This season The Last Ship's usual superb action was intermingled with slow-moving political intrigue...
In season 2 the crew overthrew the rulers of Baltimore and battled a group called ‘The Immunes’ who were naturally immune to the deadly virus and believed they were destined to rule the world. The Immunes had a nuclear powered submarine under their control and destroyed all the laboratories that were making the cure in order to ensure their rule. They also had among their numbers the highest surviving cabinet member, Jeffrey Michener, who was also immune and claimed to be the President of the United States by succession. Naturally the Nathan James defeated the submarine, turned Michener from siding with the Immunes to helping spread the cure across the entire world, established the new US Government in St. Louis, and even found a way to atomize the cure and make it contagious. The season ended on a note of triumph, marred only by the assassination of super scientist Dr. Rachel Scott at the very end of the season.
In Season 3, Chandler is now the head of the armed forces and his right hand man, Mike Slattery is the captain of the Nathan James. While the James is in Asia delivering the cure, Chandler is sent to China to negotiate with President Peng, who has 3 battleships and is hoarding the cure instead of distributing it. Chandler survives an assassination attempt while negotiating with Peng and the leadership of the James is kidnapped by Japanese pirates led by the mysterious Takahaya who transfuses the crew's blood in order to ward off the effects of a possibly mutated virus. In order to rescue the crew and save himself, Chandler makes it back to the James to begin a season long fight against the pirates and President Peng.
The ship based plot of season 3 was great but there was a considerable amount of political action in St. Louis that I found interminable. Every week Michener had to deal with his new cabinet (including Nathan James alumni Lt. Kara Foster as the liaison to the military) and the heads of the 4 territories that had sprung up during the virus crisis. Each week brings new angst to Michener as his plan to ration food and energy is met with riots fomented by the territory leaders until he eventually commits suicide. These scenes had no action and didn’t advance the plot lines in Asia, leaving me thinking I was watching a post-apocalyptic version of the West Wing instead of an action show.
In a masterstroke, it was revealed that Michener didn’t commit suicide but was assassinated as part of a coup by the territory leaders and their inside person in the White House, Chief of Staff Allison Shaw (played by Elisabeth Röhm who could be a stand-in for a younger Hillary Clinton). Shaw is nominally in control of the government and was the one who arranged Chandler’s assassination attempt as well as giving the Peng information on the James whereabouts and plans in a global game of divide and conquer. Shaw has dissolved the military, murdered all who don’t go along with her plans, and even has new President Howard Oliver under her thumb by threatening his family. In the final episodes of the season the James is heading back to the U.S. to put an end to the coup and restore order to the United States.
As artful as the screen writers were in knitting the government drama in St. Louis with Nathan James it seemed like filler to me. There was enough action, twists, and turns in the Far East that the goings on in St. Louis could have been omitted without being missed. My attraction for The Last Ship mostly stems from how much the plots remind me of the original Star Trek. Instead of merely commanding the ship, Captain Chandler is with the away team and in the thick of the action much like Captain James T. Kirk. Chandler’s right hand man Slattery is hardly a Vulcan like Spock but he and Chandler have much the same relationship as the Star Trek duo and communicate in an almost telepathic manner. I found many parallels to Star Trek when the crew encounters different civilizations and challenges. In order to get the kidnapped crew back, Chandler first heads to the lawless town of Shanzhai where he gains information while fighting off and elite Chinese fighting squad. When running down the pirates and their mysterious leader Takahaya, the James finds itself trapped in a unique mine field that requires all their (and their screen writers) wits to escape. On sea the James narrowly escapes an ambush that cripples the other 2 US destroyers in one episode and then takes on all three Chinese battleships using cunning as much as superior firepower.
Once encountering and capturing Takahaya, the season’s plot takes the biggest turn as the Nathan James discovers the cure they have been delivering to Asia didn’t work in Japan because Peng has developed a gas that prevents the cure from working, causing Takahaya's turn towards piracy to protect his crew and family. Takahaya and Chandler then join forces to take down Peng with Takahaya getting the final killing honors. It was a great plot twist in the Star Trek vein of role reversals turning seeming enemies into allies and vice versa.
I would have been happy if the season had ended with Peng’s demise but the twist of having Peng be aided by Shaw and the Territory leaders led the Nathan James back to America for the last 2 episodes of the season. One bright note was the late season return of Tex, the jack of all trade Guantanamo guard who joined the crew in the second episode of the first season. In the season’s penultimate episode, Chandler leads an expedition to kidnap Western territory leader Castillo and prevent a trainload of people from being shipped into the Texas territory even though most of the trainload is willing to head to Texas and work 16 hour days in return for a days’ worth of food.
The season finale brings the final showdown between Chandler and Shaw on Shaw's getaway plane. Shaw arranges the showdown by killing Chandler's father and kidnapping his two children in order to get Chandler to give himself up in a hostage exchange. The final scenes were exceptionally tense and well done with Tex saving the day by stowing aboard the the plane and a final fight leaving Chandler holding Shaw at gunpoint. Tex tells Chandler that Shaw isn't worth shooting but then collapses, having been fatally shot in the rescue attempt. Shaw tells Chandler that instead of saving the world he has unleashed the worst of humanity and someone worse than her will eventually try to take over the world. This is too much for Chandler, who shoots Shaw leaving him questioning whether everything he has accomplished in the first 3 seasons was only to pave the way for would-be dictators to prey on the remaining survivors and whether he is any better since he killed Shaw in cold blood. As tense and exciting as the episode was it was also very rushed. Four strike teams undergo missions in New York, Texas, Iowa, and St. Louis to capture Shaw and the rest of the territory leaders but when Shaw captures Chandler’s children the strike teams get to St. Louis in the same amount of time that Chandler arrives from California which was no time at all. I couldn’t imagine Shaw waiting for Chandler to arrive when she has a plane fueled and ready to go and hostages in tow. It was the only inconsistency to a riveting season.
The Last Ship has been renewed for the 2017 and 2018 seasons but with only 10 episodes each instead of the 13 episodes that this year’s season brought. This smells like a series finale to me even though the show’s ratings have remained respectable especially when on demand viewership is factored in. I really like this show and would hate to see it go but I am thrilled to have at least two more years to look forward to.