You could say that the stakes in “The Last Ship,” TNT’s new action series, are big. That’s how it works when a killer virus infects 80 percent of the world and one Navy ship is humanity’s last hope.
But do high stakes translate into great entertainment? The answer from this premiere episode does seem to be yes.
More than a case of the sniffles
A strange virus shows up right at the beginning of “The Last Ship,” killing just about everyone in what appears to be an Egyptian refugee camp. That’s bad enough. But it gets worse — oh does it ever get worse!
At some point during the four months that the USS Nathan James is at sea, that refugee killer has spread all the way around the world and has been weaponized in order to be even deadlier than it already was. Roughly 80 percent of the world’s population has been infected, governments are falling left and right, and communication networks are in shambles.
The Nathan James doesn’t know a thing. They’re happily up in the Arctic doing training maneuvers and waiting for a couple of scientists to complete their work with birds.
Microbiology is for the birds
Yes, birds. It seems that the virus was transferred to humans from an original avian source, and that source is necessary to learn how one might fight the disease. Because of this, Dr. Rachel Scott — a prickly-but-genius microbiologist — and her colleague have been poking around on the ice for several months and taking samples back to the lab.
No one else knows anything about any of it.
The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming!
The first sign of trouble is a bit of a surprise. Right when the Nathan James is ready to break radio silence and head home, helicopters show up and try to shoot everybody. They seem to be Russian, which is just plain confusing to a ship sailing the waters of a post-Cold War world.
It’s only slightly less confusing when, after the Russians are safely dealt with, Captain Chandler and his crew try to call home.
That’s when they get a message directly from the President of the United States. Only she wasn’t the President four months ago — she was the Secretary of State. In the intervening period, pretty much everyone else has died, and the government has taken shelter in an underground bunker. The CDC and WHO are pretty much messes too, but at least the ship’s mission remains clear.
They have the best chance at coming up with a cure for a virus that has pretty much decimated the world.
At least the dog is OK
But it’s not just a case of sail-around-until-the-scientist-figures-it-out on “The Last Ship.” Large vessels require fuel and sailors require food, both of which are in short supply. At first, Chandler directs the Nathan James towards Europe, where an unmanned fuel station should be.
Unfortunately, someone lobs a nuclear missile over their heads to France. So maybe going to Europe would be a bad idea right about then.
In a slightly more fortunate situation, the Navy ship next encounters a cruise liner that has pretty much taken on the aspect of a ghost ship. The virus has struck in a big way, and just about everyone on board is very, very dead. The one exception is a nearly dead Italian guy. He’s important in providing a fresh viral sample for Dr. Scott.
Otherwise, the cruise sidebar allows for the restocking of food and the stealing of fuel. All goes well until one of the ship’s Navy SEALs takes a nasty tumble down some stairs and straight onto a corpse. His hazmat helmet comes off in the process, and infection is pretty much inevitable at this point.
The SEAL shoots himself — against orders and with all of his friends watching — in one of the more devastating moments of the premiere. It is terribly horrifying, but at least that cute German Shepherd makes it out OK. Killing the dog would have been just too much at that point.
Just the beginning of the problems
With fuel and food restocked, it’s time to head for home. Initially, the captain was told to head to the CDC, but a later message diverted the ship to a research facility in Florida. There’s just one big problem with that — the site is inland and no one is answering the phone at the facility.
Captain Chandler decides it’s too risky to try to get there and instead instructs the scientists to do their vaccine research on the ship itself. No one is particularly happy about this — all of the crew have tried to call home, and only a few (the captain included) got anyone on the line — but it’s probably for the best.
No one is going home. They get to go to Guantanamo Bay instead!