Monday, July 4, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Last Ship' - Chandler Confronts Peng While Slattery Gets a Message to the Ship in 'Devil May Care'

TNT's The Last Ship - Episode 3.04 "Devil May Care"

Chandler must confront his suspected new foe. Slattery learns more about the supposed virus mutation. Pressure mounts on President Michener as the situation worsens.

Overall, this has been a fairly solid and interesting start to the season for The Last Ship. Yes, it's still focusing a little bit too much on plot beats that have worked in the past. But it's also doing enough new and intriguing things as well. The narrative has actually been split into three distinct areas. Chandler is once again at the helm of the Nathan James trying to find his missing soldiers while trying to stop a war with China from happening. Slattery and his crew are struggling to survive while the pirates are taking as much of their blood as possible for their leader, Takehaya. And lastly, President Michener is managing the situation back in St. Louis while public opinion is turning against him because of this news. All of the stories are easily connected to each other. What one group does impacts the rest of the world. It's a simple storytelling move that is still very effective. The world has come back from the apocalypse a little bit to help make this brand of storytelling possible. Yes, some of the stories are significantly better than others. But everything does feel like it belongs on the show right now and one can only argue with the details of what's happening in each corner of the universe.

In Commander Chandler's portion of this world, the show essentially becomes a heist movie. Time is not on their side. They need to know if Chinese President Peng is aiding the pirates as a way to push America into a war. Takehaya has issued a warning to the entire world that the prisoners will be killed off if the U.S. Naval ships in asian waters don't retreat. That's a proclamation that forces everyone into action. And yet, Chandler and his team embark on a side mission back to the Chinese presidential mansion. But that has it's own purpose as well. Yes, it's problematic that this story diversion only happens because the Nathan James needs to refuel. That's a very practical concern that the show has to consider and show every once and awhile. But refueling genuinely comes at a time on the show where the creative team needs the crew on the Nathan James distracted and not able to reach its destination in the short amount of time it easily could. It's a plot contrivance to prolong the season-long story a little bit. The show is very good at creating those - just look at the episode ending cliffhanger as well. And yet, refueling forces President Peng back into the story. It's unclear just how long this conflict with Takehaya will last. So, it's important to remember the global stakes of the Unites States' presence in Asia and how precarious the situation is for the whole region.

Plus, heist stories are inherently filled with so much wonderful tension and action. The show does abbreviate the specifics of this mission because it has a lot of story to cover in all areas of the world. But it is still very effective to see Chandler, Sasha, Wolf and the rest of their small team break into Peng's mansion just to get some answers out of him. The season started with Chandler and Peng having a very rational but frank conversation with each other. This is the first time they've interacted since the plane went down and killed Val. Chandler was the intended target. He survived. And yet, the answer to that mystery is much more opaque that it has any reason to be. Again, the action beats of this story are very effective. Sasha also proves to be quite the stand-in for Val when it comes to disabling the security system. She spent enough time in this facility to know how the security works. But the entire purpose of this mission is to get Peng to call off the blockade that is keeping the Nathan James from refueling. That's essentially it. That's all that Chandler definitively gets from this trip. He is risking starting a war just to get more fuel. Peng is much more important than that.

The team does press Peng for more answers. But the way he carries himself only adds to the overall mystery of the situation. That's been his whole purpose so far. He does support the Nathan James going after Takehaya. He really does care about eliminating the pirates in his region. He too was hunting Takehaya before this global conflict happened. That's the reason why he allows the Nathan James to refuel and orders his security officers to let the American infiltrators go after they've been caught. He wants Takehaya dead more than taking revenge on Chandler and his crew. That may very well still be coming. For whatever reason, Peng wants Chandler dead. That's why he tried to kill him in the plane explosion. Chandler wants answers on that. Peng gives him a couple to choose from. And none of them really provide that much clarity on the situation. It's an odd decision. It says that Peng either wants a war with the United States, he's a very petty man who didn't like the way Chandler spoke to him or he's jealous of Sasha siding with Chandler instead of him. That's weird - especially the last one. The show seems to be suggesting that something much more personal happened between Peng and Sasha. That would certainly explain why he didn't harm her after learning she was helping Jesse deliver the cure. But Sasha is still too new of a character for that kind of reveal to have much of an impact. She has been a fine addition to the season so far. But the show can really play into sexual dynamics too much and hasn't been successful with many of them.

But even with all of those problems, Chandler's story was still a ton of fun and the action beats were well executed. Meanwhile, back in St. Louis, the show is really struggling to have President Michener as an important and necessary part of the narrative. He has purpose solely because he is the President of the United States. That has to mean something. The show is no longer Chandler in charge of the Nathan James making decisions that will shape the future of the world in the hopes that it can come back from this pandemic. Now, the world is starting to rebuild. The chain of command has returned. And yet, Chandler is still driving the story forward. He's the one who decides to break into Peng's mansion for information. Meanwhile, President Michener is struggling to keep the public informed about the situation while still trusting him to lead the country. Structure has returned but people still remember the world where the government failed them. That's important. And yet, most of the conflict is being dramatized by one reporter challenging everything the President is telling the public. Journalism is very important. It's important for people to question the stories they are being told by the people in charge. The search for the truth can often times be very rewarding. But here, the reporter is being vilified. Kara can't understand why he won't just trust the President to do his job. It's honestly a very weird story that isn't working at all. Plus, it's hampered by the fact that it too focuses on the sexual chemistry between the reporter and Kara. That's a story that isn't necessary in the slightest.

And lastly, Slattery and the Master Chief are proving to be very smart despite their captivity. The crew being held by Takehaya aren't simply sitting around waiting to be rescued. They are trying to find a way out of this situation before they collapse from all the blood transfusions. Of course, it only feels like Slattery's blood is being taken. He's the only one subjected to the procedure onscreen. The rest are happening offscreen. But it's still important that it's been a draining experience on all of them. And yet, they are still fighting. They are giving clues that can help the Nathan James find them. Sure, why would the pirates need them to recite their Navy service numbers for the cameras? Especially if the pirates don't know them themselves? But it's important that they do because it provides the Nathan James with directions to follow. That's very smart and clever. The story is also important because it provides even more insight into the new mutation of the virus. The season started with the audience knowing the mutation was happening. But until now, it has just been speculation for the characters. Slattery gets confirmation of its existence because Takehaya is suffering from it. That's why he needs these blood transfusions. Of course, it's weird that the blood of a cured person is more successful in healing him than the actual cure. That's something that will need to be explained - even though the show isn't in a good enough position right now to do so. But nevertheless, the story is just building to the inevitable reveal that Slattery has led his ship into a trap. When the Nathan James searches the islands for the prisoners, they enter a mine field. That's a very ominous tease that should make for a very tense episode next week.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Devil May Care" was written by Nic Van Zeebroeck and directed by Paul Holahan.
  • The show doesn't really want the audience to believe that Michener is struggling as President. All of the mistakes that the reporter talks about on camera don't have any nefarious backstory to them. They are simply mistakes that occurred because everything is happening very quickly. The President wants the people to wait and be patient. That's the smart approach. Meanwhile, the reporter is turning the public against him because he's not taking action at this very second.
  • This is the second time this season that someone has mentioned that President Michener wasn't elected by the people. That seems like some major foreshadowing for a tense election later this season.
  • In addition to St. Louis with President Michener, the country is currently being separated into five regions each with its own leader who he consults with. It's all the corners of the country plus Texas. Texas is literally its own region. And it's the region with the most criticism for Michener as voiced by their very cliche, heavily accented leader.
  • Chandler brings Wolf along on the main mission because he knows Wolf will be able to torture and possibly kill Peng. He is filled with rage because of Val's death. Again, that dynamic wasn't earned by the show. So, it's frustrating that it's still driving story. Yes, her death needed significance. The crew just can't forget about what happened. But it's silly for the show to think the only way someone would care about her death is if they were in love with her.
  • Speaking of sexual tension, that also seems to be defining Lt. Granderson's dynamic with the new Lt. Burk. He's been upset that Chandler appointed her as his XO instead of him. But now, the two prove to be an effective team in managing the ship while Chandler is away.