The Last Ship Episode Review 1×01 – “Phase Six”

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The Last Ship 1x01 - Pilot 4

A Brave, Lone Warship Spearheads Humanity’s 11th Hour Fight For Survival In A Dying World, in Episode One of TNT’s Explosive New Drama “The Last Ship”

As they undertake their final weapons test in the icy waters of the Arctic circle, the crew aboard the USS Nathan James – after four months of government ordered radio silence due to the top secret nature of their testing – can smell freedom, and no one more so than the captain of the ship at the heart of this action packed new drama from TNT, executive produced by Mr. Explosive himself, Michael Bay (Transformers, Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Bad Boys I & II). Indeed, Tom Chandler cannot wait to get return back to the people and country he loves so dearly, after being snow bound for the last four months. But when the pair of scientists he has been housing on his ship are suddenly and mysteriously attacked out of nowhere by Russian troops, Chandler comes to realise that the world he and his crew left far behind them, is in the grips of a global biological peril so great, it effectively has the power to wipe out the human race if a cure is not found in time.

And it is precisely that cure that Dr. Scott has secretly been chasing. After hiding the true nature of her research from Chandler, she is forced to reveal the fact that the deadly virus infecting the planet is what she is seeking to defeat, by obtaining uncontaminated samples of its original strain from beneath the polar ice. The only problem is, when she first leaves dry land to begin her search, the disease is only at Phase Two, where the disease is contained to only a few scattered communities. The world as it now stands now, though, is at Phase Six: a phase where 80% of the earth’s population is dead or dying; governments have collapsed in on themselves and many of the militant elements of them have gone rogue in their quest to not only survive, but dominate. Indeed, the only currency the world is interested in now involves the life saving remedy Dr Scott is trying so desperately to synthesize, and it would appear that there are some who will stop at nothing to obtain it,

Empires have fallen and humanity is on its knees, but even in this darkest of hours, is all hope lost? Will Chandler, Scott and their surviving crew of healthy men and women, be able to help mankind to rise again by not only creating but protecting the cure? Well, let’s jump aboard this last known uncontaminated vessel in the world and find out shall we?

The Last Ship Cast - Capt. Tom Chandler (Eric Dane)

Captain On the Bridge

For those of you who’ve followed Eric Dane’s career, I really do think you’re going to like him in this role. He’s played so many smouldering, sexy male leads in his time – and believe me, that element doesn’t disappear in this role: sharp costuming and a smart set of navy whites see well and truly to that – but here it’s great to see him engage a different part of his persona to bring Captain Chandler to life.

There are a lot of great moments of leadership for this naval hero in the pilot, and it’s well done enough that it means neither Dane nor Captain Chandler fall prey to the ‘hot guy in uniform’ syndrome. Be it in the speeches he makes to his crew – particularly those ones where he is telling his crew something that he knows has the power to greatly distress them and cause them to lose focus – or in his full, quippy exchanges with Dr. Scott, I think you’ll find yourself really taken in by how well Dane brings this guy to life.

One of the really refreshing elements of his acting here, too, is the fact that nowhere to be seen is that sleek, practised, honed sensuality we’ve so often seen in roles that Dane has taken on. He makes Chandler an emotional, loyal but also smart and quite edgy leader: the kind where I think most viewers will genuinely believe that he is a man a crew like that would follow into battle and unknown danger, and moving forward I think that’s going to be important.

But as for sex appeal, if he’s sexy, then really in a lot of ways that’s a comment more on the viewer than either the writing or the acting at this point, because thankfully, at this point in time it would appear that that side of Chandler is in no way the point to his character.

The Last Ship Cast - Dr Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra)

Madame Cure

The character of Rachel Scott is, in a lot of ways, not an unfamiliar one. Plucky lady scientist with a brain capable of saving the world yet battling to break through people’s preconceived notions of who she is and what she does: we’ve seen that before so it’s not exactly a revelation, to be fair. But that said, there remains something quite taking in the simultaneous elements of strength and femininity Rhona Mitra has brought to this: something she does really for any female character she has taken on in her career. She’s always had a great knack for bringing a fierce, womanly capability to the roles she chooses, and – regardless of whether the moment has her on her knees beside a dying man’s blood soaked bed, as opposed to standing toe to toe and arguing with a captain in the US navy – her portrayal of Rachel Scott is no different.

The Last Ship 1x01 - Pilot 1

I was really interested to see Rachel’s chemistry, too – both professional and personal – with Chandler. Because while I liked that about them – particularly in the way they seem to contend as equally matched personalities – we’re also made very aware that Chandler is a very much a family man who has a wife and kids that are still healthy, alive and out there waiting for him. So what does that mean? I mean it’s clear to see that there is very much a real, relational spark there, which begs the question I suppose: is that chemistry hinting at a story line to come? Maybe, but for my part I truly believe that the best way forward there is to give these characters the chance to forge a bond built in the fires of survival, and that’s not going to happen if this turns into a post-apocalyptic rendition of Your Cheatin’ Heart. Either way though, I’m excited to see what’s lies ahead for the good doctor in her search to save life as we know it; and indeed, it might just end up being the best TV role Mitra has taken on to date.

The Last Ship 1x01 - Pilot 2

Contagion & Collapse

Stories of worldwide pandemics have been done to death (no pun intended…okay no well maybe just a little one) and in more than one genre, so it’s kind of fair to say that in a lot of ways the viewing market has been a little saturated. So if it’s a story you’ve seen heaps before, what exactly is it about this story line – after watching “Phase Six” – that will make you want to come back and watch “The Last Ship” next week? Or the week after that? Truth be told, it’s actually just a really well told story from the get go. Much of that has to do with the fact that you have a genuinely engaging story line that does much to counter your expectations and preconceived notions from the outset, about the way the plot will unfold as this story moves forward. Having governments collapse and the world descend into chaos of course is par for the course, but it was so well done the way they put a viscerally human face on the impact of the disease, from so many angles. You had the XO – Commander Mike Slattery (played by Adam Baldwin with his usual punch of gruff awesomeness) – discovering that he’s lost his son to the disease once the boat is no longer radio silent and he can call home to find out about his family. You have Chandler receiving the MPEG from his wife and children high up in the mountains, where he discovers that while they are safe it appears his siblings are dead. Then – in what was perhaps the most confronting sequence of the episode – you have the ghost ship: a carnival liner where the entire boat has basically become an ornate floating morgue. The catering fridges are full of bodies. The halls are silent. Chandeliers drip beautifully over a ballroom floor now covered in bodies and bloodied mattresses. It’s a haunting graphic, but one that I think was particularly well done and will – at least for me – stick with me going forward, as a stark reminder going forward of exactly what this death looks like and how fast it is. And it’s exactly that human focus I think that will prove to be one of the things that resonates most with an audience. It’s the kind of image that’s filled with everyday people unable to escape their fate, and in this I think we’re meant to be affected by the fear that that brings with it. Either way, it was very well done.

Final Verdict

Given how sharp and cleverly executed “Phase Six” was, it’s a great indication, I think, that “The Last Ship” may well be a show that’s well worth your viewing time long term. Put plainly, TNT have had an absolute scorcher this summer with the dramas they have premiered, and excellent writing on top of a great cast I think definitely puts “The Last Ship” at the top end of that list.

Executive Producers Hank Steinberg and Steve Kane did a wonderful job with their story and teleplay this week, setting up not only a very solid foundation for each of the key characters – the kind of foundations that will make us as the audience really make us sit up, pay attention and hopefully emotionally invest in the show in the long run – but also a great premise for the plot as it moves forwards. Sneaking in that excellent plot twist at the end regarding Scott’s assistant being a Russian mole – coupled with the fact that the current vaccine as sampled from the ghost ship suggests human intervention at some point, so tailored is the virus’s effect – meant that we have a few really juicy plot morsels to pore over as we wait for episode two.

Jonathan Mostow meanwhile had a very solid debut in the director’s chair that helms this show, in particular demonstrating that while he’s on board with EP Michael Bay’s usual penchant for explosive screen action – and don’t get me wrong: that element of the story really gives it a good edge and zest for life – he’s also no going to abandon the human drama of the small captured moments. He seems to realise that these too are essential to not just hooking an audience, but keeping them as well. And given the fact that we’re only just about to embark on episode two, I think it’s safe to say that seeing that attitude being demonstrated here, so early on in the piece, is a very positive sign.

So what do we reckon, people? Has this show got you caught hook, line and sinker with its explosive, edgy post-apocalyptic story line? Or did it just plain sink for you? Be sure to leave your comments below as we wait with baited breath for next week, in any case. Because for my part? I cannot wait to see what this edgy, action-packed story has to offer us next.

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