Airdate: June 22, 2014
Directed by: Jonathon Mostow
Showrunner: Hank Steinberg
Written by: William Brinkley (based on the novel by), Steven Kane (written for television by), Hank Steinberg (written for television by)
The premiere of The Last Ship came tonight, just under two years after the series was announced, and just over a year since TNT ordered a trial ten-episode run. There wasn’t a lot of hype leading into tonight’s episode, but TNT has been slowly building buzz, releasing promotional videos over the last couple of months, with more in the past few weeks. The show has a powerhouse production company in its corner – Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes – and an experienced cast of actors. So, how well did the pilot episode do?
<<Spoiler Alert: This review of The Last Ship Season 1, Episode 1 “Phase Six” will include minor spoilers and plot points.>>
All-in-all, not too badly. The show isn’t must-see TV by any stretch – at least not yet – but it was certainly watchable, and holds a degree of promise for a positive future. There were several hits, and a few misses, but for the most part the episode did what a series premiere needs to do: introduce the main story and the characters that will play a part in it.
The acting ran from intensely earnest, in the case of Rhona Mitra’s Dr. Rachel Scott, to stiff military brusque in Eric Dane’s Captain Tom Chandler. For me, the only actor who hit all the right notes was Adam Baldwin in the role of XO Mike Slattery, but that is likely more to do with his role slightly behind the other two. All three actors are playing parts, and their self-awareness of so doing hurt things a bit – Mitra as the serious scientist, Dane as the serious military officer, and Baldwin as the voice of reason and occasional comic relief. This isn’t to say that there was anything comedic about his acting – rather, the humor was more subtle, seen in off-hand remarks and snide commentary; for example, after coming in from the Arctic cold, he quips to another officer, “Should’ve taken that desk job in Miami.”
The show begins with the outbreak of an unknown disease in Egypt, with Dr. Scott attending in order to take blood samples. Jump forward a few months, and we see Dr. Scott again, this time setting up a mobile lab in the helicopter bay of the USS Nathan James (DDG-151), Captain Chandler expressing some reserve at having her aboard. We jump again, four months later, and the meat of the story gets going.
The ship has been under orders to maintain radio silence for the four months they’ve been at sea, purportedly retrieving bird feces in the deep Arctic. As soon as they try to reestablish contact, Chandler realizes that not all is as it seems. The ship is ordered to extend its mission, and two days later the ship is attacked by what appear to be Russian helicopters. Chandler accosts Scott, and gets from her the real story: the world is experiencing a full pandemic, and the samples she has on board may be humanity’s only chance for long-term survival.
The rest of the episode jumps around quite a bit, with the ship heading to France in order to refuel, only to witness a nuclear explosion in the distance, and then head to the coast off of Florida, before deciding to go elsewhere. There is a sense of meandering and a lack of clear direction for the ship, which is kind of how the episode feels at times. Things are mentioned, but then not acted on, such as the unmanned fueling depot they’re supposedly heading toward in France – instead, they happen upon a derelict ocean liner, and use its fuel and supplies. A little convenient.
Tensions aboard the ship naturally rise, as sailors want to find out how their families are doing – they’re torn between family and duty, and this is symbolized in several low-key arguments between Chandler and his XO, Slattery. In fact, there’s a fair amount of self-righteous shouting among the three leads: Mitra because she knows what’s needed to save humanity; Chandler because he has a well-developed sense of duty; and Slattery, because he knows what the enlisted men and women are feeling.
There are a few side-stories hinted at – one couple who can’t wait to get back to the mainland so they can work on their relationship, a gay lieutenant who misses her girlfriend, a Master Chief who gets all maudlin when faced with strong authority – but there is no question who are the three main characters that we’ll be following.
The special effects are where the show really shines, and this shouldn’t be a surprise considering that Michael Bay has his name in the credits. To be honest, the effects felt movie quality, and it looks as though the budget TNT is allocating to the show is considerable. The scenes involving the helicopter attack are particularly well done. One gaffe, but one which is not unique to this show, is that they do a poor job of showing that we’re in the arctic. All of the exposed cast members have frost patches on their cheeks – which would actually mean full-on frostbite and likely hypothermic death setting in – but none of them have so much as a shadow of steam coming from their breath. You’d think that in a show that can afford multiple helicopter action shots, they could afford a little bit of CGI steam.
Overall, a little uneven in the start, but an interesting enough premise and an accomplished enough cast that I’ll be coming back to see if the show picks up pace moving forward. That, and the twist at the very end of the episode, have enough of my interest to keep me as a viewer for the time being.
Steve’s Grade: C+
Not a bad premiere for a show intended to provide us with some summer action and thrills, and some possibility for stronger stories as the show finds its feet – or should that be sea legs?