It’s been a long road as we head into episode 9, fellow fans of TNT’s The Last Ship. The intrepid crew of the Nathan James has faced a worldwide pandemic and the realization that they’re mankind’s last hope, plus Al Qaeda agents, crazy former drug lords, and a dogged Russian destroyer whose sole purpose in the apocalypse was to hunt them down. They accomplished all this while running on minimal food and fuel and dealing with the reality that most of their loved ones are probably dead. In last week’s episode our hearty crew cured a virus, saved a family, and stopped the Russians — all of which is great for them, but puzzling for us in the audience left wondering just where they are going to go with the two remaining episodes of Season 1.
As the episode opens, we get to spend time with Captain Chandler’s family as they fight for survival in the wilderness of Northern Virginia. Mrs. Chandler shows her spark by insisting on making return trips to town to gather supplies, and Grandpa Chandler displays his survival skills by shooting a buck … and being a gruff old man.
On the ship, Dr. Scott begins to prep her new vaccine for human testing, setting up a temporary quarantine where her lab used to be with the help of Tex. Rachel informs him that she’ll need six members of the crew to volunteer as test subjects since they don’t have time or resources to gather other participants. He unnecessarily informs her that no one is going to jump at the chance to be infected with the virus which is steadily destroying the world.
On the deck, Captain Chandler and his commanding officers discuss the issue of finding test participants. Despite having just been rescued from certain death at the hands of the Russians, Captain Chandler immediately volunteers as a test subject to “encourage the crew” to participate in the trials. Once again, he fails to remember that he is their only source of stable command and that without him they would be lost forever. But hey! Way to take one for the team!
Fortunately, his commanding officers are less oblivious and Commander Master Chief Jeter informs them that he’s already volunteered, been tested and been found effective for the study, having foreseen the Captain’s rather predictable antics.
With the issue of which-important-person-gets-to-sacrifice-their-life taken care of, the rest of the crew can get underway with volunteering to sacrifice their lives. Based on blood type, demographic, and other important-sounding factors, Rachel chooses six individuals to test the vaccine. And wouldn’t you know it, exactly half of them are characters we already know and care about. The final lineup is Officer Jeter, Lt. Kara Foster, the ginger who couldn’t hold a gun in the second episode, a woman I vaguely recall being referred to as chief engineer, a side character who had a line about her boyfriend in the first episode, and Tex.
Kara and Danny have a private, friendly chat in her bunk as she gets ready to move in to quarantine and this is apparently acceptable, even though they’ve now been outed and punished for hooking up. He even alludes to their having made up after he dumped her several episodes back. I’m sure none of us wanted to see this after spending episode after episode waiting for them to get back together, so it was very considerate of the writers to let it happen off-screen as well.
After the break we get another glimpse at Mrs. Chandler, who has gone back to town for supplies to fix their radio. She’s trapped in a store by mysterious but authoritative men with guns, unaware that there’s an infected body inside with her.
Back on the ship, we are treated to some back story for all the now-infected characters. Tex continues to flirt with Rachel and bonds with Kara over girl talk. Jeter remains a calm, God-fearing presence in the former lab. The chief engineer talks about her daughter and Ginger unsuccessfully tries to flirt with Boyfriend-Girl, whose name we learn is Maya. And who proceeds to talk about a) being an orphan and b) her boyfriend, again. Everything seems to be going well and several members of the crew make remarks about jinxing things, which means that things have to go wrong in short order. And they do when Kara’s fever suddenly peaks and she begins to seize. Way to go, overly chatty crew members.
As the third act opens, doom and gloom settles in comfortably. Kara’s seizing stops but she doesn’t regain full consciousness. Everyone seems to have new symptoms and Quincy thinks the vaccine might not be working properly, but Rachel is convinced they’ve done everything right and the illness is just a side effect of the vaccine. The chief engineer loses feeling in her fingers and begins to hallucinate that Kara is her eleven-year-old daughter. Tex breaks out in a mysterious rash and also becomes delusional. As Rachel attempts to combat their symptoms with blankets, she discovers Tex carries a locket with the picture of a young girl inside. Grabbing her arm, he mysteriously proclaims “You make me want to love again.”
There’s no rest for the saviors of mankind, however, and before she can ask what Tex means, Jeter begins to hallucinate and tries to escape the room. The doctors sedate him and Quincy insists Rachel consider the possibility the virus has mutated since they last worked with it in the field, decreasing their vaccine’s effectiveness. Ginger turns to talk with Boyfriend Girl, but she is unresponsive and she is taken away from the scene in a body bag.
Rachel is forced to admit the virus is beating the vaccine and Bertrise — who has stayed with the test subjects because she wants to make sure the vaccine made from her blood works properly — volunteers to donate her plasma directly to them. Rachel warns her that taking so much blood might kill her, but Bertrise is insistent. As they prepare the plasma, Rachel receives the findings of extra tests performed on Kara after her seizure. Big surprises occur all around when we discover she is pregnant. Of course, Danny is the first to find out and rather than giving her the news, they allow the forbidden lovers a visit. Kara very obviously feels as though she is at death’s door, but why tell her about the baby to possibly make her feel like she has something to live for? It’s better to let her wallow in her suffering.
Back at the Virginia cabin, the Chandlers listen to a radio message proclaiming a cure in a place called “Olympia” and Mrs. Chandler expresses interest in going, but Grandpa Chandler is doubtful of its very existence. On the ship, Rachel has a breakdown followed by a breakthrough. Just as the crew comes to say their goodbyes and Tom begins to make another eulogy, Rachel races through the lab with a promise of completing the vaccine — this time with the” primordial strain” that was her original reason to join the Nathan James on its trip to the Arctic circle. She remakes the vaccine in the space of a few seconds and they administer the drug to the five remaining infected men and women.
Bertrise wakes up as she regains the strength lost from donating so much blood and Comms Officer Mason, who originally heard her call for help, is there to greet her. He helps her sit up to see the quarantine, now filled with people who are tired but quickly recovering. Tex is back up and walking, the chief engineer is reading reports and someone finally tells Kara that she has a tiny person growing inside of her, not a killer virus. Outside the quarantine, Rachel informs the Captain that they not only have a vaccine against the virus but also a cure for those already infected.
This revelation cannot come soon enough for Mrs. Chandler back in the Virginia cabin, where we end the episode. She carefully touches the water glasses of each of her family members. Grandpa Chandler gets the radio running and calls for the Nathan James. Mrs. Chandler wipes off her son’s face with her spit, because that’s more sanitary than just leaving the dirt where it is. And as she walks away, she wipes off the sheen of sweat which has gathered on her forehead and looks into the distance with a worried gaze, leaving us with the set-up for the season finale.
A lot of plot was packed into this episode, but they still managed to skim over the character growth and relationships which have been stewing all season. I appreciated seeing the Chandler family surviving on their own and being generally awesome, but skipping confrontations between Tex and Rachel, as well as Kara and Danny, is a big let-down after waiting all season for these folks to get together. Although there has been talk amongst the characters of “going home,” after seeing life for the Chandlers, I’m wondering how much home there’s left to go to. And processing and distributing the vaccine world-wide will be a challenge the Nathan James crew haven’t yet prepared for —not to mention getting some to Mrs. Chandler before she infects the rest of her family with her iffy —unwitting? — sanitation.
So what do you say? Is it too late to save the world, or just in time? What will become of Kara and Danny? And Kara’s baby? Does Mrs. Chandler just need remedial hygiene lessons or is she unwisely making sure her whole family leaves a doomed world together? What else did you think of “Trials”? Let us know in the comments section below.
The Last Ship Season 1 finale “No Place Like Home” premieres Sunday, Aug. 24 at 9pm ET/PT.
Image/video: TNT Photo credit: Karen Ballard