[This is a review of The Last Ship season 1, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]
The safety of mankind's last great hope for survival has been buoyed by the might of the USS Nathan James and the wisdom of its Captain, but in the fourth episode of TNT's The Last Ship, 'We'll Get There', both are questioned after a taxed crew faces yet another threat to their survival.
Dying of thirst in the middle of the ocean seems like a particularly cruel way to go, but the lingering possibility of it amplifies the contrast between last week's "villain of the week" and this week's primary stumbling block: the desolation of a world beset by disease. Faced with Russian rebels on two occasions and terrorists in another situation, the crew of the Nathan James had yet to primarily face off against their own circumstances until a fire knocked out the engines, compromising their ability to generate fresh water and electricity.
With more than a week of start and stop travel between the limping ship and the nearest potentially safe source of fresh water, the crew scrambles to find some kind of solution, extracting water from whatever they can - emptying the water out of canned vegetables and converting beer - while also rationing. Unsurprisingly, more calamity when a generator that was keeping Dr. Scott's prospective vaccine cool goes down, jeopardizing everything that the crew has worked towards. Luckily, they once again MacGyver together a solution, sinking the vaccine and other vital materials to the bottom of the ocean where they will be able to maintain the exact right temperature (what luck!) while the Captain wagers on the wind and a scheme to deploy parachutes as sails in an effort to manually turn the propellers and generate electricity.
In that this is a weekly drama, I imagine you can guess that everything works out, but before we reach that point, we find the Captain more unsure of his actions than we ever have before. Things have spiraled, water supplies have nearly run out and his mind keeps turning to his family.
We see a fair amount of character moments in this episode - Mike Slattery (Adam Baldwin) is a former cop (who clearly enjoys the interrogation room if his dance with Quincy is any indication) and he is still dealing with the death of his son and, apparently, the downfall of his marriage while Quincy paints a picture of Dr. Scott (Rhona Mitra) that is lonely at home and reckless at work, channeling his anger over the possible death of his family to use against his colleague. But while it's good to flesh these people out bit by bit, there is no revelation that is as affecting as that of Master Chief Jeter's. Faced with the wavering Captain, Jeter (Charles Parnell) confesses that he holds himself responsible for a crash that killed his wife and kids. He does this while discussing the power of his faith and his belief in the Captain's "vision", bolstering Tom Chandler at a time when he and the crew needs it most. It also speaks to the value of self confidence as these sailors try to do the impossible. They can't just believe, they have to know that what they are doing will work and Jeter puts a bit of that "know" back into Chandler before the wind does the rest.
Is this kind of inspirational device a bit eye-roll inducing? Perhaps, but in the moment, it works and Jeter's stoicism and his place by Chandler's side contributes to the impact. The same can be said for Lt. Andy Chung (Andy T. Tran), a young engineer who is in over his head in the midst of the disaster with the engine, but who rallies after a few pep talks. Both Chandler and Chung are propped up by people they respect, so the impacts feel earned.
What does not work, however, is the sudden transition from the high of the successful application of the parachute plan (and the impact of Jeter's talk with the Captain) to a point where doubt creeps back in and the entire crew looks as if they are at death's door before quickly jumping to a happier moment where they find the uninhabited island and a beach to party on.
These kinds of narrative shortcuts give us the payoff without showing us the work - how did they get water when they got to the island, how long did it take to get everyone healed up to the point where they can strum a guitar and build a bonfire on a beach? The lack of explicit answers can be frustrating for a viewer. They also feel like a byproduct of what can now be classified as a recurring problem with this show (since this also occurred in the pilot): the producers seem like they are trying to put too much show into the space of a basic cable drama - and while the end result can still be solid (indeed 'We'll Get There' is a solid episode), it feels like the road is bumpier than it needs to be.
The Last Ship airs Sundays @9PM ET on TNT.