[This review of The Last Ship season 1, episode 8 contains SPOILERS.]
Last week's episode of The Last Ship served as the first half of an unofficial two-parter to last night's 'Two Sailors Walk Into a Bar'. Lost out in the middle of the ocean while both the Russians and the crew of the US Nathan James scrambled to recover them for very different reasons, both Captain Tom Chandler (Eric Dane) and Tex (John Pyper-Ferguson) thought that they had found salvation when a helicopter picked them up - only to soon realize that they were in the grasp of the Russians, a pawn in Admiral Ruskov's power play.
If you've read these reviews before, you know that we're not high on the choices made by the writers in the construction of Ruskov. He's a cartoon thug and not a three-dimensional villain. His evil deeds are not choreographed by an explanation of what his motives are. What Ruskov is, though, is consistent - at least in the ways that he underestimates his opponents, and in this episode, his initial opponent is Mike Slattery (Adam Baldwin), the Nathan James' first officer and acting commander. As Ruskov points out in the midst of his brief negotiation with Slattery, he isn't used to being in command; Ruskov thinks that this gives him the advantage, but it's nothing more than hubris on his part.
Slattery was, at the beginning of this series, one of the bright shining lights. When the Captain barked orders in those tense first days, Slattery pushed back. He was a good soldier, but not a mindless drone and he felt compelled to level with the Captain in a way that no other character on the show did. As time has marched on, though, Slattery has fallen in line more and more. There have been exceptions and there is still light behind the characters eyes thanks to Baldwin, but as he took the helm, we really didn't know what to expect.
What we got from Slattery, amidst demands that he send over Doctor Scott and all of her work in exchange for the Captain and Tex (and, I suppose, a promise that he wouldn't annihilate the the Nathan James), was a cool dedication to the mission at hand - the extraction of the Captain and Tex, even though he knew that it went directly against the Captain's directions.
To extract the prisoners, Slattery sends in a small team of four, but he doesn't just want them to take back the Captain and Tex, he wants them to take down the Russian vessel with a collection of well placed charges. Is this something that the Captain would have done? We don't know, but hopefully that issue gets revisited down the road.
In going after the Russian vessel in such an aggressive way, the show allows for Cossetti - a crew member with knowledge of where to place the charges on the Russian vessel - a chance to more fully prove himself, after he beat himself up last week. By episode's end, it's unclear if Cossetti has survived, but he seems to be mortally wounded after a shootout with the Russians on board the destroyer. If he has perished, then Cossetti died a hero; in retrospect, though, the plucky young crew member may have existed solely to do that.
I closed last week's review with, essentially, a plea for this show to take out a main character to add some jeopardy to these conflicts that the crew of the Nathan James keeps running into. After all, if we believe that a major character won't always make it out of a firefight, we might be more inclined to care when they get into these scrums. With Cossetti, though, we have a character who producers built up over a short period of time only to knock down. It feels slightly manipulative and obvious when Cossetti gets an approving nod from the Captain and high praise before succumbing. Operation Heartstring pull initiated.
Before the extraction team can do their job, though, Doctor Scott (Rhona Mitra) has to put herself in jeopardy, volunteering to go after informing Slattery that she has finally discovered the vaccine, which can be simply manufactured by the ship's medical Doctor. How do you like that timing? Personally, it feels so teeth gnashingly convenient that it takes me out of the story, but you may be less nit-picky than I.
Given a gun and a moment with Quincy, who she urges to finish what they started, Doctor Scott gets what feels like a pep talk from Slattery before going into harm's way aboard the Russian ship, her life preserver containing a tracking beacon that the Nathan James uses to pinpoint the extraction team's target.
In Ruskov's chambers, Doctor Scott demands to see Captain Chandler and Tex, immediately rushing to Chandler when she sees him to plant a deep kiss on his lips for the purposes of briefly confusing Tex and passing a note to the Captain - the escape plan is in full effect.
I won't bore you with the play-by-play of how Tex and the Captain escape, but soon enough, they rendezvous with the extraction team and make their way for the deck after the Captain rescues Quincy's wife and daughter (and their reunion, later, is a genuine heartstring puller). While this is going on, Doctor Scott is stuck in the lab with Sorenson, the mad scientist and virus carrier who, apparently, spliced his genes into the virus, essentially causing it to become much more deadly. "You killed 4 billion people," says an astonished Doctor Scott, which Sorenson denies. He was trying to help, he implies.
Sorenson is an interesting villain. He's clearly of the belief that he and he alone can save the world, but he appears to have some well-hidden guilt over what he has done. He wants to put Pandora back in the box, but he is determined to be the only one to do it and he carries on like a child when it seems like that won't happen. He also seems to assist Doctor Scott in the slightest way while she assembles her gun in the sample cooler - something that he reminds her of as she points a gun at him after shooting down a guard (only showing restraint with Sorenson due to the risk of contamination that would come from piercing his quarantine tent). It's a shame and a bit odd that he snuck out of the tent after the extraction team came for Doctor Scott, presumably abandoning the ship as it suffered catastrophic damage due to the charges and the extraction teams efforts.
Will we see more of Sorenson? It seems very likely and that could be good news. This is an interesting villain whose motives are clear, at least in comparison to Ruskov.
As for if we'll see Ruskov again, we're not sure. The damage done by the charges and the extraction team seems to signal the end of the Russian destroyer, based on the size of the explosions. At the same time, though, Ruskov - last seen screaming and carrying on as the Americans proved capable of exceeding his expectations - could survive. With Sorenson on the loose and highly contagious, though, that feels a little unlikely. Besides that, at this point, another appearance would feel excessive. Ruskov served his purpose (sorta). It's time to move on.
I do hope, though, that Captain Chandler lingers a bit on the events of this episode next week. Slattery and the crew disobeyed a direct order and a man/plot device died in the midst of a mission that he didn't order. They also put Doctor Scott's life in jeopardy. To shrug and move on to the next mission would be to de-fang the Captain and nullify any chance for growth for Doctor Scott, Slattery and Danny Green (Travis Van Winkle). We want to see the crew feel the consequences of their actions and deal with the question of whether the Captain's life was worth that risk and that sacrifice - from both his perspective and the crew's. But while that would be a nice change, with only two episodes left, one wonders if there is enough time to really get into it. Unfortunately, I'm going to assume that there is not, because so far, this show has been a lock to move the story along but keep their characters standing still. Still, there is always hope.
The Last Ship airs on TNT Sunday nights @9PM ET.