Friday, July 25, 2014

The Last Ship, Season 1, Episode 5: El Toro

Chief Engineer is back on her feet, the and ship-that-is-held-together-with-chewing-gum-and-wishful-thinking is now working again so we can move on to the latest random issue. Now it’s time to find monkeys to experiment on

Rachel tries to exercise in the gym and is joined by Tex the flirty. Thankfully this is more an attempt for Rachel to explain why everyone hates her because military personnel don’t understand that top secret missions need to be kept top secret.

Tom is keeping an angsty video diary so we can focus on his pain when Mike arrives with news. Because there is unrest in Costa Rica (and the rest of the world) they’ve decided to go to Nicaragua instead because then they can’t take the shop or maintain video contact (so much more sensible). Also Rachel has to come as well since she needs a special kind of monkey. At least there’s probably few people there. For Reasons both Tom and Mike are going just in case there’s a disaster, that way they can lose their entire higher command in one go! Yay! The chief engineer Garnett seems to be in charge now

Off they go in dinghies with a nifty sound track (very important). They disembark, naturally leaving Rachel behind so I assume they’re just going to capture every furry thing they find have have her decide which ones are appropriate on the boat (“wrong monkey, wrong monkey, wrong monkey, taipir, wrong money, wrong monkey, jaguar, aha, right monkey!”). Thankfully this surprisingly equipped boat may not have enough fuel to go 3 miles without stopping to tank up, but it does come with tranq guns. She’s also left being guarded by Tex who asks about her love life and she throws back a “man your age” comment which hits bullseye.

The away team runs into a group of staggering, begging sick people and quickly pull masks on. They reach for the soldiers, begging for help while the troops have to back off unable to do anything. With this threat tom tells Rachel he can’t risk her up river, they’ll have to bring her a collection of monkeys to choose from. They sail off, leaving the sick behind

Tom and Mike realise that the chaos in Costa Rica is here in Nicaragua and is probably the case throughout Central America. And, y’know the world, what with the global pandemic and all that. Why they expected Nicaragua to be better I do not know – but Tom gets to put on his “I am making hard decisions” face.

They leave radio range and send up the flare telling the ship; they also find a wrecked boat marked “el torro” which is what the survivors were saying. On the ship Rachel tells Garnett where they’re going; technically a place that should have people. But then the last place shouldn’t have either

Tom and his men enter the jungle and the rookie guy steps on a trap right before a whole platoon of guys arrive pointing guns at them; ambush. The band takes them prisoner and takes them to a camp full of civilians who appear to be badly treated and exploited by the gunmen. Tom & co are taken to the head of the band, El Toro. Tom threatens the man with his 200 angry sailors with guns while El Toro points out that the wounded guy is actually poisoned and needs an antidote. They threaten him some more and El Toro tells them his generosity will save the man, not their threats (with a snipe at American macho, violent culture).

El Toro had a yacht which ran aground and ran into the villagers who were fleeing the virus, creating their little settlement. Tom points out that El Toro lives in luxury while the villagers live in squalor and El Toro has the former mayor (clearly terrified), explain an Incan system of “mita” providing labour in exchange for infrastructure and protection. Tom declares it to be slavery which El Toro objects to. Just in case we’re left in any doubt about this episode, Mike suggests El Toro was a drug lord just to clarify everything. Still in doubt? He starts manhandling the Mayor’s daughter with strong implication of ongoing rape. The woman, Carina, calls El Toro a pig and demands Tom do something while her father begs her to be quiet. She’s shuffled out and El Toro confronts them on their lies. Tom drags up a new lie – they need monkeys because they think monkeys are the source of the virus. Though the lie is flawed (El Toro and his people have been living among the monkeys and had no problem), he offers to crate up several for them

Except, as they load the boat, El Toro reveals he’s found their radio and flares – and figured out the not-very-complex-code of green and red flares when the radio clearly doesn’t work. He launches green flares. On the ship, Garnett is reassured.

More drama happens when El Toro plans to banish Carina, send her to the infected people. Mike is smacked trying to stop it, but she’s loaded on the boat and taken away

On the ship, Texas continues flirting with Rachel – and she gets a sudden terribad feeling that bad things have happened.

Mike and Danny are taken prisoner. El Toro announces that Tom & co can go back to their ship – without their suits or weapons. They can have their monkeys. And El Toro will sleep in tents with children (including the mayor’s younger daughter) to prevent them bombing him – by the reaction of her sister, it’s implied she will be raped.

They head out when Mike demand they stop, gung ho for going back and stopping this, Danny agrees. Jeter (Master Chief as they all call him), finally speaks up and he objects that they actually have a mission on which the whole world rests and they have an injured man to get back to the ship (personally, I’d also point out that if they go back to the ship they can bring back 100 fully armed and equipped fighters).

Tom picks the side of Big Damn Herodom (“we came to hunt”. Oh dear, the dialogue).

Naturally the group attacks and kills several guards despite being unarmed because they are Big Damn heroes (except Master Chief who remains on the boat guarding the wounded, of course). This interrupts El Toro and his stripping of the mayor’s daughter.

They do their Big Damn Hero stuff, taking out a dozen enemies without a scratch until there’s just El Toro to kill and the grateful women to save. El Toro surrenders and rather than face the complexities of having to arrest him, the Mayor conveniently stabs him. That way the Big Damn Hero Americans don’t have to kill an unarmed man, very useful.

More musical montages, everyone looking all heroic though they still have to sail past the infected they can’t help.

So the noble Americans again run into non-American barbarians who need to be taught the error of their ways. So we’ve had evil, Soviet-esque Russian villains, frothing, fanatical Al Qaida terrorists and now violent, central American gangs (drug gangs at that, cartel) and the poor, exploited peasantry (with an added bonus of implied primitive silly indigenous traditions). It’s not even close to subtle or nuanced and has a reek of American exceptionalism that is faintly nauseating. It’s just a collection of “acceptable” villains trotted out for the Big Brave Heroic Americans to take down.

There could have been an interesting message here – about being so paranoid when asking would have worked. But that message is ludicrous when it comes from the slaver who doesn’t even have a name while his victims beg them for help.

There are actual action movies that have more subtle plots and nuanced characterisation than this.

Alisha’s role is that of messenger. All she does is report what a computer has said or repeat what someone else has said. Her job can be replaced by email or a trained dog. Or a pigeon.

Master Chief has found his role beyond just cheering his boss – he also gets to be the non-hero one. He is not the big damn hero (unlike Tom, Mike and Danny) this is really clear. It’s also not even subtle what the difference is between those 3 and Master Chief (and it’s not that he has a ridiculous nickname rather than a name). What’s galling is that he was RIGHT. Didn’t we just have a poignant manpain scene last episode of Tom listening to distress calls and lamenting that he couldn’t do anything? Does this distress call matter more because it’s right there?