Yesterday was Independence Day in the United States. If you’re reading this in another country, we’re all sorry for the loud racket we made. With such a prominent American holiday, what better way to spend time than by catching up on TNT’s The Last Ship, which premiered a two-hour opener a couple weeks ago?
The Michael Bay-produced television show is known for its ridiculous patriotism and nationalism espousing the greatness of everything about the American navy. The show’s grandstanding becomes a sticking point, where everyone but the Americans are bad people who want to get their hands on a primordial serum that could cure the world. Obviously the Russians and South American countries want to get a cure so that they can sell it to everyone, but the US Navy has no aspirations of making money. No, they just want to help people by killing anyone who wants to get in their way. And I mean, that does sound like the American way.
At the same time, The Last Ship is so gratingly Americanized that the show’s characters might as well be wearing American flag tank tops, because it’s not like the episodes try to hide the fact that Americans are good guys and everyone else sucks. So it was kind of a surprise when, last season, the USS Nathan James found port at Baltimore where a city called Olympus had developed, led by an American (!!!) named Amy Granderson; the show was calling out its own country for doing bad things, and that was not the usual MO of the series.
The two-parter “Unreal City”/”Fight the Ship” picks up directly where last season’s finale left off, with Granderson’s troops swarming the Nathan James and putting everyone under arrest while they attempted to find Dr. Scott’s primordial serum. Granderson’s plan, to take more serum so that she can decide who lives and who gets sent to the furnace to continue to power the city’s electricity, hinged on finding that serum, and so the mindless troops that do her bidding simply took control of the ship.
“Unreal City” basically continues that thought process; the nameless crew aboard the Nathan James – I mean the good Navy guys obviously – are forced to devise a strategy to knock out the countless guards Granderson has placed on the ship. And Tom Chandler, CO of the Nathan James, is on the ground at Olympus trying to disrupt their shit from the inside, eventually finding a group of citizens underground who want to oust Granderson as much as the Navy does.
It’s all a lot of planning and theorizing, and “Unreal City” is fairly boring because of it. The episode attempts to return to the plot of last season by summarizing it all again for us, even providing a tense scene where the importance of the serum is literally forced on us as soldiers rifle through every compartment of the ship, but anyone paying attention last season shouldn’t need such an elongated re-introduction to the show. The storyline behind The Last Ship isn’t very complex – bad virus, bad guys want the cure, America has the cure. Done.
“Fight the Ship” has the more exciting hour of television, mostly because it’s all blocked out like a video game. People fire their ridiculous automatic weapons at bad guys from stairwells, others fight off the evildoers with pistols. Adam Baldwin gets to sit around in the media room watching as his team delivers death blow after death blow, practically yelling “Yippee!” before planting an ax in some guy’s sternum. The Last Ship treats its action like Call of Duty, and it makes for a fun watch that really has little substance or depth behind it.
That becomes an issue when the concluding act of “Fight the Ship” attempts to pry some emotion out of Amy Granderson. She’s been a totally terrible person since we’ve met her: she’s sicced armed guards on her daughter, made decisions about who lives and who dies because of their worth to the community, and withheld antidotes to people who need them. She’s never had any semblance of good in her personality, and so when The Last Ship sets up a final dialogue between Chandler and Granderson, there’s no reason to root in her favor.
The series often has these kinds of situations, black-and-white events where the Navy is definitely in the right and the bad guys definitely awful. It leaves little interest in exploring character development. It’s all about the action setpieces and good guy heroics, and after a season of that last summer, it’s becoming numbing to this viewer. Still, I better chant “U S A!” or else face the wrath of the Nathan James crew, so you can bet I’ll continue to watch with my beer koozie and American flag in hand.