[This is a review of The Last Ship season 1, episode 10. There will be SPOILERS.]
With the The Last Ship's second season on the horizon and Doctor Scott finally completing her mission and discovering the vaccine/cure for "The Red Flu", we've naturally been curious about how this show about the crew of a Navy destroyer and their mission to save the world would carryover into the second season, but now we know that it won't. At least not in any way that we've come accustomed to and that may be a good thing for TNT's successful but sometimes hollow action drama.
Beginning once again with a check-in on US Nathan James' Captain Tom Chandler's family, the clock starts ticking right out the gate as we see that Chandler's wife did, indeed, pass on the virus to her entire family. Desperate to seek help, Chandler's father puts everyone into the family truckster for a road trip to Baltimore and the supposed salvation of a basketball arena where the splintered pieces of the Government are supposedly treating people.
On the ship, Chandler (Eric Dane) is unaware of these developments as he and the rest of the crew receive the first doses of the vaccine/cure. Their latest mission is to get Doctor Scott (Rhona Mitra) and her formula to an appropriate lab where she can mass-produce the injections needed to save the world, but as has often been the case, the path is far from clear.
Thanks to a satellite, Chandler and his crew see that the targeted lab has been, well, targeted and also destroyed. One would imagine that this might cause a bit of consternation, but in short order, an automated call comes over the radio that is addressed to the US Nathan James, informing them that they are aware of their classified mission and able to accommodate their needs in Baltimore. If you're hearing Admiral Ackbar yelling, "It's a trap!" in your head, then you are a prescient individual and I dig that about you.
Unfortunately, nobody in a command position on the Nathan James shares those gifts, so off the ship goes to Baltimore where they meet up with a few remnants of the Maryland State Police and Amy Granderson (Alfre Woodard), the defacto leader of the Government and a women with a target on her head among the group of Warlords who watch her exchange with Chandler while trying to fire a shot off. Surprisingly, the leader of the rebel group (played by Titus Welliver as a former Baltimore cop) shows restraint when it comes to collateral damage.
On dry land and away from the ship, Doctor Scott says goodbye to Tex (who kisses her on his way out the door) and begins to settle into her role supervising a team of scientists and Chandler looks into locating his family after observing the somewhat comfortable life that Granderson (who is the mother of Nathan James crew member Lt. Alisha Granderson, though that really seems like a needless wrinkle) has carved out for herself and her people in a coal powered building.
In short order, Chandler is able to hear his father on the radio, assembling a team of his men and Granderson's troopers to go find them and heal them with the cure. Once they arrive at the gas station where his father said he would be, though, Chandler finds out that he has instead gone off to the arena. Used to being in charge, Chandler orders everyone back into the trucks to go find his family but the troopers resist. Big time. This is where the episode gets both lost and found as a firefight ensues, wounding Master Chief Jeter (Charles Parnell) and killing the troopers. Flustered but still determined, Chandler orders Lt. Danny Green to go to the ship and tell everyone what's going on as he and Lt. Burk (Jocko Sims) head to the arena on foot. Like viewers, Lt. Green isn't quite sure what it is that is actually going on, but he follows along and so do we.
The arena is dire, filled with the sick and the dying and surrounded by authorities in gas masks. The vision of a little girl with both a gas mask and a princess crown will stick with you, as will the hurt on display when Tom finds his father, his two kids and the news that his wife didn't make it. Would it have been more affecting had Tom discovered his wife a moment before she passed? Yes, without question. But we need "Man of action" Tom Chandler, because it becomes pretty clear that the arena is more like a roach motel than a care ward and Tom needs to get his family out of there and back to the Nathan James. A good idea in theory, but not possible after Granderson's State Troopers seize the ship after shooting a crew member and Quincy (who was trying to redeem himself with a heroic act) on the bridge.
Though the un-masking of Woodard's Amy Granderson isn't exactly sudden, it is effective and it does give this show its first well-rounded and slightly grounded villain whose motives are both despicable and clear. Granderson isn't merely power mad, she thinks she's doing the right thing and those are always the most frightening villains. "The virus doesn't discriminate, that unfortunate task falls to me", she says after explaining that she is trying to avoid a "Dark age" by, essentially, making an achievement ark and putting down the poor and the sick - using their bodies to feed the coal plant and keep the power running.
Though the episode and this first season end on such a grim note, there is reason to have hope as we head to season 2. In Woodard and Welliver (who doesn't appear to be as evil as we first thought), the show's supporting cast is filling in actors whose skill levels demand deeper characters. If we can follow their story (specifically Welliver's character's story) and learn a little bit about how things went off the rails and how these warring factions came to be, it will go a long way toward making this a better and fuller show than if Chandler and his crew take back the ship and head out onto the water an episode or two into next season.
This is a show that needs to avoid sameness and embrace a changing landscape. 'No Place Like Home' is a great first step and the show makes a few tough choices that won't be easy or palatable to come back from, but it had to be done. Here's hoping that this is the new normal.
The Last Ship returns for its second season in 2015.