‘The Last Ship’ Pilot Recap: “The World Is Sick”

Michael Bay is a busy guy. For all of his other failings, let it never be said that the man is a slacker. The same week as his latest robo-carnage ‘Transformers’ sequel hits theaters, Bay also has a new TV series (his second of the year) premiering on TNT. ‘The Last Ship’ looks more overtly Bay-like than Starz’s pirate adventure ‘Black Sails’. It’s even based on a book that some people say is pretty good. Just how well does the Michael Bay aesthetic translate to the small screen?

Here’s the pitch: The Navy destroyer U.S.S. Nathan James, captained by Commander Tom Chandler (Eric “McSteamy” Dane), is sent on a mission to the arctic circle for a covert weapons test. Also on board is CDC virologist Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra), who allegedly needs to be ferried to the North Pole to study arctic terns, but really has a much more serious secret agenda to test the primordial strain of a super-virus that was discovered beneath the permafrost. (It doesn’t take much effort to deduce that melting of the ice caps due to global warming has unearthed the virus, but that is never explicitly stated in the pilot episode.)

After four months of strict radio silence, the ship re-establishes contact with the mainland and turns to head home – only to learn that the world is a very different place since the crew left. The virus has wiped out 80% of the human population. Governments have collapsed. Both the President and Vice President of the United States are dead, and the ship loses contact with the Speaker of the House after one short message. U.S. military command is, as far as anyone can tell, gone. The planet is in chaos. The Nathan James may possibly be the last vestige of societal order left, and Dr. Scott may be the only hope for finding a cure.

This is certainly a juicy concept. Adding to the crew’s dilemma are attacks by breakaway Russian militants who want Dr. Scott’s research, an unexplained nuclear missile strike on Europe, and concerns about limited supplies of food and fuel on the ship.

As you would expect from something Michael Bay produced, the show has very slick production values and a raging hard-on for fetishistic displays of military hardware in action. Bay did not direct the pilot episode himself, however. That duty went to journeyman Jonathan Mostow (‘U-571’, ‘Terminator 3’), and frankly that’s probably for the best. Mostow may not be an auteur, but he can stage a coherent action scene without editing it into a seizure-inducing assault of micro-second cuts. Television may turn out to be a more suitable medium for Mostow’s skills than feature films have been.

The show is a little overheated and silly, and I’m not entirely sold on it. (The episode also had a terrible sound mix over broadcast.) But I’m willing to give it at least one more episode. That’s better than I expected going in.


  1. Wayne

    Yup, totally silly…and predictable..and silly….and Navy snowmobiles! But a PERFECT summer TV show. Heck, If, every week they show a 5-inch gun blasting a helicopter followed by the spent 5-inch casing clanging to the deck, I’ll totally tune in…

    • Josh Zyber

      I should have mentioned the ridiculous snowmobile scene. Not to mention the fact that the ship is apparently impervious to rockets and missiles, which strike it dead-on but never leave so much as a ding or scorch mark.

      • NJScorpio

        Speaking of…where did the dog go during that whole scene? It’s with them on the snowmobile, then they are being shot at (no sign of the dog on the back), and they travel a good distance.

        All of a sudden, the dog appears, biting a Russian. Then they shoot the Russian with, what appears to be, just inches to spare to avoid hitting the dog.

        Anyway…I did kinda enjoy this piolt. It reminded me of the premise for the Battlestar Galactica reboot. If they can keep things interesting in terms of aquiring supplies, and fractions trying to attack them, then I could see enjoying a season.

        It just seems like one of those shows that could canceled before any resolution, or, if a hit, artifically stretched out for more seasons than would be warranted.

      • Wayne

        HA! Yeah, the US is apparently impervious to any Russian firepower whatsoever. USA! USA! USA!

        Oh…and for future reference..

        If you have to guard scientists on the ice shelf be sure to have this packing check list:

        1. German Shepard
        2. Fur lined warm coat
        3. Lunch box
        4. Lunch

  2. Robin

    I liked the pilot and the next two shows. I’m very easy to entertain during the Summer months. I don’t care what kind of rip-off it is from blah-blah-blah, at least I can follow the plot without index cards for characters like you needed for The Wire (which I loved) or Game of Thrones (which I still love!)

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