August 25, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “The Last Ship”


Once it became clear that, for the most part, THE LAST SHIP was science fiction only in the strictest sense (there was science and it was fiction), it was fairly enjoyable for the neo-Tom Clancy-esque action-adventure it aspired to be.  Much of Season 1 was, for all intents and purposes, a Cold War saga, with our stalwart heroes aboard the USS Nathan James being stalked and intermittently attacked by evil, subtitled Russians.  The fact that there was an epidemic out there killing most of the world, and that the Russians were pursuing the Nathan James not for an advanced weapons system but for a potential vaccine, was almost beside the point.  Just as in the universe of Clancy and his imitators, the Americans were almost without exception self-sacrificing and noble (about the worst thing any of them did all season was fall in love with a fellow sailor–of the opposite sex, it need hardly be specified–and put a mission in danger when he sought to protect her over doing his job), while the Commies were treacherous and sneaky.  Even the non-Russian-oriented episodes were conventional at their core, as in the hour where Commander Tom Chandler (Eric Dane) and his crew faced down a former drug lord now in control of his own island kingdom.  None of it was subtle, but within The Last Ship‘s wavelength, series creators Hank Steinberg and Steven Kane and the rest of the writing/producing staff (all under the aegis of uber-Executive Producer Michael Bay) were skilled at spending their limited TV budget in ways that suggested, even if they couldn’t duplicate, the thrills of a big-screen thriller.

It was only in the last two episodes of the season that the series started treating the more sci-fi implications of its story more seriously.  Genius microbiologist Dr. Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra) began to close in on a viable vaccine, and last week’s hour was an effectively tense piece about the human testing that by necessity had to be conducted on crew members.  Somewhat surprisingly, that proved to be completely successful, giving Dr. Scott and the crew not just a vaccine but a cure that could be used on those already infected, and pushing The Last Ship into a new direction for tonight’s season finale and for the already-ordered Season 2.

The season finale, written by co-creator Kane and directed by Brad Turner, was set mostly on dry land, as the Nathan James berthed in Baltimore and sought a place where the cure could be mass-produced.  The hour was a bit uncomfortably close to the feel of the late and not-so-great Revolution, as the city turned out to ruled by a former government bureaucrat (played by Alfre Woodard) who was both the mother of a Nathan James crew member and far more ruthless than she at first appeared.  Her foe was a local warlord played by Titus Welliver.  (Both Woodard and Welliver have other commitments next season, she with a bump in pay-grade to the official Presidency in CBS’s Madam Secretary, and he as the lead in Amazon’s detective series Bosch, so it’s not clear how much they’ll be around for Last Ship season 2.)  The ending cliffhanger had the ship taken over by the ersatz government’s forces amidst the revelation that they were also killing the sick and burning the bodies to keep the electricity on in town, while the warlord planned his own attack, and Chandler reunited with his father and children (but too late to save his wife, thus allowing–after a respectful interval–for the possibility of romance between him and Dr. Scott).

The Last Ship didn’t feel like it was on entirely firm ground in this final hour, which required different muscles than the ones it’s been using to date, but it has until 2015 to figure out how to adjust its DNA to accommodate the shift in genre.  The show’s bones are fairly strong, with the humorless but effectively steely trio of Dane, Mitra and Adam Baldwin (as the ship’s Executive Officer) in the leads.  Most of the younger cast members are fairly anonymous, but John Pyper-Ferguson has been a useful recurring presence as Tex, a civilian contractor soldier whose courtship of Dr. Scott hasn’t been all that amusing, really, but at least makes a nod toward the light-hearted, which is a touch The Last Ship needs from time to time.  The show’s production values, partly because of the enthusiastic cooperation of the US Navy (and why not, since the series is a virtual recruiting poster), are very strong.

Along with The Strain, The Last Ship has been one of the clear successes of the summer cable season, so its renewal was no surprise.  The series faces a challenge next season with the change in template, and particularly since it’s to a dystopian sci-fi that’s all over pop culture these days.  The show has demonstrated the ability, though, to tell a simple popcorn story compellingly, and that’s half the battle.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."