[This review of The Last Ship season 1, episode 7 contains SPOILERS.]
After last week's focus on the dangerous marriage between paranoia and tight spaces, the latest episode of The Last Ship seemed to turn its eyes toward hope, selflessness and the possibility of a woman who is naturally immune to the virus; thus, potentially aiding Doctor Scott in her effort to discover a vaccine. To get to that woman, though, the crew of the US Nathan James had to literally climb over bodies before dealing with a rapidly approaching and well armed group of Russian sailors that were dispatched by Admiral Ruskov.
Debuting at the very end of the second episode, 'Welcome to Gitmo', before making his full debut in the third episode, 'Dead Reckoning', Russian Admiral Ruskov and his crew have stayed on the fringes, spoken of but not seen since the US Nathan James' daring escape through a narrow and shallow canal. For their re-appearance this week, though, the Russians remained aggressive, targeting the same near-abandoned fishing boat that the Nathan James was after in their effort to rescue Patrice, the young woman with the possible immunity.
Why would they target this vessel and openly court combat with the Americans? Why do they want Dr. Scott? Beyond power hunger and vague hints about their own scientist (whose backstory with the virus kicked off the episode), we still really don't have a good answer. But while that was frustrating last time around, we're more able to tolerate Ruskov this time around. It's not that his cigar chomping bad guy routine is toned down, so much as we just have to hear and see less of it. Unfortunately, that doesn't look to be the case next week.
If you've seen this show before (or any show, really), you know that nothing ever goes according to plan. As I said, the Russians have targeted the fishing boat as well, so shortly after the Nathan James strike team (led by the Captain, Tex, CMC Jeter and a trembley-handed Cossetti) locates Patrice, a firefight begins and the Captain (Eric Dane) orders Jeter (Charles Parnell) and Cossetti (Tommy Savas) to take Patrice back to the Nathan James while he and Tex (John Pyper-Ferguson) fend off their combatants.
What follows is a rather thrilling action sequence with plenty of firepower and high-speed watercrafts. This show excels when it has the chance to put their players in the midst of a firefight and this is no exception; at the end of the fight, though, only our heroes can stand (of course). However, while Tex and Captain Chandler make it out of the fight alive, their raft has taken a fatal hit and they are forced to abandon ship, setting up a conflict between the Captain (who orders the Nathan James to cease all search and recovery missions for him, effectively killing himself and Tex) and XO Slattery, who mostly ignores the Captain's order while also trying to evade Russian detection with his search efforts.
I like that there is some tension between the Captain and Tex over the former's act of self-sacrifice, but it descends into figurative "aw shucks" backslaps almost immediately, losing the moment. Still, as Tex and the Captain float and swim towards the reef (because even when the Captain doesn't have a plan, he has a plan), we do get to hear Tex declare his intentions for Dr. Scott (to Chandler's amusement) and a bit of vulnerability from the square jawed and tough as nails Captain. So at least we've got some incremental character growth going for us.
Speaking of Dr. Scott, while she has a very real human moment with Patrice, a woman who has literally seen everyone that she knows meet their end because of this virus. Dr. Scott's decision to greet her on the ship deck and speak with her in the lab sans mask (her escort, CMC Jeter also kept his mask off in her presence) is frustrating. This show has a habit of making it painfully clear how vital Dr. Scott's work is and how important it is that they use precautions - two things that we saw a bit of last week - but they have occasionally skipped the masks when it seems like it will be harder to have a human moment with them on.
How does Dr. Scott know that Patrice is telling the truth and that she isn't sick? It's a longshot that this innocent and young girl would deceive the crew, but desperation makes people do hideous things and while it's unlikely, is it responsible for Dr. Scott to risk all of humanity (which would be greatly jeopardized if she got sick and/or the virus hit the crew) on this stranger's say-so? That question is what's going through my head during this human moment between the Doctor and Patrice, and it's ultimately more distracting than what the sight of Dr. Scott consoling the girl while wearing her cleansuit would have been. In the end, Patrice does prove to be legit, though, meaning that Dr. Scott has found a huge breakthrough, but at the same time, the Russians have scored a major victory in their own right.
Indeed, I really like the way that the producers play with our expectations a little at the end of this episode. Of course the Nathan James helicopter has spotted the Captain and Tex in the nick of time, foiling the evil Russians once again. But then, that's not at all the case and the Russians actually wind up acquiring a huge bargaining chip in their quest to steal Dr. Scott and her work - a chip that they know the Nathan James will be eager to get back since, as Ruskov happily observes, he now knows that the crew will go to extremes to save the Captain.
Will The Last Ship ever go to such extremes, though? Will it shock our expectations on a more regular basis, perhaps going so far as to kill off a main character or show us another severe consequence that strays from the show's now established and sometimes boring formula? Because, right now, we know that we will see the Captain and Tex in a cage next week and we figure that Slattery (Adam Baldwin) will likely come up with some kind of inspired maneuver to get the Captain and Tex to safety, once again leaving the Russians in the dust.
Could producers potentially trade off Dr. Scott (setting off ample tension between Chandler and Slattery) or even possibly kill off Tex? We know that Captain Chandler is safe, but while Tex has been a fun loving character with an easy going personality, his loss (after his professed feelings about Doctor Scott) would be affecting, and we need to see that these characters are vulnerable to such things so that this show doesn't start to become a bore.
The Last Ship airs on TNT Sunday nights @9PM ET.