Pilot episodes are like mission statements. They’re meant to communicate to a potenial audience exactly what the series they represent is about as effectively as possible. “Phase Six,” the pilot for TNT’s new action adventure series, The Last Ship, nails the execution of this concept, even if it’s not the show’s best foot forward.
The Last Ship is the story of a Navy destroyer, the USS Nathan James, which was stationed in the Arctic when a global pandemic laid waste to 80 percent of the world’s population. The Nathan James was sent on a training mission, but the commanders and crew soon discover that they were actually guarding a team of scientists tasked with developing a cure for this deadly virus. With promising data in tow, the Nathan James begins a return course only to find the world in disarray, with communication lines down, governments in hiding, and countries looking for the cure on board.
The pilot spells all this out for us, without a hint of mystery or subtlety. I’m reminded of The Walking Dead, another post apocalyptic show where the stakes are incredibly high, that requires characters we can invest in. Based on the pilot, what we get is also frustratingly similar to the Walking Dead’s offering. Eric Dane’s (Grey’s Anatomy) Captain Tom Chandler commands the Nathan James, exuding authority and badassery in equal measures. Adam Baldwin (Firefly) is Slattery, the ship’s second in command, who begins to clash more with the captain once the truth is revealed. Rhona Mitra (Strike Back) is the mysterious doctor with a potetial line for a cure. They’re all given pretty standard, lightweight backstories that rob the audience of the opportunity to be intrigued by them. There is the introduction of a mole near the end of the episode, but that feels a bit more predictable than shocking.
Most of this episode takes place on the ship, and quite frankly, those moments are the least engaging. The scenes are full of radar staring, people yelling in confined spaces, and technical jargon. More compelling are the scenes off ship. There’s a great action segment in the Arctic that leads to Chandler’s uncovering of the truth. Even better is the encounter with a cruise ship that a small team boards in search of supplies and fuel, only to find it full of dead bodies. You can’t tell me the word has gone to hell and not show me. We need to see the devastation in order to connect with the material.
In terms of sustainability, The Last Ship has a solid premise. There’s plenty of material here to keep stories coming, whether it’s encountering dangers on sea or land, keeping the doctors safe, or just staying alive. As an action show, The Last Ship counts action guru Michael Bay as an executive producer which either promises much or give you chills. I’m intrigued enough to give The Last Ship a few more episodes to see where it leads, but I need these characters bring me some stories. I cannot live on action sequences alone.
The Last Ship premieres Sunday night, June 22 at 8 Central on TNT.
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