Monday, June 23, 2014

The Last Ship: Phase Six (pilot)

The Last Ship is based on William Brinkley's novel of the same title. It's produced by Michael Bay, directed by Jonathan Mostow and co-written by Hank Steinberg and Steven Kane.

Eric Dane is Captain Tom Chandler, Commanding Officer of the USS Nathan James. His Executive Officer, Commander Mike Slattery is played by Adam Baldwin. As part of their mission, they are to take two civilian scientists, Dr. Rachel Scott (played by Rhona Mitra) and her colleague Dr. Quincy Tophet, to the Arctic to study birds. After four months underway and successful maneuvers (which they think are part of their mission) the ship prepares to head home to Norfolk, Virginia. The Captain order the scientists back to the ship after which Scott reams the Captain a new one for compromising her mission. (This would be the moment I began to hate her.)

Later, we find Scott on a satellite phone making contact with her people in Washington complaining that her mission is compromised. Just after that, in the comm center, Chandler is told by his superiors that the mission has been extended, they are not in fact, going home. They receive no explanation and are told to maintain radio silence. The scientists are then able to head back out to the tundra and finish collecting samples.

The problems begin when, while digging primordial samples out of the frozen tundra, the scientists are attacked by what we later learn are renegade Russian forces. Fortunately the crew of the Nathan James manage to kill the attackers and get the scientists back to the ship. They bring along them a severely injured Russian pilot who attempts to communicate but only says one thing...about wanting "a cure."

Chandler is pissed at Scott (and rightly so) because he knows she's hiding something from him. He suspects the Russians weren't after the samples, they were after her. She refuses to tell him anything about the cure but she reveal to him that seven months earlier, the CDC and WHO had sent her to Egypt to collect a sample of a virus of unknown origins that had mutated and spread. It started in Africa and Asia and was considered a stage two but months later escalated to a stage six resulting in a worldwide pandemic which had infected 80% of the world's population. She informs him that no vaccines worked, that their only hope was to retrieve primordial strains from the Arctic from the feeding grounds of the birds that carried the virus. Chandler is seething that he and his crew were misled and that she broke radio silence endangering the crew and the ship. She lets him know, in no uncertain terms, that they were under radio silence "to protect my mission, not yours." 

Later, Chandler is contacted by the White House and he is surprised that he is not talking to the President or Vice President but rather the Speaker of the House, who took the Oath when both her predecessors died from the virus. She sends him coordinates to a lab in North Carolina where the scientists can begin work on the vaccine. When asked about finding loved ones, he is told that most of the population is dead or dying. The US no longer has allies or enemies, it's "just a world of sick, desperate people." She tells him the Nathan James was fortunate to be out of the "hot zone" and subsequently orders him home so Scott can begin working on the cure. 

After Chandler opts to head to an unmanned refueling station off the coast of France, Slattery, having spoken to his wife, reveals that his son is dead and that his wife is in a "safe zone" with their daughters. (You can't help but want to cry for Slattery.) They are interrupted when they word a nuclear missile launched from a surface ship and is headed for them. It overshoots and winds up slamming into the French coast. The EMP disables the ship but eventually with their hope resting on one last fuse (and the hand of the Captain who risks death from the power surge--that was sooo badass!) they're able to get power going again.

With eleven percent fuel left, they see a ship on the radar. It turns out to be an Italian cruise ship and after repeated attempts to contact, they decide to board it. (This is a hard scene to watch). All of the crew and passengers are dead, save one, who Scott injects with morphine to stop his pain. As they gather canned food and other necessary items, one of the crew opens the cold storage hoping to find meat, only to find bodies piled ceiling-high. Meanwhile as the boarding team races to exit the ship, another member of the crew, Frankie, trips and falls down the stairs, losing his bio-hazard mask in the process, which immediately exposes him to the virus. Within moments he is already showing signs of infection and knows he cannot return to the ship. Knowing what agony lies ahead, he takes out his gun and kills himself. (Very jarring and emotional scene.)

Once returned to the ship, Chandler receives a five-day old message from the President but after attempts to authenticate, the crew cannot reach anyone in the Pentagon or Presidential bunker. The message tells them to reroute from North Carolina to Mayport, Florida. That message is followed by a video message from Chandler's wife and two children, letting him know they are safe, having escaped early on. A glassy-eyed Chandler watches as his children ask, "daddy where are you?"

Upon arrival at Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, they find there is no sign of radiation in the air. While Slattery is topside talking about "we're home", Chandler is below decks asking Scott if she and her colleague (if I haven't mentioned yet this guy is shifty, I'm saying it, he's shifty!) can create the vaccine in the makeshift lab aboard the ship. At first she insists it is not possible but Chandler has his reasons, he knows it is safer for them to stay at sea. She finally relents.

Meanwhile Slattery briefs a select group of the crew, with instructions on getting on dry land and securing the area for the teams to move in but Chandler takes Slattery aside and tells him that they can't get a hold of anyone in a position of authority for instructions. He tells Slattery "were not going home." The lab is two hundred miles in and while Slattery insists they can fight their way to it if necessary, Chandler refuses, he says it's too dangerous. He informs Slattery that Scott can do her work aboard the ship. Chandler and Slattery are now at odds. Chandler wants to stay at sea and ride it out till the scientists create the vaccine and Slattery wants to get to the lab so the work can be done there in the proper place so they can all get home. He insists that the crew should be allowed to get back to their families before it's too late.  

Thus begins the tension between Number One and Number Two.

The Captain informs the crew that, with the US government no longer functioning and the country they left, no longer in existence, they are leaving Mayport and heading for fuel and food at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Their mission now is "to the entire world" and they can only do that by keeping the scientists safe long enough to come up with the cure.

In the last scene, Scott's colleague (shifty scientist) is on the satellite phone, frantically relaying the news to someone on the other end that they are not headed home. 

As to the casting, Eric Dane is solid as the Captain. I like his no nonsense, military-like approach. He's a hardass and a badass and that's just what he needs to be. Adam Baldwin is the Executive Officer and as supporting cast goes, he's one of the best. I see him as Chandler's friend and nemesis...when the situation is called for. Rhona Mitra is somewhat convincing in her role as the Dr. Rachel Scott yet but I'm not completely liking her character quite yet. It's not personal, it's that her character comes across as a real bitch in the first episode. Okay so Dr. Scott was somewhat justified in her bitchiness, I mean 80% of the world's population is dead or dying and the fate of the remaining 20% is essentially in her hands. But if she's going to be like this the entire first season...oh hell no. Only time will tell if Scott becomes a likeable character that I want to root for or if I hate her so much I'll wish the virus killed her too.

Dane and Baldwin are so good together. These guys just took control from the moment they appeared on my screen. I've never seen Dane in anything prior to this but he captures the essence of a Naval warship commander here. The graying hair, the stature, the firmness of his voice, the all Commanding Officer in my book. And Baldwin? Exceptional as the Executive Officer, he has the look and the feel and his presence commands respect. A note about Baldwin, he's good in anything you put him in. He can play the guy you love to hate to perfection but then he can also be the guy you love to root for. 

Having been in the military and aboard ships, I understand the jargon and the atmosphere and I found these guys not only believable in their roles but oddly reminiscent of near middle-aged executive officers I dealt with when I served. Baldwin and Dane make a good partnership. That scene toward the end when they're at odds, I liked that...after all, we can't have them agreeing all the time. Even though Slattery is required to carry out Chandler's orders, I like that he's hesitant, he's angry. I like that they disagreed.  I just hope they don't wind up portraying Slattery as a bad guy because then I'm just done. That ship is responsible for the fate of the remaining population of the world and it needs a strong leadership.  Chandler can't do it alone. As it is in real life, Captain Chandler will need to make decisions that at most times, the crew will not agree with but he'll do it because he has to, not because he wants to. And he'll need his Number Two in there as his advisor and confidante and also liaison with the crew. Slattery likely deals more with the crew than Chandler does and it'll be Slattery that can either make--or break a mutiny.  Though mutiny under such circumstances may be a possibility, I hope it doesn't come to fruition. While it is necessary for the characters to face-off, they must always on the same team with the same objective. The enemy is the virus, not each other.

All in all, while the first episode lacks in character development, it's completely understandable, after all it's just the pilot episode and impossible to pack so many backstories into a one-hour pilot. It was already packed--with fast-paced, high-action scenes and realistic special effects.

So, let's go back to the title of this post. Can it deliver? I believe it can. Dane and Baldwin will no doubt deliver in their performances, as we've seen in the past. Rhona Mitra, Jocko Sims, Charles Parnell and Travis Van Winkle make a great supporting cast.  The show should take care not to involved in too many subplots and personal relationships drama so as not to take away from the main story. With just nine more episodes to go in this first season, there's not much time to tell the story so they've got to move and move quickly. Only time will tell.  I wish them the best of luck!

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