As we begin episode 5 of TNT’s The Last Ship, our intrepid crew has landed safely on a tropical island and the ship still needs repairs, but the good Doctor Scott and her partner are collecting monkeys to begin testing a vaccine for the virus. Love is in the air as former Gitmo guard and new crewman, Tex, begins flirting with Dr. Scott and tries to coax her out of solitude and encourage her to bond with the rest of the crew.
Turns out there’s too much unrest in Costa Rica to get safe passage into the jungle via dry land, so the captain and doctor take “all the best men” on a boating expedition up a small river to get to a monkey reserve. The trip will take the ground team out of radio contact, forcing them to communicate with the ship through signal flares (green for “no radio contact, but all is okay” and red for “no radio contact, all is not okay”). Now begins the countdown until we see the red flare.
The boat crew makes their way into the reserve, but progress is halted when they run into a group of infected islanders who stumble towards them, zombie-like, and beg for help. When the crowd does not immediately retreat at the sight of guns and heavy arms and without any attempt at communicating, the crew retreats back to the river boats. The boats split up, one to take Dr. Scott back to the safety of the ship and one farther inland to find the monkey test subjects. The upriver crew passes a boat labelled “El Toro,” a phrase echoed by the sick people downstream, but the captain chooses to ignore it and move towards their destination. Almost the moment they land, the crew is ambushed and the youngest crewman is shot in the leg with some kind of spike.
The captured men are ominously marched into a shanty village filled with apparently uninfected Hispanic people, the phrase “El Toro” is bandied around often. The titular “El Toro” is finally introduced as the conveniently English-speaking leader of this ragtag group of islanders. The captain demands their suits and arms be returned, threatening him with a larger force of sailors if they do not make their next scheduled signal, but his threats are useless when he finds out that the spike his man was hit with is poisoned and the young crewman will die without the antidote well before the USS Nathan James sends help. El Toro decides to let him live, but not without reminding Chandler that it is generosity, not fear, which saves his man.
Back on Nathan James, Tex continues less than subtly trying to win Dr. Scott’s favor and she’s a little charmed by his ability to find humor even in the darkest times. On land, Captain Chandler has a quiet standoff with El Toro over dinner. El Toro is obviously a cruel dictator over a group of poor, starving natives and Captain Chandler is allowed to be smugly superior. Slattery, also at the dinner, correctly realizes that El Toro must have been a drug runner before the outbreak. In case you missed it, the writers highlight Toro’s evilness by showing him unnecessarily tormenting a man’s “beautiful daughters” because cruelty to women is the only cue the writers seem capable of.
After a search of their boat, Toro realizes that they were not in the jungle to hunt, but to trap monkeys. After a tense moment, Toro offers the monkeys to the crewmen, seemingly with no strings attached. He has also realized, however, that the flares have a specific purpose and meaning and the ship receives a flare signal that was not released by our crew. Two of our men watch as the girl from dinner is sent across the river to the infected people as punishment for speaking out of turn, but are unable to do anything without risking their shipment of monkeys.
The show takes a sci-fi turn when Dr. Scott awakes from a dream, correctly feeling that something is wrong with the boat crew, although Tex assures her the signal proves that they are fine. Back on the island, Chandler insists his crewmen be released after hearing about the girl’s execution. This apparently steps over a line, because Toro revokes his previously friendly, if ominous generosity and becomes straight-up hostile. He gives them the boats and the monkeys, but keeps the weapons and suits knowing that they will be useful to him. He then chooses a young girl to act as a human shield in his tent to prevent the ship from sending a missile to kill him. As their boat pulls away, Slattery demands that they do something to end Toro’s reign of terror and Chandler agrees. CMC Jeter attempts to remind them that they have no weapons, Coms Officer Mason is dying and that they are the ship’s only leaders but, common sense and the possibility of returning after securing the monkeys be darned, Slattery and Mason have already made up their minds. They turn the boat around. I hope we at least get to see Chandler strangle someone with his bare hands, out of this ridiculously macho scenario.
Lt. Green cuts through Toro’s guards like butter, having procured knives from thin air. While our men sweep in, Toro begins seducing the fourteen or fifteen year old girl he picked from his villagers. But at least we get to see Green break someone’s back, successfully retrieving the team’s weapons. Toro needed to invest in better security guys. El Toro retreats to the river, but is trapped and without men. He surrenders to the American crew, but the young girl’s father kills the tyrant before he can be arrested, and Chandler leaves the uninfected village to straighten itself out. The land crew radios back to the ship as soon as they’re in range and lets everyone know they’re safe and have monkey specimens.
The show ends, lingering on two distinct images: Tex telling Rachel that everything is going to be okay and the landing party sailing past a host of infected, suffering people. The artistic choice gives the ending significantly more poignancy that the show has previously managed and even verges on haunting.
Science fiction has long been known for its ability to challenge ideals and tackle big issues through impossible scenarios and it’s good to see The Last Ship heading in that direction.
Episode Five Tally:
Unnecessarily Important People Go Into Hostile Situations: 7
Dissent Among the Crew: 3
Rachel Looks Down on Everyone: 2
Characters Who’ve Mysteriously Disappeared: 2
Is the Dog Dead Yet? Still missing.
New episodes of The Last Ship return August 10 at 9pm on TNT
Images: TNT/Karen Ballard