Unlike most of the inferior film offerings Hollywood has sent our way this summer, television has supplied us with some superb entertainment including such winners as “Game of Thrones,” “Orange Is the New Black,” “Fargo,” “24,” “Crisis,” and “Murder in the First.” Still another promising series made its debut last week, and if it lives up to its pilot, “The Last Ship” should be a real thriller throughout its 10 episodes.
As “The Last Ship” begins, we see Dr. Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra), a paleomicrobiologist, arriving at a quarantined camp in Egypt via helicopter. As she gets out of the aircraft, someone informs her there are 6,000 quarantined patients in the camp as the result of deadly virus that already has killed 387 people there. Scott rushes into a tent where victims of the disease are lying all over the place, and she quickly draws blood from one of them who is still alive and then returns to the helicopter.
Now the scene switches to the U.S. Naval Station, in Norfolk, Va., where the U.S.S. Nathan James is preparing to embark on a four-month training mission to the Arctic with Comdr. Tom Chandler (Eric Dane) in charge of the operation. Scott and her assistant, Quincy Tophet (Sam Spruell), are guests aboard the ship, and Chandler thinks they are going along to study a species of birds indigenous to the Arctic.
After spending four months in the freezing Arctic waters, Chandler and his crew of 217 are more than ready to return home, but when Chandler requests permission to do so, his superiors inform him the mission has been extended. Scott and Tophet have spent their time ashore collecting samples from the feeding grounds of birds that have been carrying strains of the virus.
An unexpected attack by some Russians provokes a showdown between Chandler and Scott when he realizes she is the reason they all aren’t heading home. At first Scott refuses to tell Chandler what’s going on, but when he threatens to destroy her samples, she offers the following explanation.
“Seven months ago, outside Cairo, there was an outbreak, a virus of unknown origin. Its genetic structure was like nothing any of us had ever seen. It spread throughout the village killing everyone infected. Egyptian officials claimed that the outbreak was contained, but it wasn’t. Instead, it continued to mutate and spread. The CDC and the W.H.O. wanted to sample the virus from the victims to create a vaccine, but nothing worked. It was my belief that we needed to find a primordial strain here in the Arctic.”
Scott goes on to say that in the four months since their ship left Norfolk, the pandemic has progressed from stage two to stage six, and 80 percent of the world’s population is infected. Now Dane and his crew face the huge problem of finding food and fuel to keep the ship at sea while Scott works frantically to find a cure for the virus.
With the plethora of cop and reality shows on the airwaves these days, “The Last Ship,” based upon the William Brinkley novel of the same name, offers viewers a refreshing change of pace. The acting and writing effectively establish and maintain an ever-increasing sense of concern on the part of the captain and his crew. And the series was directed by Michael Bay, who was behind the camera for all those “Transformers” movies.
The first episode firmly establishes the rocky relationship between Chandler and Scott. He is understandably upset at being misled about the true purpose of his mission, and Scott refuses to be deterred from doing everything in her power to develop a cure for the virus. Thus, we have two very strong-willed people within the confines of a ship, and it’s only natural the sparks will fly between them. In a recent interview with Comingsoon.com Mitra spoke about working with Bay and also offered some insight into her character.
“I had the great privilege of doing a lot of the snow-chasing scenes with him (Bay) up in this incredible location two hours north of Whistler in Canada. When you work with him and get a feel for how he directs, you tap into what his vision is and how he sees the whole composition. You understand that you’re working on a feature that’s being squashed into a television show and delivered in bite-sized pieces. Every week, to keep up that level and that magnitude is, for one, not something everyone needs to see at that level every week. I think that it’s important that you get into the characters. As the season moves on, we get more into the character relationships. Obviously, there’s a lot of action, and we have the ship. That ship is such a beast itself. It manages to keep its enormity, but it also manages to get deep into the texture of the characters.
“I think she (Scott) knows more than the average person because she has been prepared for the potential of something like this happening. But she’s not a vaccine producer; she’s virologist. This is sort of uncharted territory for her as much as it is for everybody else on the ship. They’re all working together to try and figure out a way to work through this inconceivable possibility that has now become reality. It’s not like the films they made back in the ’80s and ’90s. This isn’t some sci-fi potential. The global pandemic that could. This is real and this is on our doorsteps.”
Kane, who also played Mark Sloan on “Grey’s Anatomy,” shared some interesting information about his character and the decisions he must make in an interview with TVLINE.
“He’s honorable. He’s consistent. He’s a bit of a maverick at times. He’s sincere. Coming from “Grey’s Anatomy,” those are things I hadn’t gotten to play for a little bit. Mark Sloan was just the opposite of all that stuff. Oh, yeah. Every one of his decisions is about what’s for the greater good of the mission. The whole time, his family’s out there. That’s got to be a factor in every single decision he makes. Do I press on for the greater good of the mission and the greater good of mankind? Or do I just tell everybody we’re going home and we’re going to stick the ship in port and hope everybody finds their families?”
Despite being a TV series, the scope and depth of “The Last Ship” make it seem like a big-screen production. This is primarily the result of some outstanding cinematography. The battle with Russians attacking in helicopters is outstanding, and some of the shots of the ship on the open sea are nothing short of stunning.
I highly recommend “The Last Ship,” which sails to the final score of a nautically superior eight. The show airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on TNT, and it’s good enough to be a safe bet it won’t sink before completing its 10-episode voyage.