It’s season finale time in the plague-ridden world of The Last Ship. The penultimate episode saw Dr. Rachel Scott officially test the vaccine on something other than monkeys and although it didn’t go well at first, the end result was something that not only inoculated the test subjects, but cured them of the infection entirely. It also tracked the progress of the Chandler family and we saw Captain Tom’s wife unceremoniously infect her entire family, apparently not recognizing the symptoms of the disease that has killed everyone they once knew. That leaves this final episode with the task of mass producing and distributing the cure to the entire world, as well as saving the Chandler family, tucked away in the hills of Virginia and, hopefully, setting up for the now-official second season.
We open with the Chandlers still in their cabin, but now all very ill. Grandpa Chandler radios for help in vain while the Children Chandler attempt to keep their mother awake by being as annoying as child actors can be (which is very annoying). On the ship, cheerful crewman receive the vaccine on deck while Tom and Rachel have a very intense and uncomfortably flirty exchange in his cabin as she personally inoculates him. Does this man not realize his entire family is dying just hundreds of miles from shore?
Meanwhile, in his bunk, Tex reminds us that writers have spent the last five episodes setting up his romance with the doctor and, after confessing his feelings to her in last week’s episode, she has apparently dropped him. This scene would be repetitive and possibly pointless, except that it includes Lt. Green’s dog from the pilot, apparently hoping we’d be so excited to see him that we would forget that they couldn’t budget the animal trainers for 8/10s of the season. And they almost got away with it, those sneaky devils!
As the Nathan James approaches Norfolk in search of a lab and the proper equipment for Dr. Scott to produce the vaccine on a large-scale, the crew begins to receive signals from land but are unable to answer or look for their families as they attempt to get Rachel on land. They manage to link up with a US spy satellite and attempt to ensure they have clear passage to the location, which is many miles inland. The route is clear, but they discover that the lab has been burned to the ground although none of the buildings around it are damaged. As the crew wonders who could have done such a thing, the fleeing Chandler family comes across a gate and armed guards. They inform the guards that they are looking for the mysterious Olympia, but the guards turn them away, claiming the family cannot find help anywhere. Grandpa Chandler begs to differ and drives straight through the gate, because when you’re sick it shouldn’t matter that you’re infecting the last surviving members of the human race as long as there is a tiny chance someone, somewhere may be able to help you.
Although the lab has burned, Comms Officer Mason picks up a stray signal from the Baltimore area which claims to have the equipment necessary for their mission. The unassuming female voice names their ship specifically and Captain Chandler unquestioningly decides to follow it. Grandpa Chandler picks up the same signal and, knowing his son is alive somewhere, bravely decides to push forward with his plan to infect every person in Virginia who is not yet dying.
The crew gets in contact with Defense Secretary Granderson, whose own daughter is on the ship, who informs them that most of the government died in the Presidential bunker but that they have established what peace they can. The Nathan James plans to arrive in Baltimore quickly and Granderson prepares a welcoming party for them. We peak in with the mysterious gunmen from the gates, now mask-less and looking nefarious. They discuss the ship’s arrival and make plans to intercept the landing.
The ship docks and makes a quick meeting with former policemen and state troopers at the landing. Granderson herself makes an appearance to greet her daughter and everything seems to be going remarkably well. Tex makes a pass at a state trooper, annoying the ever changeable Rachel, and even Lt. Green cracks a smile. In a nearby building, however, the nefarious men of the gate prepare to snipe whoever lands for any reason. However, when Granderson makes an appearance, the leader instructs that only she be shot. Sheer luck prevents them from getting a clear kill and the crew gets out safely, but the strange men begin working to find out the Nathan James’ purpose in Baltimore.
Granderson has made a safe zone just outside the city in a building equipped with state of the art medical labs. They have teams of men in lab coats who have been working tirelessly to produce a cure, but they all stop to applaud Rachel as she enters with her CDC medical box. She gets to work, happy as a clam in her natural habitat, and Tex looks on forlornly, upset that she isn’t paying attention to him now that she’s busy saving the world.
Granderson informs Tom that the men in masks are called The Warlords and that they’ve attempted to take over the US in the last few months and have killed a lot of people. The Warlords themselves get word of the cure and decide it’s time to take Granderson’s lab and secure the cure for themselves. The crew in the lab finds their signal jammed and have to radio the ship on an open channel. Chandler sends out a message trying to reach his family, but is unsuccessful.
Tex awkwardly informs Rachel that he’s leaving to “take care of business” which she ascertains involves the little girl whose picture he keeps in his locket. She’s upset but unsure what to say and awkwardly gives him a handshake goodbye. Just for the heck of it, he kisses her dramatically and then leaves without a word. As far as romances go, it’s not the worst I’ve seen, but it also doesn’t make any sense at all so I’m assuming he comes back before the episode ends.
Tom finally hears back from his father, who informs him the family is in a tire shop in Baltimore. Tom instructs him to stay there and Granderson arranges for him to go save his family, carrying the vaccine into a city full of infected people. When they arrive at the shop, the Chandler family has already left, proving they’re as good at following orders as Tom is. A creepy old guy informs them that the family has headed to Olympia, but the crew’s escorts refuse to take them as Olympia is for infected people only. Chandler points out that they’ve all received the vaccine and therefore can’t catch the illness, but this only leads to the most unnecessary Mexican standoff of all time. It results in the crew shooting four or five of their escorts, with one of them making it out alive to inform Granderson of the ridiculous situation. Green takes Jeter back to the ship to receive medical treatment while the Captain and one other crewman head towards Olympia.
Granderson receives the news back in her office and proceeds to gently show the audience that she hasn’t accepted her daughter’s homosexuality and then begins to politely interrogate Alicia about Chandler’s intentions. She specifically asks if he will still “take orders” and she successfully makes the switch from hero to villain in the least surprising TV twist since The Walking Dead’s Terminus reveal.
Chandler enters the Olympia arena and, amid squalor and sickness, locates his family. He vaccinates his son, daughter, and father but his wife has already passed, leaving room for an even heftier love triangle in the second season. Back in the lab, Rachel confronts some of her fellow scientists about their work, having discovered that the treatment they were receiving should have made all their patients much worse. The friendly chief of police who remained on the ship suddenly shoots a random sailor and takes over the bridge, threatening the whole ship with the troopers placed among the crewmen. Tophet attempts to take him down, but he is shot in the stomach.
In the arena, Chandler goes among the sick and realizes what is happening: they are being exterminated. Rachel is escorted into Granderson’s office, where the former defense secretary begins to monologue her hilariously maniacal plan. She has pulled the best and brightest of the world into her small building and has made arrangements to take care of them, hoping to prevent the dark ages and keep the world going. Meanwhile, she has rounded up everyone not under her umbrella of “the best” and begun to kill them off en masse, using their burning corpses to power the rest of the city. The “Warlords” are actually protecting the people from her nonsensical wrath. We close out the season as the Nathan James crew is mustered on deck, unknowingly subdued from the bridge, Rachel in the hands of the enemy and Captain Chandler and his family trapped inside the Olympia death trap. Second season successfully set up!
The Last Ship has certainly had its ups and downs even as far as first seasons go. No one is going to heap praise on its actors or writers, but it certainly had its moments of brilliance. Pacing has always been a bit off, but this finale reveal and the attack on the Russian ship prove that the writers are capable of truly harrowing, edge-of-your-seat sequences that leave the audience wondering what the crew will do next. The villains might be laughably cartoonish (and all of them spouting genocidal ideals in the midst of the apocalypse) but they manage to force the crew into moral grey areas every once in a while and they’re not afraid to discuss an abstract idea.
It’s been far from a perfect run, but The Last Ship has certainly proven itself enough to garner a second season, and it’s done well by its special effects budget. I’ll be tuning in to the Season 2 premiere if only to see how they wrap up this cliff hanger — although, if they follow their previous formula, it will probably happen off-screen.
Images/video: TNT Photo credit: Karen Ballard