The first season of The Last Ship

(This is a non-spoilery review.)

When the premise of this show was announced, it was treated as a joke. Yet another apocalyptic TV show, but this time on a Navy destroyer and executive produced by Michael Bay, which immediately makes you think of bang boom Transformers movies. Honestly, when I first tried it, I didn't expect to like it at all.

But The Last Ship turned out to be the surprise of the summer for me. I liked it much better than the other two big new summer shows, Extant and The Leftovers. In fact, I liked it more than the last season of True Blood. It never once sat unwatched on my DVR.

The Last Ship is about the crew of the U.S. Navy destroyer Nathan James, who spent four months under radio silence in the Arctic (or was it the Antarctic) as Dr. Rachel Scott, a scientist, searched for something that the crew knew nothing about. When they returned to the world, they learned that while they were out, most of the world's population had succumbed to a global pandemic, and that Scott was quite possibly the world's only hope of creating a cure.

This is not The Walking Dead. The Last Ship doesn't lend itself to repeated viewing and analysis, and I doubt it will turn out to be a television classic. But it is doing a great job of being just what it is -- a fast-paced military drama with a science-fiction plot.

One big reason I am enjoying this show is Eric Dane as Captain Tom Chandler. Dane works so much better as a Navy commander than he did as Doctor McSteamy on Grey's Anatomy, and I have a huge crush on him already. He just exudes authority with a hint of sexy so very, very well. Maybe it's those steely blue eyes. And maybe I just like him better as a top cat than as a hound dog.

Dr. Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra) was less successful for me, at least until the last few episodes when her character finally got more interesting things to do and I started to warm up to her. Although every time someone calls her "Dr. Scott," I flash to

"Dr. Scott!"

Adam Baldwin is always wonderful, and X.O. Mike Slattery is a good part for him. (Or more accurately, he's good for the part.) We don't get the comic slant he gave us so well in Firefly and Chuck (okay, maybe just a little bit of a comic slant) but it's still the eminently watchable Adam Baldwin and he gives Slattery his all. He and Dane have good acting chemistry, too. I can always feel the liking and respect they have for each other without it being explained in expositiony dialogue.

A big stand-out character for me is guest star John Pyper-Ferguson as Tex, a prison guard that the crew picks up at Gitmo. Tex, who is irreverent and has long hair so that you know he's not military, functions beautifully as the anti-Navy character, saying the things that the others cannot say, and he actively flirts with Dr. Scott in an adorable and not at all obnoxious way. In fact, I was so in love with Tex and so aware that he was just a guest star that I kept actively worrying that they were going to kill him off.

So why does this show work for me when Revolution did not?

It could be the excellent casting. Especially Eric Dane, whom I could watch all day and into the night. It could also be that they filmed on an actual destroyer with Navy technical advisers, and it feels real. I know nothing about the Navy, but I bet they are portraying Navy regs, terminology and hierarchy with accuracy. I never go, wow, that would never happen on a Navy destroyer, or a Naval officer would never do that.

The Last Ship has a simplicity and focus that Revolution did not have. In fact, The Last Ship has something of a Star Trek vibe. The Nathan James is on its own and accountable only to itself. The captain has to make life and death decisions all the time that could affect not only his crew, but the entire world. They must find food, water and fuel in order to continue functioning, but they cannot risk interacting with people on the mainland without getting infected. Everyone on the ship, including the captain, is desperate to just go and look for their families, but they all know they cannot. They long to help the sick, but must keep their distance. I found a subplot with the young radio operator and the distress calls he couldn't answer to be quite touching.

In the last couple of episodes, The Last Ship pulled out some big acting guns (pun intended): Titus Welliver (who shops at Josie Kafka's Trader Joe's) as a mainland warlord, and the always wonderful Alfre Woodard as a mainland civilian leader. The first season ended in a huge cliffhanger.

Will I review this show? Probably not. Will I be watching next summer? Absolutely.

[Please note: There may be spoilers for this first season in the comments below.]
Billie Doux is the founder of Doux Reviews and has been reviewing her favorite shows for quite some time. More Billie Doux.


sunbunny said...

Every single time I see Titus Welliver or hear the name I now think "Oh he shops at Josie's Trader Joe's!" Every. Single. Time.

Billie Doux said...

LOL. Me, too. :)

Patrick said...

I was pleasantly surprised by this show too. It turned out to be way more engaging than I had expected it to be, and I think that's mostly due to the cast they assembled for the show. Eric Dane was an excellent choice for Cmdr. Chandler, he was completely convincing as the kind of guy you'd want in charge if something like this were to happen. Adam Baldwin brought just enough Jayne Cobb & John Casey while still feeling like an authentic Navy officer. Billie, it sounds like I enjoyed Rhona Mitra's performance a bit more than you did early on, but I like the actress so I was probably predisposed. And Tex made a great addition to the group, when he showed up I was really worried he was going to be constantly bucking authority on the ship, thankfully he wasn't that particular cliche. It wasn't just the four of them though, there were quite a few other engaging characters on the ship, the show did a good job fleshing out the crew. I can't speak to the authenticity of the military stuff, but it certainly felt real enough to this Navy BRAT. :) At the very least, it felt real enough so as not to feel insultingly over-the-top.

I was a little bit bummed by one of the deaths in the season finale, mostly because it seemed to me like it was only to set up a particular triangle possibility in Season 2. Also because it seems like that particular actor has a habit of playing victim roles. Maybe I'm just cynical though. The main plot reveal in the season finale I must admit didn't come as a total shock, I was expecting something roughly along those lines. Doesn't mean I didn't enjoy watching it play out though, and I can't wait to see what happens next season(according to Eric Dane's Twitter, I believe they start shooting Season 2 in October, if they go out to see in the winter I sure hope it's someplace warm)

milostanfield said...

I liked Last Ship as well and am very glad it got renewed. For this summer it was my favorite show except for "The Bridge" and "Outlander". Have to admit up front I have a real weakness for Navy dramas despite never getting near a uniform myself.

Whatever part Adam Baldwin plays he's still got those "crazy eyes". Love that guy. And as you said Billie, the other leads were good as well.

About the only complaint I might have is that sometimes the villains are just too patly villains with very little nuance. Like the Russian commander, the first person shooter terrorists at Guantanamo, and that jungle warlord guy in an early episode. None of this is the actor's fault, just not top notch writing. You can tell from my love of "The Bridge" that I like those shades of grey. They've got another shot at good villainy with "Baltimore Warlord". Billie: If you're in line at TJ's with 30 items, and Baltimore Warlord is right behind you with only 3 items, just let him go ahead. He looks dangerous!

And the setup for Season 2 looks like fun. Despite having come to land, and having found the cure, they are still on their own between warlords and a Soylent Green "Government". They set that up nicely as the only contact with land they had before were the radio pleas of victims. And so, Navy to the rescue! Oops.

Josie Kafka said...

Yeah, Titus and I go way back.


Gavrielle said...

At the beginning I had this confused with The Last Resort - I'm glad it wasn't that one because I really hated that:). This sounds fun - I'm going to give it a try. I've adored John Pyper-Ferguson ever since he played a hilarious recurring character on The Adventures of Brisco County Jr in the early 90s. (That dates me, sigh.) I was amazed to discover from IMDb that's he's actually Australian.

Billie Doux said...

I had completely forgotten that John Pyper-Ferguson was on The Adventures of Brisco County Jr, a show I remember loving, although the details are pretty blurry.

He's Australian? Really?

mazephoenix said...

Just started "The last ship." Fun so far. Nice to see Adam Baldwin there.
Hmm..I gave up on both Extant and Leftovers pretty quickly. Even The strain was less good than I'd hoped.
Scary but not compelling enough sadly. I liked the books.
I stayed with Dominion..oh why?
Because of Anthony Head, he did what he could but it never really picked up.

Gavrielle said...

Yes, he was Pete in Brisco County. "Mah piece! Somebody touched Pete's piece!"

Gavrielle said...

I gave this a shot - I really enjoyed it, BUT I had to give it up before the end of the first episode as it was just too grim for me. Stuff like The Leftovers I don't find depressing at all, but with what's currently going in the world with Ebola, the Ukraine situation and all, something with a global pandemic and Russians strafing the heroes from helicopters was just too horribly realistic. I didn't even get to see John Pyper-Ferguson! Maybe I can come back to it when there's no disease and the world's at peace (might be a long wait).

mazephoenix said...

Nearly finished the show now. Yes, I'm in love with Tex, and Dr Scott has proven herself a courageous and admirable woman.
Much better IMHO than Extant.

Billie Doux said...

Agreed, Mazephoenix.

Gavrielle, if it helps, Jon Pyper-Ferguson's character is introduced in the second episode. And the focus of the series is on the crew and its mission, not the disease. Although I totally get it if the plot turns you off. I'm not much of a fan of movies about plagues.