Monday, July 11, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Last Ship' - Chandler Has to Guide the Nathan James Through a Delicate Situation in 'Minefield'

TNT's The Last Ship - Episode 3.05 "Minefield"

Chandler's mission becomes complicated as his position is worsened. President Michener faces pressure from the regional leaders.

The Last Ship may be getting a little too cluttered right now. It's juggling multiple storylines and not really making sure that each has a purpose in each episode. It's as if the show thinks the audience needs to see Chandler and the Nathan James crew, Slattery and his kidnapped men and the President back in St. Louis every single week. That's not true at all. In fact, strategically deciding what is necessary in each episode can really help the overall tension and effect of that hour. The Nathan James having to navigate out of a minefield is a fantastic set up for an episode. And yet, it's not as strong or emotionally moving as it could be because the action keeps cutting to other places in this world. In those areas, the tension isn't nearly as high. They are largely keeping the status quo. The Nathan James in open water is where the life-or-death stakes are. So, it's puzzling why the show just doesn't commit to being present with the ship for the totality of the hour. It could be very effective to not see Slattery or the President for a little while. That way when they do pop up again it's with purpose because Chandler's actions have really affected their position in the world. But that's seeming increasingly unlikely this season which is becoming a huge hindrance for the show.

Of course, all of the stories do have a direct connection to Chandler and the Nathan James. Slattery and his men need the ship to find them so they can stop being subjected to blood transfusions to save Takehaya. Meanwhile, President Michener needs to control the situation while also informing the public of what's going on in the world - even when he doesn't have any credible information to give. But neither of those stories really have much of a point in this episode. It's significant that Slattery and the Master Chief see Takehaya and his men preparing a torpedo. They know their friends are walking into a trap. And yet, they do nothing. Instead, their entire story is about trying to save Takehaya's pregnant wife who has malaria. That's hardly a story that should be important right now. It sets out to make Takehaya a more sympathetic figure. He's not doing this to Slattery and his crew for selfish reasons. He's simply trying to stay alive long enough to care for his family. And yet, that's such a haphazard attempt to add dimension to the character. Why should anyone in the audience care about this development? It gets in the way of proper storytelling. The story on the island is Slattery and Doc treating this women. It's not about Slattery and the Master Chief trying to get to the radio tower to warn the Nathan James about what's coming. It completely makes no sense why that isn't the first thought that these characters would think of. It's still coming. The show wouldn't have set it up previously if it wasn't going to be important. But it's not done here because the show is currently in stalling mode with this story.

At least, the story with Takehaya introduces something new though. The President's story can't even manage that. It's the same story happening yet again. Kara is upset with the reporter because he is working against the President's agenda. Meanwhile, the President is struggling to lead because the regional leaders disagree with his domestic policies. It's important that the President tells the regional leaders about what is happening in Asia. Chandler and the Nathan James is stuck in a minefield and may not get out alive to rescue the kidnapped soldiers. It's such a minor plot point that the President actually gives into Takehaya's demands. He forces the naval ships off the Japanese coast to retreat out of Asian water. That's played as a small plot detail that doesn't even inform story. It's not as annoying as the reporter is though. That's such a stock character trope that the show is adding nothing to. He exists to be a thorn in the side for Kara and the presidential team. The show can't even offer up a proper analysis of whether or not this reporter is actually right about anything. He's played as an antagonistic figure who is getting in the way of the President making policies to ease the nation out of this conflict. But how does that make any sense at all? And why did it have to be in this episode?

Despite all of this criticism though, the show is once again so strong when it focuses on the Nathan James having to escape a perilous situation by being extremely crafty. They are trapped in a minefield. It's an incredibly tense situation. The stakes are appropriately high and raised considerably when one of the crew is killed trying to understand these mines. Of course, it's not an important character. He dies solely for the ship to know what they are facing. These mines aren't like any they've encountered before. They've had modifications that make them even more lethal. That's an effective way to build tension for an hour. The homemade device means the mines are actually closing in on the ship. The Nathan James has some time to devise a plan - but not a whole lot. It's moving that the entire crew is willing to go down with their ship. It's a minor detail but it's significant nevertheless. They need to fight until the very last moment because it's what they believe they need to do in order to save their friends. Of course, the ship doesn't sink to the bottom of the ocean. Chandler and his crew are able to build a strategy that creates a path for them out of this minefield. It's slow and meticulous work. But it's their only shot at staying alive to rescue their friends. It's unclear if that structure could have worked as a 42 minute long story. But it was effective in the moments where it took precedence even if the overall effect of the episode was lessened by the subplots.

And yet, the main story was very manipulative as well. It seemed unlikely that the ship wouldn't be able to make it out of the minefield. So whatever happened in this episode needed to fuel the personal vendetta against Takehaya for the next stretch of the season. And yet, only one crew member is killed in this hour. The life-or-death stakes are high but essentially meaningless as well. Chandler is planing for Sasha and Green to survive no matter what because the mission still needs to move forward even if the ship and the crew are lost. They are in the helicopter making the path for the ship to follow. Meanwhile, Wolf and Cruz are clearing the mines that are too close to the ship. The torpedo complicates everything. It forces the ship to move before the path is clear. It also forces Wolf and Cruz to act fast or risk the entire minefield going off. They need to intercept the torpedo before it hits the Nathan James. They go head-to-head with it on their little boat. They successfully neutralize the threat. And then, the next stretch of the episode is searching for them in the water. The crew has no idea if they survived the impact. And yet because the show devoted so much time to the search, it was likely that they would be found alive. Of course, they were. They survived a torpedo blast and still seem perfectly fine. They may not be going out into the field anytime soon but they'll recover from the minor injuries they sustained - which does seem like an almost too incredible feat.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Minefield" was written by Mark Malone and directed by Peter Weller.
  • Chandler's recorded message to his kids should he not survive this minefield was the emotional highlight of the episode. And yet, it also felt rushed and compressed because the hour had to get back to the other stories as well.
  • The show is really forcing the parallels between Sasha and Rachel. The season should be highlighting how they are different. And yet, Sasha is slipping right back into the role Rachel was in for the first two seasons. She's the one questioning the evacuation and just hanging out in Chandler's personal quarters. Plus, she kisses him. It's all a bit too lazy and familiar.
  • Takehaya has a plan for his family that will take them far away from this lifestyle. That's an ominous tease for the future. But hopefully, it foreshadows a quick resolution to the kidnapping story. It's about time the entire crew is reunited.
  • President Michener really wants to get back into the procedure that defined the government before the virus outbreak. He's planning on congressional elections and ensuring the proper owners can return to their homes. He's not really looking at the world and how it changed because of the virus.
  • So, the President's two Secretaries who advice him on policies were recommended to him by the regional leaders. And yet, the two of them are loyal to the President and not whomever recommended them in the first place. That's slightly odd.
  • How were Takehaya and his men able to launch that torpedo in the first place? It's significant that it's seen early in the hour. But no explanation is really given as to how it's used later on in the battlefield.
  • Of course, it would have been even more surprising if the audience didn't know a torpedo was in play. The Slattery story either needed to withhold that reveal or focus more on it. What actually occurred wasn't the right amount needed for the story.