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.

Don’t forget to check out next week and lemme know what you think about my reviews as well as the rest of the site!

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!