The Last Ship, Episode 7 – “SOS” Review (and other stuff)

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

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

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

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

Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Last Ship, Episode 6 – “Lockdown” Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Last Ship, Episode 5: “El Toro” Review

Thank the gods of action TV tropes!  This was not a groundbreaking episode, but it was a good ‘un, and a definite breath of fresher air after the implausible series nadir of last week.

Sorry (again) for being a day late.  My day/night job LOVES having me work Sundays lately, but that’s why God gave us the DVR (on the 8th day, I believe).  The bad part is when the elves that live within the DVR decide to cross the ‘trons and fail to save the episode for when you get off work at 4:30 AM.  Thus, I had to wait for that other heavenly miracle – the Amazon Instant stream today – to catch me up.  But caught up I am, and I’m much the happier for it.

Plot Summary:  First, to be clear, THEY STAY COMPLETELY OUT OF ENGINEERING THIS WEEK!  Yeah!  This show knows it works best when it sticks to the main deck or above, and I’m FINE with that.  It opens with CHENG and the Skipper reminiscing about the mutual nightmare of last week’s episode and passing by a work crew assembling boxes in which to capture monkeys.  They have reached the coast of Costa Rica where Dr. Scott figures monkeys on which to test her vaccine ought to be easy to find in the jungle.  Unfortunately, Radio reveals that the coast is inundated with distress calls and signs indicating the whole country is in the midst of bloody revolution.  They aren’t ready to engage in any nation-building, so Doc Scott has them head for an alternate barrel of monkeys, a primate preserve located in Nicaragua (because there’s no possible reason to expect bloody revolution in quaint little Nicaragua).  Tex and Rachel share a character moment as he tries to get her to forgive herself for her lies and start eating in the wardroom, and the Skipper and XO/Jayne share one in the Cap’s cabin (Adam Baldwin RULES!).

Off the Nicaraguan coast, Captain Tom “Studly” Chandler doubles down on the bold stupidity and has all three elements of the Command Staff (CO, XO, and CMC), Sexy LT 1, Tex, the COMMO (for no obvious reason), the GUNNO, and our sexy virologist herself take both boats up-river, leaving CHENG and the Navigator in charge of the NATHAN JAMES.  At the preserve, instead of finding monkeys, they are attacked by zombies / infected villagers chanting “El Toro” (as in “dying of this dumb virus is a whole lotta bull, senor”).  They retreat for the boats, where they surmise they might have better luck up-river, further away from the area villages, but it is already too dangerous to expose Dr. Scott.  So, a lone boat with the CO, XO, CMC, Sexy LT 1, and the COMMO continues up, out of radio contact, with Tex and the Doc sent back to NATHAN JAMES.

Up-river, they run across a stranded yacht, the EL TORO, then land and head for the nearest Monkey-Mart.  But, wouldn’t you know it, our young ginger COMMO steps in it, literally, and is wounded/poisoned by a trap, whereupon they are captured by uninfected gunmen, all of whom belong to the stranded drug kingpin El Toro.  The Bull (as I like to call him) has set himself up as a warlord, ruling the impoverished uninfected villagers like a really shitty king, and he doesn’t take CDR Chandler’s aggressive American posturing very well.  He does let them treat the COMMO though, then invites the Skipper and XO to dine with him on monkey tartar.  Cue the tense dinner-time standoff, with the Bull acting like a despotic ass and the skipper making vague threats about his own Deus Ex Navis off the coast.  You can tell Chandler would like to end the Bull’s reign, but there’s nothing much he can do under the circumstances.  Eventually, the posturing fails and they make a deal for their freedom and a whole load of monkeys.

But bad guys can’t stop being bad guys.  While loading the monkeys, the Bull’s men send a recalcitrant villager lass over to the infected side of the river as punishment, causing XO Slattery and Sexy LT 1 to get all uppity.  They get buttstroked (and not in the good way) and the Skipper has to practically bow to the Bull in order to get them released.  The Bull laughs at them, sends them on their way with the monkeys, and basically tells them that he’s going to be de-virgin-izing the village mayor’s young daughter and will kill her if they send back a UAV or missile strike back toward him.  The sailors leave unarmed on the RHIB, but the XO can’t take it, figuring what good is it to save the world if the world they allow to exist isn’t worth saving (Adam Baldwin RULES!).  Thus the boat sneaks back and they go all Solid Snake on the Bull’s 13 heavily armed guards.  Final tally:  all sailors survive, all bad guys get killed, the villagers are freed, the mayor gets revenge, virgin honor remains intact, monkeys are captured to use as guinea pigs, and the NATHAN JAMES sails on.

The Goods:  They stayed the hell out of engineering and gave us an action-packed episode that satisfied on almost all counts.  It is a TV Trope-ish episode, with few surprises, but some good character moments, nice tension (kudos to Eric Dane), and decent action.  Adam Baldwin gets to be a badass instead of getting stuck on the ship.  El Toro is a nasty enough heavy, even if he is pretty cliche, and I liked that he sees himself as their savior and not their oppressor.  Rhona Mitra works out . . . vigorously.  Tex gets some nice moments with Dr. Va-va-va-voom-virology and they both get to quote-check Mark Twain.  I like that the CHENG is left in charge and I’m glad to see her back up on her feet.  I like the zombies/infected villagers.  The action is good (if implausible, since three unarmed officers take out a whole platoon of alerted bad-guys), and appreciated the situation with the strongman/criminal type in charge.  It is something that would happen and does happen, and it makes a nice underground plug for the 2nd Amendment (an armed populace is a free populace).  I also liked that they did not use the NATHAN JAMES as a get-out-of-trouble-free card like they did in previous episodes (my Deus Ex Machina / Deus Ex Navis comment).

The Less Goods:  This episode didn’t retroactively go back in time and canon and undo all the stupid left over from last week.  There were no real surprises and it played it safe with genre cliches, but I enjoyed it regardless.  Star Trek syndrome, in that they brought the entire damn command staff on an away mission, including the one person they absolutely cannot lose (Dr. Scott).  The CO, XO, and CMC shouldn’t be going out to fetch monkeys, and Dr. Scott should draw a damn picture if she’s concerned about them getting one species of monkey rather than another.  The show is still too officer-centric.  Neither of those RHIBs had a bos’un, a boat engineer, a gunner, or a bow-hook aboard.  Why the hell did they bring the COMMO along?  WHERE ARE ALL THE 200 ENLISTED FOLK supposedly aboard?  The NATHAN JAMES apparently has 3 hangars, since one is being used as a lab, one is storing the helo they seem to always forget they have (until they need it), and now one is being used as an expansive new gym.  Destroyers do use their empty hangars as gyms, but you can’t have both at the same time.  When the helo detachment is aboard, the Forward Pallet Staging Area and various passageways and fan rooms get turned into gyms, but I imagine it would be hard to film there.  Then there is the matter of CHENG as the next senior officer aboard.  Chief Engineer on a DDG is usually a first tour Department Head job, with a LT in charge who might make LCDR during their 18 month tour.  Then they leave the ship and go serve as a Squadron Materiel Officer or they go become a CHENG on a cruiser.  They only stay aboard for an extended tour if they are commissioning the ship or if they need a “get well” tour, as in they screwed up and need to stay aboard to make good FITREPs and repair their career.  This sometimes happens if an officer gets a DUI or another civil black mark on their record, which COULD BE a very interesting turn to take for the show.  Usually, the third senior officer on a DDG is the CSO or Combat Systems Officer.  They are a second-tour Department Head and are usually filled by a LT or LCDR who was formerly the Weapons Officer on that same ship or another of the class.  But that is mostly an inside-baseball sort of complaint, and I can’t imagine that even occurred to the writers or their consultants.\

I unreservedly recommend this ep.  The Goods again out-weigh the Less Goods, and it is back on track.  I’m still waiting for the inevitable mutiny episode, or a breakdown in military structure aboard.  Maybe next week, or maybe the show will surprise me.  And be sure to check back here for a review as well!  Tell all your friends!

 

The Last Ship, Episode 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!