Monday, July 7, 2014

The Last Ship (television pilot)

We're a few weeks late, but we finally watched the pilot of The Last Ship last night (some spoilers for the pilot ahead). The premise is that a naval warship has been sent on a long-duration, radio-silent training mission to the far north, and is also carrying two research scientists who are ostensibly studying arctic birds. When the "training" is extended, coincidentally right after the lead scientist demands more time for her research and they're attacked by Russian helicopters, the captain in turn demands an explanation.

Long story short, a mutating plague has been sweeping the globe, and the scientists are trying to locate a primordial version of the virus to create a vaccine. In the four months the ship has been out of contact, the plague has infected some 80% of the world's population. The Russian government has fallen and others, including that of the United States, are teetering. By the time the warship limps its way back to the East Coast of the U.S., they can no longer communicate with the White House. The captain decides that instead of making landfall so they can check on their families, the 200-odd crew members will instead have to remain on board to protect the scientists for as long as they can, while those scientists race to find a a cure/vaccine. (It seemed to me the terms were used somewhat interchangeably, even though they don't mean the same thing.)

I thought this pilot was well written and well acted. The leads are Eric Dane as Captain Chandler and Rhona Mitra (apparently from Stargate: Universe) as Dr. Rachel Scott. The only actor I recognized upfront was Adam Baldwin as the XO (he played Jayne on Firefly and is a favorite among science fiction fans.) The pacing was good, the effects were good, and I generally find plague stories compelling, although I usually read them rather than watch them.

Unfortunately, however, I probably won’t be following “The Last Ship” any further. This is through no fault of the show, and I know I'm being unfair to it in many ways, but I think I am spoiled by science fiction. To me, this pilot was extremely similar to the 2003 Battlestar Galactica mini-series that launched the amazing four-year television show, except without the space stuff. (BSG spoiler ahead.)

The similarities? Events are in the process of wiping out most of humanity. A military commander finds himself in the position of having to go on the run in his military vessel, because he is probably humanity's best (or only) hope for ensuring the species' survival. They will be chased by enemies who want to kill them. Crew members will probably periodically die to remind us how dire the situation is. Other crew members will form relationships based on shared desperation. Some will be heroes and some will be cowards. And of course there's a traitor on board –- a traitor who is revealed in the last scene of the pilot, just as Boomer was revealed as a Cylon in the last scene of the mini-series.

But no space stuff or androids or off-world techy-tech. For me, then, although I can see that this show has the potential to make me care about these characters –- since character relationships are the true meat of any good show –- I just don’t want to invest the time and effort in a dramatic series if there isn’t going to be any added factor that makes me think of things I haven’t thought of before, or at least say “gee whiz!” That’s where I’m not being fair, because maybe this show could do those things and I’m being close-minded. But I’d rather spend more time reading than watching TV, so I’m pretty choosy about what I watch.

All that said, I’m willing to entertain arguments as to why I should watch! Remember, though, that I’ve read a lot of plague stories. What will be different about this one? Having any alien influence on the plague origins won't do it for me, I'm afraid. I can be pretty hard to please!

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