The Last Ship made its last voyage on the high seas this past Sunday on TNT, wrapping up the fifth and final season of the Michael Bay-produced action series. I’m not sure what it did ratings wise and it definitely didn’t have any mind space in the TV critic world but for five years it delivered solid action, likable characters and, much like the virus that kicks off the series, it constantly evolved as the show went on.
Loosely based on the novel of the same name by William Brinkley, The Last Ship followed the crew of the USS Nathan James, a Navy guided-missile destroyer. In the first season, the James is in the Arctic assisting Dr. Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra) and they find out she is trying to get samples of an ancient virus and that a new virus, later deemed The Red Flu, has killed 80% of the world’s population in the months since they’ve been out of radio range. Most of the first and second season follows the crew trying to help Dr. Scott create a cure and battling renegade Russian naval commanders and other factions that have sprung up in the post-apocalyptic world of the virus. The first season especially dives into the more horror aspects of viral outbreak media like Contagion or Outbreak as the crew finds tons of dead in the abandoned ships and settlements they find and they cannot go anywhere without haz-mat suits. The showrunners seemed to think they took that storyline to the limit as from Season 3 on, the show switched gears into more traditional action stories in the vein of 24, albeit with the drastically changed world power structure that resulted from the virus. The Nathan James crew had to deal with an attempt at a coup by some US government officials, an insane Greek doctor (played by none other than Peter Weller), an evil Chinese dictator and, in the final season, a full-on war with South America led by the charismatic leader Tavo. Throughout the entire show’s run, The Last Ship always delivered great action, whether it was tactical naval battles where the crew had to MacGyver solutions when systems went down or they didn’t have full capabilities or action on the land, especially in the final season where they seemed to push their budget to the limit with large-scale battles in the war against “Gran Colombia”, the unified South American countries that are following Tavo. Michael Bay’s influence is definitely there from the start of the show but it’s mostly all of his positives, like dialogue filled with jargon, kinetic camera work and fetishistic reverence for military hardware (although Bay seems to have gotten the full cooperation of the Navy for the show much like he was able for his movies), and none of his negatives, like awful stereotypes or terrible attempts at humor.
The cast of The Last Ship definitely grew into an extremely likable ensemble but it took a bit for a lot of the side characters to come into their own. A lot of them were kind of generic crewmen for most of the first season and the show definitely leaned heavily on Rhona Mitra and Eric Dane, hot off Grey’s Anatomy, as the show’s protagonist Tom Chandler. Adam Baldwin, despite potentially being an asshole in real life, was a solid second banana to Eric Dane as XO Mike Slattery. As the series progressed, the rest of the cast grew and got fleshed out which brought stakes when in this final season, a lot of characters who had been around since episode 1 became casualties of the war. There are definitely some standout characters for me. Bren Foster as Wolf, an Australian commando who joins the Nathan James’ special ops team, joined the show in season 2 and they definitely took great advantage of Foster’s multiple black belts, as Wolf usually got more than a few standout fights in every season. Bridget Regan, who proved herself a formidable foe against Peggy Carter, was also great as CIA agent Sasha Cooper, who got to do a lot of fun spy stuff as well be a member of the special ops team. There’s also the great character actor John Pyper-Ferguson, who previously appeared on shows like Burn Notice, Fringe and Alphas, as Tex, a private military contractor who joins the crew when they arrive at Guantanamo Bay early in Season 1. Some other standouts are Marissa Neitling as Kara Green, who works her way up to captain of the Nathan James by the final season, and Jocko Sims and Kevin Michael Martin as odd couple BFFs Burke and Miller.
The Last Ship is definitely not up there with recent all-time greats like Game of Thrones, Mad Men, The Americans, Breaking Bad, etc but it easily stands shoulder to shoulder with similar shows like the “Blue Sky” USA offerings such as Burn Notice and 24 and it’s definitely worth checking out now that the whole thing is wrapped up. The first four seasons are on Hulu and the fifth will probably be up there soon.