The Last Ship is exactly what it says on the tin. It's an adventure show set on the high seas, with an apocalyptic virus kicker. There are shows that use this kind of premise to do deep introspection on the human condition. This is not that show. This show is the television equivalent of potato chips: filling and delicious, but not too substantive.
On one level, I fully appreciate and love The Last Ship's commitment to what it is. This episode looked every possible action-movie cliché right in the face. It didn't do them ironically or try to do a new twist on them. It embraced them all, delivering each one with complete sincerity. Out-of-the-box scientist vs. the military? Check. Russian spies? Check. An XO questioning the captain? Check. Use of the phrase "God help us"? Check. Death of the black guy first? Check.
The show goes out of its way to show us a diverse crew. One character, in a totally natural and not at all forced bit of dialogue, lets the audience know she's a lesbian. We see African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Canine-Americans on this ship. And, in the little bit of character development not given to the Captain, his XO, or Dr. Scott, we learn that two of the crewmembers are having a love affair.
The episode starts by showing us Rhona Mitra's Dr. Rachel Scott taking blood from a dying man in Egypt. From there, we move to the U.S.S. Nathan James, which is embarking on a four month mission to the Arctic, with Dr. Scott in tow. The captain and the rest of the ship thinks they're going north to do four months worth of missile tests, but they're really there to provide cover for Dr. Scott's super-secret mission to obtain a "primordial sample" of the disease she saw in Egypt. She even gets an ominous music bed while looking at a cage full of mice.
The super-secret-even-from-the-captain mission would probably be better hidden if Dr. Scott was in any way able to hide it. Her cover story of "birds" doesn't hold up to well. And neither does her statement that it's boring and unimportant, when she storms up to Captain Chandler (Eric Dane), demanding that he let her finish her work and that the ship is there to support her. (The best line of this episode, and most natural bit of dialogue, goes to Adam Baldwin. His response to seeing Dr. Scott's rampage is "I'm going to go check on the... yeah.")
Dr. Scott gets the mission extended so she can finish gathering the samples, when they're attacked by Russians. She does yell "THE SAMPLES" and refuses to leave without them, because she's a scientist. And, in case you had any trouble remembering who were the good guys and who were the bad ones, the Americans were literally in white and the Russians in black. We have a fun action sequence between the Russian helicopters and the ship. Plus, the dog takes out a a Russian on the ground.
Meanwhile, the Captain is pissed. The Russian they capture tells him they wanted the "cure" she had, and he holds the samples hostage until Dr. Scott tells him what's going. And, yes, he yells "I WANT ANSWERS!" Because of course he does.
Dr. Scott exposits that there was an outbreak of a virus in Egypt, and it's moving faster than anyone expected. 80% of the population is infected. She believed that she could devise a vaccine from the "primordial" strain of the virus, trapped in the Arctic ice.
And we now learn that Speaker of the House is now the President, since the most of the federal government died a few months ago. She tells Captain Chandler to get Dr. Scott to a secure lab on the east coast. She says the Russians have no government, so the attack was by some fraction that broke away. There are no allies, no one to turn to. The U.S.S. Nathan James was isolated, so they're pretty much the only safe place left. Then, the required world news montage shows us how badly broken down the world is. London is literally on fire. We hear that only four people managed to get word from their families, and the news was mostly bad. Adam Baldwin's son is dead, but his wife and daughters made it to safety. Later, we'll hear that Captain Chandler's wife and children are safe with his father at an isolated cabin.
The ship makes for a refueling station off the coast of France. Action break! A nuclear missile overshoots them, leading to Eric Dane being forced to deliver "God help us" with deadly seriousness. Mushroom cloud, and electromagnetic pulse takes out everything. For the ship, that means the engines are borked and there's a cloud of radiation heading their way. Captain Chandler does... something with a fuse that causes him to be launched across the room. And a crewman tells him what he did was "Badass." Another example of totally natural dialogue.
Coincidentally, the Nathan James finds an Italian cruise ship dead in the water that can be raided for food and fuel. Well, I mean, they'd probably have better luck with finding food if the fridge and freezer weren't already stocked with bodies. And here's the only dumb moment that I can't forgive: One of the crewmen trips and falls down the stairs, causing the helmet of his hazmat suit to come off. Helpfully, Dr. Scott had told us only minutes ago that any exposure could be deadly and they needed to keep their helmets on at all times. So, the exposed crewman takes his own life. And it would be a very intense moment, if I wasn't so pissed that the only member of our cast we saw die in the premiere was a black guy. Can we please retire this cliché?
Meanwhile, Dr. Scott's discovered that the disease now has an "extra gene," which is why it's spreading so fast. It's been altered by man, so it's replicating fast. But, says Dr. Scott, it's at least stable and not mutating, so she can create a vaccine from the primordial sample she got in the Arctic.
Captain Chandler has orders to get Dr. Scott to a lab, but he thinks there's no way to get her there safely. And they can't get in touch with anyone in the United States. He asks if she could make the vaccine on the ship, and she says she could. Captain Chandler decides the best interests of the mission are staying on the ship. Adam Baldwin points out they only have so much food and fuel, but the captain's realized they only have 80 biohazard suits. Baldwin (one day I'll learn his character's name) is not on board with this plan and accuses Chandler of "playing god." He's on the "people want to get home to their families" side of this fight.
Captain Chandler gives the order to keep going, and gives the standard "inspiring speech." Things of note:
- Good reason to believe the U.S. government is no longer exists
- They left as members of the U.S. navy, but now they are more than that. Now "our duty is to the entire world."
- The ship carries the hope for the whole world
- They have the ingredients for a cure
- And the ship is the safest place for it
- Mission: Stay alive long enough to create the cure
Everyone salutes him. And we're out. EXCEPT! Dr. Scott's assistant is speaking Russian into a satellite phone, because he is a spy.
This whole episode feels like the first act of an action movie, with every possible trope strung together by action scenes. But, as I've said many a time before, I really enjoy shows that know exactly what they are and embrace that. This episode proves that this show does. It's just a fun summer show.
Programming note: Usually, your recap will come from Charlie Jane Anders, and not me. The only reason you get my surely inferior take is because she's off today.