Thus far, The Last Ship is way more fun than I'd dared expect. It's very much a swashbuckling naval adventure, in which the apocalypse provides an excuse for a single destroyer to go off on its own, without any outside orders. There's just one huge problem: the villains, whose behavior makes zero sense in a plague world.
The makers of The Last Ship made the decision, when adapting the novel by William Brinkley, to change the global disaster from a nuclear holocaust to a plague. Which makes a certain amount of sense — we're less scared of nuclear oblivion than we were in the 1980s, even though plenty of nukes are still around. But then you can't just lift all of the "staring match with a Russian vessel" stuff from the book and expect it to make sense.
Thus far, the show's main villain has been a Russian admiral named Ruskov, who knows that Dr. Scott (Rhona Mitra) has been working on a vaccine for the world-destroying virus. And he's determined to get his hands on it — not so he can distribute it in Russia, apparently, but so he can rule the post-apocalyptic world with an iron fist. He gives a big speech about how once they have the only cure for the plague, they will live as kings, with monkey butlers and stuff.
So in last night's episode, Ruskov traps the U.S.S. Nathan James inside Guantanamo Bay, and even mines the bay, setting off a staring match while his inside man Quincy tries to kidnap Rachel Scott. In the end, Ruskov's scheme fails, due to the usual amount of resourcefulness and "A-Team"-esque plan-coming-together-ism from the Nathan James crew.
I love over-the-top villainy, I really do — but Ruskov is basically prepared to let most of the human race die off, so he can lord it over a handful of survivors. I guess. He also nukes France and kills an estimated 10 million people, just to try and stall the U.S.S. Nathan James from refueling and getting away.
I guess there are two problems with this: 1) It feels kind of like cardboard cut-out villainy, and maybe a bit ill-timed considering all the real-life tensions with Russia. 2) But more to the point, I just don't believe it. I think with the entire world dying of a plague, you would want to focus on doing whatever you could to make sure a cure happens as quickly as possible — and firing nukes near the ship that's developing the cure, and distracting them with hostage situations and crazy threats seems like a bad idea. No matter how crazy Admiral Ruskov is, he ought to recognize that he's only hindering the process of developing a cure, without which all of this is kind of futile.
A smart villain, in this situation, would approach the Americans as friends and offer to pool resources to develop the cure. And then, once the cure is in hand, maybe sink the American ship if you want. But why risk killing the one scientist who can apparently pull this off, or cut her off from access to all the equipment she's got on board the American ship?
I guess the real problem is, this show isn't quite taking seriously the gravity of the global plague — or rather, the show wants to have it both ways. We're reminded constantly that millions of people are dying all the time, but meanwhile the villains seem completely unglued from the seriousness of that situation.
Like last week's stock Al Qaeda terrorists, whose motivation was basically "we're terrorists," Ruskov's motivations seem really sketchy. Obviously, it's early days yet, and this show hasn't revealed its whole design for Ruskov — but his behavior doesn't seem to be that of one of the last few uninfected people in a world running out of time.
That aside, this was another fun episode of a show that's clearly going "all in" on naval tactics and derring-do. I like almost everything about the basic set-up, including the fact that there's conflict between Commander Chandler (Eric Dane) and his XO (Adam Baldwin!) without spilling over into betrayal or needless melodrama. They respect each other, but they don't agree on everything — and sometimes Slattery is actually right, and Chandler is wrong. When Chandler admits he was wrong, and waiting gave the Russians a chance to mine the bay, I was actually super-chuffed. This show could have gone the easy route and had Chandler be always right.
The actual "Mission Impossible" stuff, with finding a way out of the Russians' trap, was mostly pretty fun, and this show's commitment to doing 1980s action movie stuff is impressive and gratifying.
The other big black mark for the show, however, comes from the relationship between Danny Green and Kara Foster — Danny's lost a bunch of his friends recently, so he insists on going along on the mission where Kara will impersonate Rachel Scott and then use her marksmanship to shoot at the Russian sentries. And then when they almost reach the ship, Danny decides to throttle down so Kara can bail out instead, jeopardizing the entire mission.
This is apparently because Danny is in love with Kara, which is Kara's fault somehow. When they're back on the ship, Danny tries to blame Kara for the fact that he nearly killed the entire crew of the Nathan James (and potentially doomed the entire world in the process.) Because Danny's inability to behave in a professional manner is Kara's fault — I worry this is leading up to some kind of lesson about the dangers of women in combat. In fact, though, Danny ought to be busted down to Ensign.
Oh, also, when all the dust has settled, Chandler confronts Quincy, the Russian mole, who was only helping the Russians because they had Quincy's wife and daughter. Chandler quite properly points out that Quincy could/should have asked for help. And Quincy tries to claim that if it had been Chandler's wife and daughter, he would have felt differently — which I doubt, because Chandler is not a freaking moron. In any case, this affects Chandler deeply.
All in all, I'm still enjoying the heck out of this show, and really there's nothing wrong with mustache-twirling crazy villains. I just have a hard time believing Ruskov (and last week's Islamic terrorists) would be this short-sighted and foolish, in a global pandemic situation. It doesn't ring true — not because it's too misanthropic, but because it's too silly.