Warning: Spoiler Alert
Last week we got to know those aboard the USS Nathan James, the Last Ship. We began to get a feel for her Captain and the XO and the potential difference of opinion between the two. We’ve become familiar with some of the crew. I’d love to say, we are becoming familiar with our doctor and her assistant, however it would be foolish of me to assume we know much of anything about either. And after the way the last episode concluded, we haven’t even scratched the surface on Dr. Quincy Tophet.
Following the episode one reset, we witness the conclusion of Tophet’s phone call. “Stall”. Clearly there is some party who wishes for the Nathan James to make port, what follows is less clear. What is made abundantly clear is that the ship is under a new or at least very different protocol. New security measures, new machinery concerns, and a different morale than the one the series started with.
Let me take a moment to interject something that may or may not go over well. Television (and cinema for that matter) utilize a number of ‘devices’. Devices that work for dialogue, cinematography, character development, etc. One of my favorites deals with the concept of what is unseen but clearly assumed. For example, a man points a gun at another man. The camera shows the armed man. Shows him pull the trigger. Does not show what the bullet has done to the other man. Gunman walks away. you can assume the unarmed man is dead. Early in this episode, the creators of the Last Ship chose to not go that route.
We have a scene on the deck, where seamen are sharing their ‘thoughts and prayers’. I accept that the show makers and probably the studio/network want to create a “pull on their heart-strings” moment. Have the moment. But when Midshipmen Miller shares the concern for his mother, they should have cut to commercial. It may seem cold, but I don’t need to hear the remaining stories. I don’t need Capt Chandler to say a word. His mere presence says all it needs to. There is an artistry to shooting television. Just my personal opinion, but I think they dropped to ball slightly by forcing me to sit through it. To be honest, if I were just watching this for my own enjoyment, I would have fast forwarded through it.
Before we rejoin the recap already in progress, did I just see Agent Sitwell? The last thing this ship needs is for Agent Sitwell (S.H.I.E.L.D. agent working for Hydra) to be on board. A little TV fanatic joke there…back to the recap.
We find the command structure meeting in seclusion so that Dr. Scott can essentially break down the pertinent information regarding the virus and what exactly to look for. Most of the room responds in a manner that seems normal and acceptable. XO Slattery and Lt. Green are less, shall we say cordial. Nothing overt, but harboring a sense of discontent. After a few insulting and challenge driven questions by Slattery, Chandler escorts Slattery to his quarters. This leads us into another great Capt Chandler moment.
While Slattery continues to do the manly equivalent of whining about what has happened, what could’ve happened instead, and asserting that the doctor will have to “earn his trust”, Chandler responds in a way that at this point is all but expected.
Slattery: She’s got a long way to go before she earns my trust, that’s all…
Chandler: What about me? There’s no Navy. No infrastructure. No food or fuel supplies. We don’t know what we’re going to find wherever we go. We’re going to have to improvise every step of the way. Now I’m going to need my XO to–
Slattery: Fall in line?
Chandler: To execute. Whether or not he agrees with my decisions. Now I’m going to ask you one time and one time only, are you with me?
Slattery: I took an oath and I still respect the chain of command.
Chandler: That wasn’t my question.
Slattery (sternly): I’m with you.
(Slattery begins to leave, his body language less than convincing)
Slattery: You really think she can do this?
Chandler: She the only hope we’ve got.
If there is any question as to why Eric Dane chose to take this role, that should be some indication. He is playing the military officer hero. If you were to design a Naval Capt in a difficult scenario making decisions to impact his crew and the world at large, Eric Dane’s character is it to the letter.
Arriving at ‘Guitmo’ via helicopter, it is a relative ghost town as I’m sure 100% of the viewing audience expected it to be. Three teams for three strategic targets on this base. Fuel depot, food warehouse, and hospital. And did I just here a “stay frosty” reference? Meanwhile, Dr. Tophet is trying diligently to do whatever he can to “stall”, whatever that means at this point. Scott and Tophet argue over who is going off ship, just to have Capt Chandler inform them that neither will be leaving. As risk increases so does precaution. It’s becoming clear that Dr. Scott no longer has veto control of any kind.
While our three teams descend upon Guitmo like a special forces on a raid, Dr. Tophet is still trying to exercise a plan to “stall”. Agent Sitwell, or Lt. Ruiz on this show, stops him. Fueling has begun with minimal delays. The hospital is proving to be fruitful, with supplies not the carnage of death. As our food team moves its way through the exterior of the base, we see a body dangling out of a car. Naturally a sign that masks would be helpful. Just then a man running with his assault rifle above his head with both arms up comes screaming, “I’m an American, get back!!!”
Following a very typical military style overreaction or standard reaction, whichever you choose, we discover that the crazy running armed man is a guard. He’s not alone. Al Qaeda is involved. And there is a “low down”. Unknowingly, our team has ventured out into what essentially has become a strategically laid out mine field of Al Qaeda (if I have that right) set on taking them out. If you’re starting to question the direction of things at this point, you’re not alone. Sometimes a story can be too much and the believability is lost. Let’s hope that is not the case here. Big explosions killing would be Al Qaeda does help.
Another interjection. I love the military realism. Or at least the idea of it. I enjoy the premise thus far and I even expect some cheese along the way. However, the writing staff may want to pump the brakes on the John Wayne/John McClane style one liners.
Chandler: Revenge is a dish best served cold…
Guard: Let’s eat.
After the Nathan James targets a group of hostiles and blow them and the adjacent building to smithereens, the real concern sets in. Our hospital team has pushed their oxygen levels the limits and have been locked in the hospital. Presumably by the Al Qaeda who we assume are also the ones shooting into the hospital. Meanwhile the ‘guard’ is leading our food team in to said food warehouse with the huge suspicion that they will be met by resistance…resistance found.
Lt. Green, thinking outside the box-as military soldiers are expected to do in fiction, devises a great plan to get his team out of harm’s way. Or the infested hospital with no oxygen supply of their own. Said plan includes repelling and using a depleted oxygen mask as a small explosion and shooting his way out. Very satisfying scene. Just as it seems our team is getting out of harm’s way, literally, a man is shot. Dr. Scott convinces XO Slattery to allow her to use her medical experience to aid the shot man. Attempt one at restoring trust, I assume.
After our guard friend has proven his metal time and time again in a short amount of time, he is escorted by the enemy and marched in front of Capt Chandler. The game is on. Like the chiseled while military vet that our Capt Chandler is expected to be, he navigates a lovely solution to the stand-off. Using the communication with the ship, he’s able to relay cryptic orders to Slattery which works beautifully. Again though, the moment loses a little of its gravitas by the inclusion of another one of those cheesy one liners. “One thing still holds true today, we don’t negotiate with terrorists”. Ka-Boom.
With Tex (the guard) safely removed from the focus of no less than three enemy weapons, Capt Chandler cordially invites him to help along the way and eventually get home. I’d love to say this feels ideal. However, we are introducing a foreign element into the mix. The USS Nathan James is filled with naval personnel that all come from the same training. The doctor and her assistant are a variable, the assistant more so than the doctor. And now Tex. I genuinely hope that Tex is a guy we will grow to like unconditionally, but for the moment I’m skeptical.
With most accounted for (but not including the doctor at this point) we hit yet another snag. Tophet ‘claims’ someone knocked over something and the machines need to be re-calibrated. Spidey-sense note. This entire episode Tophet has been attempting to ‘stall’. To what ends, we can’t be sure of yet. We finally get supplies and personnel back safely. And an unidentified vessel approaches. The voice communicating with Capt Chandler is or at least feels British. The people Tophet spoke to on the phone sounded Russian. So if with 4 minutes left in the episode, you’re not expecting all kinds of trouble, then you need to pay closer attention.
Under the assumption that what Tophet has reported is true, Chandler sees no harm in welcoming the incoming vessel since they can’t leave for a few hours anyway. Before that, time for another device. We find Lt. Green, Dr. Scott, Tex, two injured but alive personnel, and Capt Chandler. Dr. Scott has clearly won over Lt. Green and by no direct fault of her own is winning over Tex. To be honest, I’m with Tex. Scott (Rhona Mitra) could read me the telephone book and I’d be attentive. Outside the quarters, Chandler speaks to Scott and informs her that she has nothing to prove. Trust by granting trust.
There is no question at this juncture that the creators of The Last Ship factored in appealing to the humanity and the sympathy of the viewers by way of relating to what is otherwise an impossible scenario. Chaos and strategy broken up by suspicion and heart-felt moments.
The most predictable line of the episode. “It’s the Russians.” Oh stop the presses! I’ll be honest, in this moment I’m beginning to question the placement of the Russians. The whole world no longer confined to physical borders, rule of law or even governments. We are all in the pursuit of a cure to heal the world. Yet we have specifically chosen to introduce Al Qaeda and the Russians. Arguably the two most iconic real life villains in American culture during the last 50 years. So basically anyone alive, watching this can identify with Al Qaeda and the Russians as “enemies”. It just seems a little too simple.
When was the last time we vilified the French? Or maybe the Swiss finally lost it and denounced their neutrality. Maybe it could have been pirates or the Canadians. Al Qaeda and the Russians seems either obviously simple or a decoy. Either way, this story is just starting to unfold. We will be back here next week to find out if the doctor is safe? Can someone please kill Dr. Tophet? Are the Russians the big bad or just one of many to come? And just how bad ass is Capt Chandler?