It’s hard for me to discuss Michael Bay without suffering flashbacks to the brain-meltingly awful six hours that comprised the Transformers trilogy, but if The Last Ship can maintain the momentum it’s built up in its first episode, I might just change my tune. The premiere featured all the explosions Bay could fit in without blowing the season’s entire special effects budget and gratuitous shots of decaying corpses, but also human feeling and reactions to the horrors of a world-gone-missing to keep prevent it from feeling overwrought. Although far from a perfect episode of television, Phase Six was a promising start to TNT’s new sci-fi thriller.
We open on helicopters landing near one of the world’s most recognizable structures, the pyramid at Giza. A woman in a hazmat suit steps out just long enough to take a blood sample from the sickest looking man in a tent full of sick and dying people. The mysterious illness is as gross as it can get, all oozing sores and blood leaking from orifices. A doctor ushering her through the tent helpfully explains that they have thousands of sick people quarantined there and hundreds already dead with only six doctors left standing, and he asks her for reinforcements. Clearly, whatever illness is spreading means business. Woman-in-hazmat-suit looks around woefully, apologizes to the man dying in front of her and hops back into her helicopter without one word to the nice doctor man who showed her around the camp. End scene.
Pan across what the audience rightly assumes to be the titular last ship. Seamen run around the US Navy destroyer in an organized chaos, prepping for launch (do they actually “launch” ships?). Of the numerous crewmen onscreen, we meet a quippy little threesome who have obviously formed a close bond. The group is composed of a white man, a black man and a dog. Something tells me this trio will be down to two before the episode is out, but it’s a fifty-fifty shot between the black guy and the dog, so place your bets now. The group offers a little exposition about the ship and naval regulations about dog officers before we meet the man of the hour: Captain Tom Chandler (former Grey’s Anatomy heart throb Eric Dane).
The captain talks to the doctor from the opening sequence, whom, we learn, is named Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra, Strike Back), and she explains that she is on a simple run to the Arctic to study “obscure microbes in obscure birds.” Dr. Scott thanks the captain for allowing her and her partner from the CDC use of their ship. She is Completely Not Suspicious and they leave the Norfolk base for their four-month mission without a problem. End scene.
Cut to four months of radio silence in the Arctic later. Executive Officer Mike Slattery (played by Adam Baldwin of Firefly fame) arrives on the bridge to inform us that it is “very, very cold outside” in the Arctic Circle, which is apparently still a surprise even after four months. (It should be noted that no one in this show wears a face mask outside no matter how long they spend in arctic temperatures. I know they want to show off their shiny new cast, but c’mon — you set this episode in the Arctic.) The crew completes a top-secret missile test and is very excited to head home, but Dr. Scott reveals she is not quite ready — and after she makes a sketchy phone call to the Secretary of Defense, the Captain gets mysterious orders not to return to Norfolk after all.
Surprise, surprise — just two days later, the good doctor excitedly digs “samples” out of the ground and is attacked by Russian helicopters moments afterwards. Our trio of lower-ranking men —and dog — from earlier is on doctor-watch duty and race to protect the CDC workers. Although we were briefly worried for the dog and the black man, the Russians apparently suffer from a heavy case of Stormtrooper Syndrome and fail to stop a single person on the ground even though they have three helicopters, several bazookas and spray the ground with bullets for a solid three minutes. Plus, Dr. Scott gets shot clean through the side but manages to shake that off like it’s nothing and immediately gets back up and starts running again. Apparently along with teaching you how to make sick people better and write illegibly, medical school teaches you how to be impervious to frostbite and not feel pain. It’s a very good investment.
Our crew on the ship and the three guys on the ground manage to fight off the five Russian helicopters, and Dr. Scott’s true mission comes to light. There is a phase six global pandemic overtaking the world and she is the only person who has any chance of developing a cure. Although Captain Chandler is initially angry that she lied to him and has been breaking radio silence to contact her lab the entire time, he quickly gets over his feelings when he realizes the severity of the situation. The ship begins to make its way back to civilization and the crew attempts to contact home. The captain manages to get through to the President but learns most world governments have collapsed and Congress is mostly sitting in a bunker underneath D.C., riding it out. Typical.
The crew is instructed to take the doctors to a new CDC lab in North Carolina but first they have to fuel up or they’ll never make it. The ship is about to reach a French base when someone drops a nuke on England and shuts down all their power. The Captain risks fatal electrocution to get a fuse back into place because they apparently only have one fuse left anywhere at all. My dad keeps more fuses stocked than a naval destroyer does, apparently. Thankfully, another officer was around to tell the audience that his move makes the captain a “Bad. Ass.” rather than to remind us that the man who just tried to kill himself is the last surviving vestige of government these people have.
The nuclear blast sends a broken down cruise liner into the path of our ship and the crew rushes to loot it for supplies and fuel. Unsurprisingly, the cruise liner is filled entirely with dead bodies and the captain and Dr. Scott order the away-team to keep their suits and masks on at all times because the virus is mutating quickly, probably communicable by air and also highly contagious.Again, this is the Captain (last remnant of the American government) and Dr. Rachel Scott (the only person on the planet who is capable of making a cure for this virus). They are headed over to the ship filled with highly infectious, diseased corpses to make a supply run because the ship apparently has no one ranked lower than lieutenant and absolutely no doctors or nurses qualified to draw blood samples.
The ship is refueled and the camera lingers over hundreds of diseased, oozing corpses as sailors grab whatever food they can find. For no reason whatsoever, the white guy and black guy from before decide to run with their heavy bags filled with supplies and the black guy stumbles over a corpse, crashing down a flight of stairs and breaking his helmet in the process. White guy attempts to get him to put his helmet back on and come to the ship to be quarantined just as the captain and the doctor arrive. The captain sides with White Guy but Black Guy and the doctor both know he doesn’t have a chance. Black Guy shoots himself rather than wither and die like the people on the ship. Collect your bets now.
The crew holds a funeral for Black Guy the next day and White Guy is very sad, but fortunately he has his secret, fellow-crewman girlfriend to comfort him in these hard times. The captain receives an old video message from his wife and two children, informing him that they are safe and hiding out in his father’s cabin. And if you managed to get through this scene without getting a little teary-eyed check yourself for a pulse because you might not have a heart.
Dr. Scott reveals that new blood samples show human tampering in the virus which has caused it to spread more rapidly among the population. However, the manipulated gene has made it more difficult for the virus to mutate and therefore more vulnerable to a vaccine. Unable to contact the remains of the U.S. government, Captain Chandler makes an executive decision that will set the direction for the rest of the series. Rather than risk losing people and supplies trying to get the doctor two hundred miles inland to the lab, they are going to stay in the water and keep moving while she makes the vaccine in the lab. Although some members of the crew dislike the decision the majority seem to understand the enormity of their responsibility to the human race and commend the captain for making the call.
We end the episode feeling hopeful for our brave crew and humanity’s last hope. And then we get a clip of Dr. Scott’s previously unassuming assistant speaking in Russian over the satellite phone, informing an unknown source that the ship is not going to land in America and to give him new instructions. End scene.
I’m hooked. The first episode is far from a masterpiece, but the plot in its very nature is suspenseful and the pacing is solid, preventing the episode from stagnating when it easily could have. If the series continues to deliver, it will have gained one more dedicated viewer. With 80-percent of the human population sick and dying, I am genuinely interested to see how our protagonists find ways to develop and, even more challengingly, disperse a vaccine to the infected populations and how relationships between countries and people’s will change and time goes on and anarchy reigns.
Whatever happens, it’s going to happen fast and I couldn’t be more excited for this ride.
Onscreen deaths: 3
Instances of dissent among the ranks: 2
Is the dog dead yet? No.
New episodes of The Last Ship air Sunday nights at 9pm on TNT
Photo © TURNER ENTERTAINMENT NETWORKS, INC. A TIME WARNER COMPANY. Credit: Maarten De Boer