The Last Ship Series Premiere Review: Military Porn and Not Much More

By Tim Surette

Jun 23, 2014

The Last Ship S01E01: "Phase Six"

There are few people in the entertainment industry whose names are synonymous with a certain type of content quite like Michael Bay's. Close your eyes and think of the name "Michael Bay." What do you see? Explosions. Maybe a mass of twisted metal. Cheap romance. A slow-mo walk away from a giant fireball. 'Merica, F yeah. Though Bay is attached to TNT's The Last Ship only as executive producer, he may as well have lit the fuse of the new drama all on his own, because it feels like Michael Bay: The Series.

Bay's pyrotechnic affinities generally make for fun—albeit dumb and thoughtless—big-screen diversions that are largely forgettable once viewers leave the movie theater. But that style doesn't translate to the small screen, where dialogue and patience are key to the pacing of a 10-hour story that develops over several months. The Last Ship strips Bay of one of his typical luxuries—a summer-blockbuster budget—and asks its audience to be satisfied with special effects that could be produced with an iPhone app. What we're left with is a show that's watched too many bad action movies cobbled elements from them all together into one bad action series. 

Oh, but wait! There is a story to The Last Ship, as the show is based on the 1988 William Brinkley novel of the same name. Except TNT's version adds an element so large that the show and the book may as well only share a name. Here's what we're stuck with for 13 episodes: A viral outbreak (not in the book) that began in Egypt (we know it was Egypt due to a helicopter shot of the Pyramids) was making the world a crummy place to live, and a Naval Destroyer on a four-month training mission in the Arctic was fortunately (and perhaps conspiratorially) quarantined by its remote location, leaving the crew as mankind's only hope to find a cure. On board the ship were one tough-as-balls captain, Commander Tom Chandler (Eric Dane), one sexy scientist (Rhona Mitra) who knows more about the virus than anyone, and a bunch of America's finest seamen. 

We were quickly informed that 80 percent of the world's population was killed off by the virus by going from Phase 2 to Phase 6! Phase 6! That's much higher than Phase 2! And the sexy scientist (whose name is Dr. Scott, btw) was sneakily placed on the boat to find a primordial strain of the virus from birds in the icy north. Or something. Who cares, blow some more shit up, The Last Ship!  

"Phase Six" unfolded as plainly and predictably as can be, with a montage of a world in chaos, Chandler staring at a picture of his family, and for some reason, a nuclear warhead exploding somewhere in the United Kingdom. Normally, the detonation of a nuclear weapon would be something to talk about, but these toughies just moved on and raided a cruise ship. Nuke? Who cares, let's snag a few cans of tomato soup from this abandoned boat! Who launched a weapon of mass destruction and why? Was it to stop the spread of the virus? Was it retaliation for something else? I guess our confusion falls in line with the people on the boat not knowing what's going on in the rest of the world, but it sure is a pain. The bomb going off wasn't even a real plot device, it just sorta happened. 

We would later realize that the world had continued to die and there might be no left out there, so Chandler decided that the best way to make his story worthy of a TV series would be to stay on the ship and let the scientists work on a cure while they sailed to different spots on the globe that might have gas and supplies. Oh, and one of the scientists, the extra-foreign one, is *DUN DUN* working for someone else. And that's how this TNT show was born. 

I'm not sure The Last Ship's opener did the best job of establishing a real conflict. Yes the foreign scientist is working for the bad guys, but we don't know who the bad guys are yet. Currently, the only real enemy is the virus, and it's kind of hard to get excited about launching a war on microbes. Or radiation. There's a reason we get excited for alien-invasion shows: because we'll slog through an hour of bad dialogue and hang out with thin characters in order to get a peek at the alien. But the only thing we can look forward to with the virus on The Last Ship is a microscope slide. Helix and The Walking Dead, which are also dramas about viruses, are better suited for television because said viruses manifest as scary dudes with black goo dripping from their faces and flesh-eating zombies, respectively. But aboard The Last Ship, the threat of the virus is kind of limited to, "Hey we can't go over there, there are viruses!" And given that the virus can't be seen but can exist anywhere, The Last Ship's writers can use it as a lazy loophole to get out of pretty much anything. The series' best hope of succeeding is as a survival show, but even survival shows drag on without a tangible threat. At the outset, The Last Ship feels like Falling Skies without aliens... and on a boat.

The Last Ship isn't going to be good, but it could be passable entertainment if it finds a way to tell compelling stories via its obvious and inevitable weekly plots (we need gas! We need food! We need to stop this mutiny! Private Johnson got infected! Johnson's privates got infected!). Unfortunately, the stale writing in "Phase Six" didn't leave me very hopeful. The Last Ship is only what it needs to be to work on a base level: a bunch of glamour shots filmed from a helicopter to showcase military porn, shaky camera work following the hectic operations that take place on board a Navy Destroyer, and a stonewall of a captain who makes faces like he hasn't a proper squat in days. Oh whatever, just blow some stuff up and I'll tune in every once in a while.


– The romance between the two lieutenants who made out in a janitor's closet at the beginning of the episode was never brought up again. I WANT TO KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH THESE TWO LOVEBIRDS!

– Dane is playing Chandler as such a hard dude that the character is a vacuum of personality. 


– Those Russian helicopters were pretty bad shots when it came to shooting at scientists and snowmobiles, but when they went after the Destroyer, they nailed it over and over. And the USS Nathan James must be one tough boat, because direct hits from the choppers didn't even knock over a coffee mug.

– I didn't expect The Last Ship to have any of the strong female presence we saw in the pilot, with a female president of the United States (after the original president died) and a lesbian officer on the ship.

– Overreaction of the Day goes to that one guy who shot himself in the head after breaking his helmet on the cruise ship. Umm, dude. Why not wait a few minutes to see if there's another option instead of being so pessimistic ? At least spend the last moments of your healthy life running around naked on a luxury cruise ship and doing shots off an ice luge on the buffet table. Or maybe try to put your helmet back on? I dunno. 

– Why does an officer need permission to salute the captain? 

What'd you think of The Last Ship's premiere? Will you be back for Episode 2?

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  • DaryushIranparast Jun 04, 2015

    I love the show. It's star trek in present times. Love the military command and character development. It's done very well, not much fill ins like most shows with too much drama garbage. It's an excellent show that it's rare to see these days. I hope it won't get cancelled. Unlike some worried viewers that it may have not much move for the story to move forward, I believe the end of the season was a good indication as how much could happen.
    Very exciting series and the case have done a wonderful job. The script is next to perfect to keep your attention within the atmosphere of the show. Well done. Thank you TNT.

  • JosephineBaker Jun 01, 2015

    Stopped watching when I realized there was no zombies

  • harryhanson14 Mar 24, 2015

    Terrible review. The show has its shortcomings, but was not nearly the disaster this review makes it out to be.

  • lisalambert718 Feb 28, 2015

    Everyone has their own taste. I enjoyed this program. It's a totally different survival scenario form zombies etc. The first season, is always alittle slow, like this one was, but when it picked up, it kept me interested. There is a great cliff hanger at the end and I can not wait for season 2.

  • viperpilot Sep 06, 2014

    I watched some episodes but really ? In the first episode the Russians are the bad guys bombing and nuking. In the second episode it is some al-Qa'ida survivors that became some kinda animals . Some scientist is a bad guy who obviously is speaking in a Slavic tongue And since when does no one in the marine light up and how the hell do they get so clean shaven and all with supplies running low The subject has so much potential . I am sorry but like helix I am gonna skip this one

  • estella87 Aug 26, 2014

    I just finished watching the second episode and it is so incredibly bad and stupid I just can't seem to stop watching it! It's like no one actually knows what a virus is and how it works. They are all infected and dead by now but who cares!!! xD Gonna watch ep 3 now... somebody please stop me o_O

  • NinaRennie1 Aug 21, 2014

    I have watched 5 episodes and I love the show! Don't really agree with this review at all. Its got drama and suspense what more could I ask for

  • bipity Aug 12, 2014

    Audience up another half mil this week - they must be doing something right...

    4.6M@9pm + 1.3M@11pm

  • bipity Aug 07, 2014

    OK I finally got around to watching the 1st 2 episodes. It could be better but I enjoyed them and will keep watching for now.

    I can't really find much in the review to disagree with, but the points made aren't what bothers me about the show. If you think it through at all there are too many things that just aren't "right" about the story.

    The doctor had a satphone so she knows the truth, but acts like it's no worse than flu season. Some part of the CDC is still operational - they would obviously know that the virus had been weaponized. Why wouldn't they tell her? And why would they continue the secrecy and the orders to return when returning is certain death? It would have been far more logical AND a better story for the doctor to go to the captain to discuss their options.

    With 80% of the population dead, why is all the infrastructure still operating to broadcast news? Or for the captain's family to send him a video?

    And about that 80% - as far as we know, the survival rate is zero after exposure - the only survivors have avoided exposure. So in densely populated areas such as DC and Atlanta, how could there be any survivors? (Only being 2 episodes in, I'm sure there must be a forthcoming explanation for the Russians' immunity). And let's see, 200 people survived in the presidential bunker, but the pres and VP weren't among them? What does that monumental implausibility add to the storyline?

    The ship escaped by being in the Arctic - but wouldn't at least part of the nuclear sub fleet also be isolated enough to survive?

    Does "radio silence" really mean no reception? I always thought it meant no transmission that could reveal your position?

    They had 80 hazmat suits. If a destroyer carries hazmat suits at all, wouldn't they carry enough for the entire crew of 240?

    Why did the Gitmo guard blow up his friend's body? He was killed by the terrorists, not the virus. Of the 6000 people stationed there when the virus hit, why are there only a dozen bodies safely stored in the hospital? And none at all strewn about a 45-sqare mile base? How could 6000 people be evacuated without leaving any trace of the virus behind? If dogs are immune but can be carriers, what's the dog doing in the hospital? For that matter, if birds are carriers how is anyone surviving anywhere, even on the ship? Or in an isolated cabin that somehow still has electricity and internet? What are they eating?

    Did they really take the infected crewman's body back to the ship for burial at sea or was that just ceremonial? It seems to me the crew should be taking the situation more seriously, e.g. not exposing themselves to the Gitmo survivors, or nonchalantly inviting an unknown ship to the base when they've already been fired upon several times. It's potentially at least the end of the world - let's start acting like it. Military protocol is out the window - the officers and crew need to rethink their roles. The captain may be highly skilled at leading military operations, but there should be acknowledgement that nonmilitary skills will be just as vital for survival. For example, Crewman "Smith" is a social networking expert - maybe it's time to start retraining him with some medical skills?

    So I guess I can get past all that, but they left 4 months ago in June, and Baldwin can't wait to find out if the Cubs are still only 6 games out? That's carrying suspension of disbelief a long way even for me...

  • BevinChu Aug 04, 2014

    Mr. Surette is partially right when he attributes the problems of the show to Michael Bay.
    Michael Bay relies far too heavily on the Pentagon to subsidize his films. What this means is that he must essentially make military recruitment films as quid pro quo.
    He may actually share the Jingoist sentiments of the brass hats in the Pentagon. But that doesn't change the fact that the end product winds up being fascist propaganda.
    The problem with The Last Ship is not with the global apocalypse story line, which is fairly sound from a story structure perspective. Nor is it with viruses being invisible. To wit, The Andromeda Strain, or Outbreak.
    The problem with The Last Ship is with the politics. American supremacism. Only 'Murca can save the world. And specifically by means of military might through superior military hardware.
    That is the problem with The Last Ship.

  • DaryushIranparast Jun 04, 2015

    If you keep watching, you'll see that the government and societies fall from this virus and opportunists work to gain power. This is not about one nation's better than another, it's about a group of people who are facing a dilemma, and gradually grow based on their leadership. If you have a bad leader, as it shows the remaining of the government officials or thugs, your followers do bad and if you have a good leader like the captain, then you'll do well. It shows the importance of good leadership, which is true in every sense.

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