Sunday, August 27, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Last Ship' - A Big Reunion Takes Place in the Midst of a Fight in 'Bread and Circuses'

TNT's The Last Ship - Episode 4.03 "Bread and Circuses"

The Nathan James crew searches for a precious item leading them to a strange place of opulence and violence where they cross paths with a most unexpected ally.

This season of The Last Ship has a return to basics feel to it. It's the show once again centering on the Nathan James sailing the ocean by itself to tackle a threat that comes from the red flu that devastated the world's population. It's just the crew battling the elements in order to completely change the world. It's the same type of story that was done in the first and second season. Of course, I really enjoyed the third season. It had more of a global feel to it. It was the show picking itself up after the world had ended. It was rebuilding the world and trying to figure out the systems that will manage it once more. It was an interesting experiment that worked for me. I understand why it didn't work for some audience members. It was a story operating on a grand scale with multiple narratives happening at the same time that were bound to come together by the end of the season. That's what made it so fascinating. It felt like the show was evolving. It was becoming a new version of itself. It still had the same DNA as before. But it was reflecting the changes that would have come given the realities of this situation. And now, the show is back to focusing on one overarching story. There's a threat to the global population and the Nathan James is the only ship that can safely deliver a solution. The crew just need to figure it out first while dealing with a couple of nefarious villains.

As such, this season has been off to a bit of a lackluster start. The new threat to the world is the red flu now infecting all types of crops across the planet. The food supply is quickly dwindling because of the infection. People are starving everywhere. So, death and destruction is defining this world once more. It's a solid idea for a season. It's probably a practical concern should something like this actually happen in the world. But the stakes of it just feel off. In its best moments, the show works when the Nathan James crew is fighting with another human being with a cryptic agenda. This is a world in chaos and there are plenty of leaders who are looking to exploit it for their own personal benefit. It's up to the U.S. Navy to stop those threats from corrupting the values that will honor the entire population and not just a select few at the top. This season's villains just don't seem to have much depth to them. They come across as one-note characters who are motivated because they have power and influence. Jackson Rathbone is delivering a pretty hammy performance as Giorgio. It's just not subtle at all. The sooner he dies the better considering Lucia is already a better character and a smarter negotiator. She's the one who is actually negotiating a deal so that it works out for everyone. Giorgio just wants to host fight clubs. That's been a consistent story of this season. But it isn't all that interesting - nor should it continue to be a feature in the future.

Meanwhile, Omar doesn't even have a personality at this point. He's the threat that the crew on the Nathan James are currently tracking. They believe he is in possession of the precious seeds that will somehow save all of humanity. Again, the plotting of this season is weird. It established the importance of these seeds. But it also seems incredibly silly for these characters to be doing all of this running around killing each other while proclaiming "seeds!" It's awkward and a little laughable even though the show is trying to have it make sense. Furthermore, Omar has been positioned as this great tactician. He and his men were able to catch the Nathan James by surprise during last week's premiere. They were able to severely damage the ship. And now, Omar is basically just a common villain terrifying individuals in a city. The only reason he is able to escape is because he walks behind a wall and then children come running up to him. It's all very strange and deliberately building to the big reunion that happens near the end of the episode. But there's no real personal dynamic to the story with Omar. It should mean something that Sasha is willing to risk her life in order to plant a tracker on his helicopter. But it's essentially meaningless. It's her just doing what's necessary in order to keep the plot moving to its inevitable conclusion while also allowing for a cheap thrill in the moment.

And yet, it's incredibly surprising to see Tom already reunite with the crew of the Nathan James. They are already back to working together to stop this global threat. As such, it really does seem like the show wants to return to its original premise. The third season ended with Tom needing to walk away from his command. He could no longer run the ship based on the actions he had to take and the people he lost as a result. He had some serious soul-searching to do. And now, the show is rushing this reunion as quickly as possible to get Tom back to interacting with all of the other main characters. It just feels lame. His journey in Greece ultimately just amounted to him being able to blend into the world and rise in the ranks for Giorgio as a fighter. But that story has been rushed. He's now Giorgio's top fighter because apparently no one else exists. Well, no one else exists until the situation needs him to have an army willing to fight for him after the Nathan James crew makes their presence known. It's very weird. It's again the show building to a certain conclusion and contorting its story to get to that point. It still feels right and rewarding to see Tom reuniting with these familiar faces. It's a key moment when Slattery walks out of the crowd to fight Tom in the ring. That's a thrilling moment. One where the two of them are quickly able to bond and discuss the events that have led to this reunion all while putting on a show for the crowd.

But it's also not that surprising that Tom returns to the Nathan James crew just as Slattery is being taken away by the enemy. There is a level of understanding within the crew when Tom appears. They are able to work together to recover the seeds and make their way back to the ship. Tom wants to take Lucia as a prisoner because she has information that could prove beneficial to this operation. And yet, he's not the one in charge of her safety and capture. Instead, he passes that responsibility off to Slattery which allows him to get stabbed in the stomach because no one knew she had a knife. It's once again the show creating a tense cliffhanger for the episode to end on. Slattery is given a ton of importance as the man with the seeds and Lucia. But it makes no narrative sense that he is then stranded all by himself with no backup. Instead, it's just suppose to be cool that Tom and Danny shoot their way out of this situation. That's then immediately followed by Tom leading Giorgio and his men into the opposite direction while still being able to sneak out before they become aware to his true identity. Tom is now back to being Tom Chandler. That has the feeling of a huge moment with the impact getting lost in translation a little bit. It just doesn't feel as earned as it could have been. And yet, it's better to have this reunion now instead of Tom being stuck in this hidden identity with Giorgio and Lucia for awhile. But now, he needs to be the man leading the team to once again save Slattery and the world on a dangerous mission.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Bread and Circuses" was written by Ira Parker and directed by Bobby Roth.
  • Peter Weller shows up as the guy bandaging Tom's hands before the fight. He's a philosopher who waxes poetically about the fight clubs allowing men to give in to their primal urges. It's a weird scene that largely just confirms Tom to be a kindred spirit. Casting Weller in the role would suggest it will be more important in the future. If not, it's just a really weird and distracting moment.
  • No one is at all suspicious of Tom at the start of the episode when he's relaxing comfortably into his new identity as Hercules. They just allow him to roam this compound despite him being complicit in the theft of Giorgio's boat in the premiere. He's new to this operation but he's still allowed in the secret meetings for some reason. So, Giorgio and Lucia really aren't as smart as they are seemingly suppose to be.
  • How does Omar know that the Americans and British have teamed up in order to steal the seeds from him? Is that information he received when striking their compound in the premiere? Or is it just convenient for the plot so that Tom is at least aware of the importance of the seeds and that his friends may also be in the area? Also, there's only one British officer on the Nathan James who is of any importance.
  • Is the show going to remember to check in on Tom's kids in Greece? It was important to see them there to show that he's building his new life with his family. He's still a family man who cares about their well-being. But now, he's been pulled off to this incredible new mission and hasn't been concerned about them at all. Will they just be staying in that some town? Are they safe there? Or will Giorgio kidnap them at some point to lure Tom into a trap?
  • How do you think Captain Meylan will react to seeing Tom again? He had command of his own ship last season. It was destroyed and he is now second in command on the Nathan James. Slattery is now in a precarious position all by himself. That would put Meylan in charge of the operation. But now, Tom all of sudden shows up and could probably steal the command back again. Will Meylan be completely okay with that? Or will he cause some tension because Tom quit the navy?