’t?  But she always came out on top.  And now she is on the mend and headed to being certifiably cancer free.  Her mother and I served as her caregivers, but that never stopped Jen from providing care to her family and a wider circle of friends than I will ever know.  Jen Mays, I love you and my hopes and prayers are for a great 2015 for us both.  We deserve it, and especially you.

Have a great year, everybody.  Toodles.

 

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.

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!