Friday, June 27, 2014

The Last Ship, Season 1, Episode 1: Phase Six

We start with US helicopters flying over Egypt (we’re also told the population of Egypt is 85 million, since this is a dystopian, I’m guessing that number will drop rapidly). In one of the helicopters is Dr. Rachel Scott. She’s dropped off at a camp, wearing a full Haz Mat suite; the camp has 6,000 quarantined people, nearly 400 were dead and when they expected help they kind of expected more than one doctor, given there’s only 6 staff left.

Dr. Rachel gets to work, carrying her conspicuously labelled CDC box. She takes a blood sample and leaves – methinks the expectations in the camp were somewhat higher.

Having done the foreign climes thing, it’s off to a Naval base in Virginia and a big ship. The camera follows a lot of people around I assume are going to be relevant. Including Commander Tom Chandler. Rebecca is also on the ship setting up a lab.

Zoom forwards 4 months to the ship being on a top secret mission with complete radio silence in the arctic. In between Dr. Rachel and her cohort doing sciency things in the snow, Cmd Tom is doing a missile test which goes well so they intend to go home. Though Rachel isn’t ready yet and isn’t happy at being ordered back to the ship. On the ship she argues with the captain, surely the first of many such bickerings, chewing him out for getting in the way of her research. He cuts her rant to basically call her out on her attitude and deliver the news that they’re leaving before walking away.

More cameos of random side characters who I assume will be relevant, including Andy Chun who is studying for something and Kara and Danny who are having an illicit relationship.

Rachel contacts people who are very in charge to request more time (while her lackey, Quincy, experiments with mice looking all creepy). And when Cmd Tom calls his bosses to say they’re done and want to come home he learns that his mission has been extended – no explanation given.

Rachel gets to return to her icy island when they’re interrupted by helicopters – unknown helicopters that start firing on their guards. Rachel hurriedly grabs her samples as they try to escape the incredibly inaccurate helicopters (they hit nothing while the 4 guards around Rachel bring down two helicopters and several enemy soldiers – even their dog gets one). 3 other helicopters attack the destroyer and are quickly and easily destroyed.

On the ship we confirm that their attackers, some of whom they have taken captive, are Russian. One captive gasps that they want “the cure”. Tom demands answers from Dr. Rachel and refuses to give her her samples until she tells him and makes a big stampy demand for no more secrets and threatens to destroy her samples if he doesn’t answer her questions (which, frankly, strikes me as kind of ridiculous. He’s a commander in the US Navy, he must understand about secrecy and security clearance. With the little he knows now, he could surely face major consequences for his little tantrum).

So she expositions – the deadly virus spread from Egypt and neither the CDC nor the WHO could create a vaccine from the actual virus so instead they decided to make a vaccine from the “primoridial” virus that happens to be in the Arctic birds – from the permafrost. I don’t know enough about the science to call bullshit on this, but I am getting something of a whiff since I cannot understand why a “primordial” strain will help you cure the CURRENT virus. Also, his mission is a complete fabrication and just there to cover up her mission (including her having a Sat Phone while he’s been on radio silence). When he pouts about her leading the Russian to him she explains what’s at stake: 80% of the world’s population is infected. He gives her the samples when he gets a video call from the President.

Well, the Speaker of the House, since the President and Vice-President are both dead; the rest of the federal government (what’s left of them) is hiding in a bunker. She focuses on the vaccine and getting the samples to a lab in North Carolina. Tom  tells her about the Russian attack and she tells him that Russia no longer has a government – only a break-away faction they know little about because their own communications are becoming spotty. Tom asks about their families but the President lays out the bottom line – they don’t know, and there’s no enemies, no allies – just a world of sick and dying people.

The call over and radio silence done, Tom and his second in command Mike catch up on the news – of over half the world’s population dead and civilisation falling apart. They plan the trip home – but it’s not so simple since they’re on the other side of the Atlantic

Tom informs the assembled crew what has happened. Angst and thoughts of family at home follows

They head to France to refuel to cross the Atlantic, trying to make contact the whole time. No-one answers. More family angst and a little note that one crewmember, Alisha, has a girlfriend. Or had, given the plague and all. XO Mike learns his son died in the plague.

Angst interrupted by action, everyone shout military things because there’s a ship firing a missile at them – well over them. And the missile is nuclear. The missile explodes on land for a big white light and all their power going out. Lt Andy Chung reports on the damage to the electricity grid and sets about fixing it since they need to avoid an incoming cloud of radioactive nasty. Tom fixes it all with some Big Damn Hero Heroic Fuse Installation. No, really.  It impresses CMC Jeter (3rd in command? I guess?)

They intercept an apparently abandoned cruise ship and decide to send a team over to collect supplies and fuel. Rebecca warns everyone about contagious deadliness and goes with them.

They find infected dead on the ship, including a freezer full of bodies and an obvious attempt to run a makeshift hospital in one of the grand rooms. Full of bodies. They find one man still alive, begging for help; she takes a blood sample but can’t do anything else to help him except give him an overdose of morphine to end it quickly.

One of the soldiers, Frankie, runs down stairs and trips, losing his mask and falling face first into a corpse. Oops. While his friend says they can quarantine him back on the destroyer, Frankie knows it’s a risk and shoots himself, even as they order him not to

Back on the Destroyer, after the funeral Tom and Rebecca have a moment, where Tom describes how out of his depth he feels. She reveals that the reason why the virus is so deadly is because it has been deliberately altered – weaponised or accidentally released from a lab. But it also means it can’t mutate so should be easily stopped with a vaccine.

We had some angst so time for drama – Will, the Coms officer, get a 5 day old message from the President – which he can’t confirm because no-one’s answering – including from the bunker. The old message changes the location of the lab they need to go to since North Carolina is no longer secure. Tom also guesses the reason no-one is answering the phone is that everyone is dead. He also gets another message – a video message from his wife because ANGST: his wife and kids are fine and urge him to get to them.

They arrive at the coast of America, near Mayport where they’re supposed to do the testing. Tom has a new plan – communications from everyone including this lab are down. After checking with Rebecca, he decides the best thing to do is to make the vaccine on the ship; especially since the lab is 200 miles in land – which means getting the samples through 200 miles of infected, possibly war torn mess to reach a lab that may not even be there any more and if it is is still completely undefendable. Mike argues, citing Presidential orders but Tom, fairly reasonably, points out they’re 5 days old and said president is probably dead along with the rest of the government. Mike raises that people have families they want to return to but Tom asks who – because they have only enough biohazard suits for maybe half the crew. He overrules Mike’s angry objections.

Tom makes a big dramatic speech to the whole ship explaining his decision (there mission is now to keep alive and at sea until the cure is ready) and adds that they are no longer just working for the US government, but for the entire world

To add more drama, Quincy, Rebecca’s assistant, talks to someone on the phone in Russian. Ooooh a spy.

This is a dystopian but I think there’s a lot of focus on action elements as well. (Including some pretty poor action tropes – like being badly outnumbered by an enemy who couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn.) This isn’t necessarily good or bad, it is what it is – if you like explosions and the big guns and tech, it’s shiny. Unfortunately, it also has some pretty cheesy action dialogue to go with it – again, your mileage may vary.

It remains to be seen how much of this will be the plot in future episodes (especially in a world “with no allies or enemies, only sick, dying people). I don’t think the creators would expect lots of explosions and fights be sufficient to make a full seas- wait the executive producer is Michael Bay? Ah.

If fighting random military splinter factions desperate for the cure isn’t going to be the plot, then what is? If not random military attacks (more explosions!) then the most likely other extension of the plot is likely to be personal drama (and I’m looking at that illicit love affair here and Mike the disagreeing deputy) which doesn’t fill me with eagerness.

Tom – the badass heroic fuse installer… I am going to hate this character, I can see it now. Is there a reason he had to show how tough he was by holding the fuse in? Is there a reason the captain is doing this and not an engineer or electrician? Are we going to get more silly moments so someone can say “badass” in an awed voice (oh gods that happened…) to the captain?

They have done a good job so far with establishing everything falling apart. The news reports are standard for shows like this, but the cruise ship was chilling and very well done. Especially the fact they had clearly struggled, tried to treat the sick, it was a powerful scene.

Diversitywise it’s actually a really promising pilot. We have a number of POC (Alisha, Jeter, Andy, Frankie, Rios – at least) and one lesbian/bisexual woman (Alisha). I’m not celebrating until we see more though since none of them are distinguished as a major role and Tom and Rebecca are the only guaranteed major characters so far. We could end up with an Under the Dome/Falling Skies situation – lots of minorities in the pilot/early episodes who quietly move to the back as the series progresses. Especially given our first casualty was Frank. Yes, the first dead person is a Black guy. When that happens I look at the crew and don’t see “diversity”, I see “cannon fodder.” (Maybe Jeter can live, his role so far is President of Captain Tom’s Fanclub). This fear isn't helped by my quest for a decent cast picture failing to pull up anything better than the above.

If we’re talking about an international plague – and since we started in Egypt we clearly are – it would have been nice for it to be less American-centric. Couldn’t the doctor be WHO rather than CDC, for example – especially since they’re operating in Egypt?