Sunday, June 19, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Last Ship' - The Nathan James Crew Heads to Asia on a Precarious Mission in 'The Scott Effect' & 'Rising Sun'

TNT's The Last Ship - Episode 3.01 "The Scott Effect" & 3.02 "Rising Sun"

Tom Chandler is sent to Asia to investigate a possible mutation of the Red Flu. Slattery and his crew deliver the cure to Southeast Asia but there may be an unexpected threat in the region. Chander must find a way to return to his old crew and investigate a dangerous new foe.

The first two seasons of The Last Ship were about survival in a world ravaged by a global pandemic. The virus wiped out so much of humanity. It was also about Dr. Rachel Scott developing a cure and the crew of the Nathan James delivering it on a global scale. That was a very difficult mission. And yet, they were successful with it by the end of Season 2. Rachel made a contagious version of the cure and the crew was able to deliver it to all of the United States. It was the first step towards rebuilding the country. Tom, Rachel and President Michener brought salvation and hope to the world once more. It was the end of the journey the show was on for two seasons. And yet, the show has been a success for TNT. So, it ended on the cliffhanger of Rachel being shot.

Season 3 sets sails for new waters. So, it's not surprising at all that Rachel is killed off with that gunshot wound. Her role on the series was so deeply connected to the cure. Yes, she was positioned as a romantic interest for Tom as well. But the cure was always her priority. Her efforts saved the world. And yet, she won't be able to see all the good that will come from it. That's a very tragic ending for the character. But it also showcases that the show knew what her purpose was. Her death signals that it can move beyond the virus and the cure this season. They are still important parts of this universe. Tom is a celebrity because of them. And yet, they don't have to be the sole driver of action in the narrative. There is still so much wonderful tension to mine from needing to rebuild entire countries. President Michener has his hands full in St. Louis. But as the President, he has to look at the entire world as well. And not everyone has the same views on leadership as he and Tom have. So that creates a season arc that takes the main characters to China and Vietnam to deal with the ruler reigning over Asia.

The virus is still a threat that the characters have to worry about. If the rulers of the world don't get the cure to their citizens, they run the risk of the virus mutating again and killing the millions still left in the world. That does give the characters urgency in their diplomacy with other leaders. And yet, the show should be moving away from the virus right now. It's no longer a necessary part of this world. Fortunately, these opening two episodes of the season do spend a lot of time setting up the new mystery and plot for the protagonists. A time jump between seasons has allowed them to relax comfortably into new roles. So, President Michener actually has a cabinet of advisors. Sure, it's small but it at least makes him seem more presidential. Tom and Kara are also stateside working alongside the President to carry out his orders in this changed world. Meanwhile, Slattery is in charge of the Nathan James as they provide the cure to Vietnam. But it's more important that Asia is a continent still riddled with a number of problems. The leaders may be hoarding the cure to themselves and pirates are still stealing whatever they can get their hands on.

The infancy of rebuilding the world's infrastructure is also a key plot point in these opening episodes. The narrative takes on a more global feel. Tom and Wolf are sent to China for a diplomatic summit to discuss the future of the region on behalf of the President. Slattery and the crew of the Nathan James deliver the cure in Vietnam and are then invited to a club to celebrate. Meanwhile, the President and his advisors are back in St. Louis dealing with tension from both at home and abroad. The show is definitely juggling a lot of plot this season. It's also important that these fractions of characters can't always communicate with each other. They are all working towards a common goal. But the actions of one another are such a mystery. They are doing their best to survive but that's complicated by distance between them. It's largely just a series of events to get Tom back onboard and in charge of the Nathan James. That's where he works best. So, these opening episodes are building to that reinstatement. It just takes a lot of work getting there. It comprises state dinners with espionage, plane explosions, needing to trust an unreliable asset and a Chinese helicopter marked as an enemy to the Nathan James. Again, it's a lot of tension and a series of events building to that conclusion. But it's also really satisfying to see Tom back in charge of his ship determined to understand what is happening in this region.

Along the way, Tom and Wolf lose a friend but gain two more. Val's death is a little sudden. It happens solely to keep a mystery alive - despite the mystery not being all that important up to that point. She has made strides with rebuilding communications. But she can't get a secure line in Chinese airspace or stream video because something is blocking her. She figures out what and then the plane she is on explodes. But her death also plays as eliciting a reaction out of her male counterpart. Apparently, Val and Wolf had gotten close between seasons. So now, he's full of anger and passion to get justice for her death. That's a sudden character shift that the audience just has to go along with. More importantly though, Tom and Wolf team up with Sasha (Bridget Regan), a former Navy officer working in China as a diplomat, and Jesse (Dichen Lachman), a doctor trying to get the cure to the regions without it in China. Both are totally stand-ins for Rachel. Sasha provides the sexual angst with Tom while also being able to kick ass just as much as the male soldiers around her. Meanwhile, Jesse is a doctor and a pilot. Those skills come in handy when it comes to getting out of China. But they could be just as important should the virus mutate later on this season.

Everyone is forced into action because Slattery and some other members of his crew are taken prisoner while they are at the Vietnam club. It's the big mystery of the season. Are the Chinese or Vietnam governments responsible? Is it pirates? Right now, it's just important that they have been taken. They are being kept alive and treated well - or as well as prisoners can be. It's mysterious that their captors are pumping blood out of the one officer shot in the capture. But that's just played as a nefarious and ominous tease for what's to come. It's a chilling moment to end on. It probably suggests something about the cure and the blood of the people from the Nathan James. Though it's much more interesting to see Slattery and his crew - which also includes Russ, Miller, Andrea and Doc - as they try and figure out where they are going and who has taken them. Meanwhile, Danny and Burk survived and try to make their way back to the ship. It's a perilous journey filled with close encounters. And yet, they return safely thanks to a last minute assist from Tom and Wolf. Again, this show does action so well. It never forgets that either. The final set piece with the ships on the water and the helicopter is excellent. Hopefully, there is even more to come this season. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Scott Effect" was written by Steven Kane and directed by Michael Katleman.
  • "Rising Sun" was written by Hank Steinberg and directed by Michael Katleman.
  • President Michener's big policy program from his first few months officially in office is a ration program. He wants to get the banks and communication up and running again. But it's still a slow moving progress. Plus, he's getting considerable push back from local governments who don't see the value of rationing.
  • Also, I'm very concerned about President Michener's longevity on the show considering Mark Moses is still being credited as a guest star. Though it is fascinating to get more of a glimpse into the political world this season.
  • China's leader, Peng, does seem like a one-note antagonist though. It's suppose to be a mystery on whether or not he is hoarding the cure from his citizens and if he took down that plane bound for the U.S. Though it's just not a mystery that is very exciting.
  • Burk is given a brother who joins the crew of the Nathan James. More importantly, he's the one actually running the ship when Slattery and some key crew members leave for the club. He is forced to act when they are taken. But he largely felt like a placeholder until Tom could be reunited with the ship.
  • It is amusing to see the crew of the Nathan James in that Vietnamese club. Slattery and Andrea could not be more out of place. But everyone else seems to be having a good time. One of the guys even appears to get lucky before the place is attacked.
  • Between seasons, Kara had her baby. And yet, Danny has yet to see him because he's away on the relief mission and the video feed refuses to work. That's what makes his status as MIA so emotional to her back in St. Louis.
  • Tom and Sasha have a past with one another. And now, both of their spouses have died from the virus. So that seems pretty convenient for a romantic pairing. Though it does seem Tom is still pining after Rachel and hasn't finished grieving her yet.