Over the last few years, we’ve learned that there are two distinct options when you’re looking at a big budget, television effort. There’s the option to focus a lot of attention on the script’s ability to deliver solid characters and convincing, intelligent plot lines, and then there’s the option to go the road of something like Terra Nova, which started off great, but quickly seemed determined to become a sort of sci-fi Grey’s Anatomy. You might not have too much trouble figuring out which direction Michael Bay is interested in, and how The Last Ship plays.
The easiest demonstration of the choice comes from the support positions we have to assume are, or are not, on the show’s payroll. When our show is about a virus that wipes out a huge portion of the world’s population and the Navy vessel that may have the last hope on board, there are clearly some options when it comes to coordinating the overall arc, and the plot points that get us there. On the one hand, we might expect a lot of scientists and military experts on hand so that we can figure out what makes sense, what’s possible, and how things might actually move in certain situations. Another direction might be to have Shonda Rhimes on speed dial, and see if we could figure out how she thinks the Captain of the last known ship in the Navy, holding not only the last known forces, but also a possible cure to such a virus, might handle new moments of potential conflict.
The show kicks off with an outbreak of illness in Egypt, and Dr. Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra) shows up to get samples. Without a great deal of explanation, you get the impression from her demeanor that she is probably some actual scientist’s lackey, especially since she doesn’t do anything that everyone in the room couldn’t have done for her. No amount of follow up ever changes that first impression, no matter how many times the show tells you that she’s very interesting, and that’s especially true because it never really does. She acts haughty and entitled in that way that not particularly clever people think smart people act, but to be fair, that’s probably exactly what she was told to do. The script notes say that she’s really the only woman we’re interested in, so she’s probably kind of a bitch.
We move immediately to the Navy ship that will be taking our good doctor to the arctic for an extended trip. They’re doing some arms testing, and the doctor gets to try to find some birds. The ship is in silent mode, not allowed to have contact with the outside world, and we jump to several months later, and the discovery that the virus has wiped out an awful lot of humanity. Of course, we also learn what the doctor was really doing, and that the ship’s mission was just a ruse to dupe the crew into protecting her and her work.
As the show’s press materials share with you, there are others out there who want the cure Dr. Scott aims to manufacture, and there are those who just want to kill everyone, or don’t know what to do with themselves, or whatever.
Though you can’t argue the expense, nor even the potential value of it, this is a show that isn’t just difficult to watch, it’s difficult to figure out who it could possibly be for. In much the way that Terra Nova soon started spinning out “drama” that felt a bit too “soap opera,” which isn’t exactly what you’re average sci-fi fan is after, The Last Ship jumps almost immediately into the realm of tired dramatic standbys and absolutely ludicrous plot steps and character actions, reactions, and motivations, none of which seems to scream out to the people who are going to show up for what looked like a plague actioner.
You might easily forgive a show like this for the occasional moment when you find yourself wondering, “Why would he/she/they do that?” but The Last Ship is in a class with the very worst horror films.
The most unfortunate part of the show’s decidedly kooky overtones is that it wastes Eric Dane and Adam Baldwin. Despite the fact that Dane calls Grey’s to mind far too readily (a place the show shouldn’t want you to go, but I expect doesn’t mind), the two actors deliver as solidly as we could have any right to hope for. Even the most nonsensical behavior asked of the Captain almost becomes convincing with Dane giving it his all.
If you happen to get sucked in by this one, the best news is that TNT won’t demand the ratings of a non-cable network, which means it is almost guaranteed to stick around for a bit, but I’ll be surprised if the show holds viewers past the second episode.