Episode 3 of TNT’s The Last Ship grabs last episode’s cliff hanger and keeps on being underwhelming. Three episodes in, The Last Ship has started suffering from a lack of character development and although the pacing of this episode was significantly better, the tensions were empty of emotion or any real investment in the characters. We finally meet the Russians who have been chasing our ship since the Arctic and learn the reason for Dr. Tophet’s treason, which is great. The romantic subplot was less great, however, and more infuriating. Trapped in the harbor Guantanamo, this could have been a fascinating bottle episode which explored individual characters and their motivations more closely but instead became an overdrawn prison break. It kicks off like this…
The Russian admiral, named Roznakov, who demands that they either hand over the “primordial samples [of the virus]” and Dr. Scott or that he will blow their ship out of the water, with the old Russian battleship’s nuclear warhead. Captain Chandler asks the Russian Admiral to meet face to face so they can discuss the terms and Roznakov agrees, which sort of defeats the purpose of his ultimatum. Not that the threat wasn’t already thin, considering blowing up the ship would also mean blowing up Dr. Scott and the samples, but not every threat can be a winner, I guess. Their meeting goes about as well as you would think. Dr. Tophet comes along and acts increasingly suspicious, not that any one notices.
Captain Chandler offers them a sample of the “primordial virus” but not Dr. Scott and the Admiral refuses, informing them that the world is not worthy of saving and that he possesses something which Scott will require to make the vaccine anyway. Chandler refuses to give in (calling Roznakov’s bluff in the process) and insists they can wait out the Russian ship, considering they now have all the food supplies left on the island. In a moment of wacky hijinks, Roznakov shoots one of his own men to prove exactly no point other than that he doesn’t care if they live or die, which seems to have more of an effect on his own men than on the Americans, so he maybe didn’t think that one through all the way either.
Back on the ship, Chandler questions Dr. Scott on what the Russians could have that she would need and she insists there’s nothing. She looked kind of suspicious while saying it, but that could also just be the actress’s face so, frankly, I have no idea if the audience is supposed to believe her or not. Chandler sends some men to find another way out of the harbor and the two men find a shallow place they could potentially blast deeper to get the ship out, but only by making a lot of noise. About two seconds after making this discovery, both men are shot by Russian soldiers, leaving nothing but static and video of bloody water to prove their existence.
Lieutenant Perpetually-In-A-Bad-Mood (that’s Lieutenant Green, by the way, the guy with the dog/dead best friend/secret girlfriend) takes it very personally even though we had no real indications he knew these men well at all… IN retaliation, Chandler threatens to kill three Russians if they don’t take their ship over the horizon and thanks to Roznakov’s unnecessary show of force to his men earlier in the day, he is forced to back off or lose the trust of his own sailors. They Russian ship retreats over the horizon, leaving mines in their wake and watching the Nathan James on radar. Roznakov gives Chandler twenty-four hours to turn over Scott and the samples.
Later that night, Tophet attempts to kidnap Dr. Scott from the ship and that goes super well for him. He gets her to the edge of the boat, where she refuses to move long enough to escape. She ends up in the mess hall, where Tophet sees he’s failed to capture her and threatens to release a sample of the virus and contaminate the entire crew. Dr. Scott begs him not to do it and reminds him that he is a good man and that he would never do something like this to all the nice people on their boat. This scene is probably intended to be emotional but considering the audience has never seen any evidence of the relationship between the doctors and that we know absolutely nothing about him other than that he’s been selling the ship out to the Russians since the start of the series, well… it just rings hollow. It’s not even surprising that she talks him down because every major character was in the room and if he’d released the virus they would have had to end the show very quickly. Only after this apparently intense scene do we learn that Dr. Scott and Dr. Tophet have been working together for nearly ten years and that Roznakov has taken his family hostage and forced him to do all of these things, still letting Tophet be a “nice guy”. Timing is everything in a show like this and the writers really failed in their delivery of this information…
Now that we know Roznakov has Tophet’s family, we get the pleasure of spending some time with the Russians. Roznakov relaxes in his quarters, drinking red wine and listening to opera (it’s Voi Che Sapete from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and not, disappointingly, a Russian composer’s work) when he decides to call Tophet’s wife into the room for no apparent reason. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice he’s collected a Bad Guy Trifecta he’s bald, he’s got a bunch of classy hobbies, and he vaguely sexual menaces a woman under his authority. Not much really happens in this scene except that we reconfirm “yes, Roznakov is a bad guy” so I’m going to kind of gloss over it.
Back on the Nathan James, our fearless crew is planning to use Roznakov’s now-blown kidnapping plan to their favor and they prepare to escape the harbor and damage the Russian ship. Chandler conveniently sends Lieutenant I’m-Not-Dating-This-Girl and his Not-Girlfriend to pose as Tophet and Scott with a skiff full of explosives which will distract the Russians long enough for our crew to blast through their opening and make a safe getaway. Unfortunately, the ship has to shut down all radar, radio and a dozen other capabilities in order to trick the Russian’s radar into thinking they’ve stayed in one spot. The dialogue assures us many, many times that this is a dangerous thing to do and that they will have only one shot to make it out of the harbor. Chandler tells them to do it anyway and they all head out.
Unsurprisingly, Lieutenant Green can’t do his job correctly and tries to convince Lieutenant Foster (his not-girlfriend) to jump the boat before getting within firing range of the Russian vessel, giving up valuable time and threatening the safety of the entire American ship. She is rightfully shocked by his insinuation that she shouldn’t do her darn job and insists that he keep the boat moving and that they finish their job. They reach the Russian vessel with just enough time for Nathan James to make its escape and everyone comes out fine. Green and Foster get back to congratulations from the crew but Green stalks off, furious. When Foster follows him, he insists that she prevented him from doing his job. Foster accurately points out that she didn’t make him do anything and that he stopped the boat for no reason other than that he was an idiot (that last part may have been my words, not hers). Green, states the obvious, announces that this is the reason sailors aren’t allowed to date, says he loves her and tells her to leave him the hell alone. Foster stares after him, just as confused as the rest of the audience. I’m not sure if we’re meant to be cheering for this couple or not. Of the ten minutes of screen time they’ve had, eight of them are dedicated solely to his being a huge jerk and I really think she could do better.
The episode ends on the Russian ship. Their hull has been breached but Roznakov insists that they will be able to make repairs. He informs a Russian scientist in a mobile lab very similar to Dr. Scott’s of the situation and the unnamed man furiously tries to tidy his work space, diving after white lab mice left and right. Fortunately, they speak together in English for no good reason so the audience can read all of the scientist’s mysterious subtext about being treated like a freak. The episode closes on the unsettling image of the inside of the man’s mouth as he breaths on a hyperactive mouse.
The episode concludes and I’m still unsure where this show is going, literally and figuratively. Literally, the Nathan James and its crew has sailed out into open water with no obvious destination and no real purpose. Figuratively, the plot has made it increasingly unclear who we’re supposed to be rooting for and the show has yet to provide any cohesive themes or messages other than that the writers have some Cold War-carry over issues with Russians. Hopefully it finds its footing soon because I don’t know how much longer it can go on alienating naval jargon and mid-sized explosions alone.
Totals for Episode 3, “Dead Reckoning”:
On-Screen Deaths: 2 Americans, 1 Russian (all at the hands of Russians)
Unnecessarily Important People Go Ashore: 0, how unsettling
Fulfilled Russian Villain Stereotypes: 4
Instances of Dissent Among the Ranks: 1
Dr. Tophet Acts Suspicious: It’s his only character motivation so far.
Is the Dog Dead Yet? Not present (could be dead, which would explain what put Lieutenant Green in such a bad mood)
New episodes of The Last Ship premiere Sundays at 9/8CT on TNT.