RogerBW's Blog

The Last Ship, series 1 07 October 2014

While the destroyer USS Nathan James is on exercise in the Arctic, a plague has killed over 80% of the world's population. Now her captain must decide how to proceed.

Technically this show is based on William Brinkley's novel of the same name, but really you won't be missing anything if you haven't read that book. Yes, the ship has the same name and there's a global disaster going on, but that's about all they have in common. Rather than the nuclear war of the book, what we have here is a massive disease outbreak; and rather than everyone except two ships' crews being dead or dying, it rapidly becomes clear that there are more survivors out there even if they're in poor shape, and there's some chance of actually making a difference to their lives.

Which of course is all more plausible, but potentially less distinctive, than the book's setting, and I think that was probably a change worth making. Most of the ten episodes broadcast in this first season deal with attempts to gather resources in order to work on a cure (for relatively non-contrived reasons a basic lab and suitable scientists are available), or to cope with the other major vessel still afloat, a Russian Kirov-class cruiser whose commander has his own ideas about who should have a monopoly on effective research into the plague.

(Unusually for an American series, the Kirov is depicted as clearly a more powerful ship than the Arleigh Burke-class Nathan James, which of course makes for more interesting stories as well as being accurate. Though from a technical point of view it seems to me that any full-effort engagement at anything like close range would probably leave both ships sunk.)

The external shots are lovely, taken on a variety of US Navy ships, and it's sadly obvious when things move into the studio; though the regular sets have had some effort put into them, they're never quite a match for the real thing.

Acting is workmanlike but generally nothing special; the only stand-outs for me were Adam Baldwin as the XO, using a few familiar mannerisms but definitely playing a distinct character from other roles I've seen him in, and Charles Parnell as the senior enlisted man who may or may not be developing a religious mania.

In terms of the small moments rather than the big plot, I'll admit it's nothing we haven't seen before; on the other hand, the unusual setting and the lack of a large external cast make for a rather different feel from most procedural shows, and that's welcome. They've clearly got a decent military adviser, which always helps. We do end up learning how the disease got into its present state, a welcome angle that I hadn't expected would be explored.

The final episode introduces big changes, and it'll be interesting to see how things develop in the 13-episode second season; I hope it doesn't turn into another generic end-of-the-world story like The Walking Dead or Falling Skies, but finds some way of turning the main narrative back to the seagoing template that's worked so well in season 1. In any case I'm glad they're sticking to short seasons; it seems to make things easier for cast and crew, especially scriptwriters.

Not brilliant, but definitely watchable; this is somewhat thoughtful action-film material done well on a television budget.

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