I love WonderCon. Not only is it a fun, more laid back convention but they also have some of the best television premier events ever. Last year, Therese and I were able to see the first two episodes of NBC’s Hannibal. This year, Jane and I got to see the first full episode of TNT’s upcoming The Last Ship.
It was kind of amazing.
I’m not kidding when I say that. Both Jane and I walked out of that panel completely and totally wowed by what we saw. I can’t believe I have to wait until June 22nd to see the episode again and it’s torture to think that I have to wait a whole extra week after that to see the next episode. It really is that good. After the screening, we were fortunate enough to get access to the Last Ship press conference where we got to join a conversation with some of the show runners and actors.
The show itself was great but the way these guys spoke about it is what really gives me faith in this series.
Seriously, don’t let the failure of Last Resort, an ill-fated series set on a rogue submarine with a vastly different premise but vaguely similar name and setting, make you hesitant to give this series a chance. The Last Ship is a completely different series all together and it’s got a lot of staying power. It’s based upon a book by William Brinkley which was also called The Last Ship that was published for the first time back in 1988. That version of the story features a naval ship caught at sea after total nuclear war and follows the crew as they try to survive afterward. TNT’s series brings the story into the modern, post-Cold War era and instead of featuring a nuclear Holocaust instead sees the crew of the USS Nathan James struggling to survive and find a cure for a deadly, fast-acting virus that has already infected – and begun to kill – a good 80% of the world’s population as it is.
In a lot of ways, it’s a much darker premise than the original because it allows for a lot more doubt and a lot more false hope.
In the first episode, the crew are doing covert maneuvers in the arctic while babysitting a pair of scientists who – unbeknownst to them – are trying to find a way to stop the virus which has incapacitated pretty much every single government in the world while the crew was observing radio silence for a few months. Suddenly they find themselves thrust back into a completely unknown world that’s falling apart at the seams. No one knows where their families are or if they are safe and healthy. Going on to land could be a death sentence and coming into contact with anyone infect while not wearing a hazmat suit almost certainly is one. Anything could happen.
As one of the executive producers put it: this isn’t post-apocalyptic fiction; it’s apocalyptic fiction.
The apocalypse is happening all around these characters. Nothing is set in stone and anything can happen. With shows like the Walking Dead you kind of know the lay of the land. Rick Grimes came into a world that was already overrun by zombies and ever since it’s been about surviving that world and the challenges that come with it. But nothing really changes. The rules are always the same. The Last Ship, on the other hand, exists in an on-going apocalypse where things are changing every minute. No one is safe. What worked out one day won’t work out the next and alliances will shift dramatically. The old world isn’t gone – it’s dying rapidly – and what comes after is still being established. And the crew of the Nathan James labors under a hope that if they can find a cure maybe they can still save the world. The characters in The Last Ship aren’t yet dealing with failure in a world that can’t be saved. Every episode will come closely connected to the one before it and the timeline will be very short because this is a race against a rapidly sped up clock.
And that changes everything about this show.
Because, as we were told during the panel when Jane asked, the virus is very much a character in the show. It changes and essentially takes center stage as the primary antagonist. There are secrets behind it’s evolution and development that the show is going to be largely about figuring out and combating. It’s going to be a real game changer. Scientist Dr. Scott is already learning to balance her needs to find a cure with the needs of the ship and with the virus constantly getting one up on humanity her struggle and the virus’s distinction are going to be a key aspect of the show. But the virus isn’t the only character.
There are 216 crew members on board the Nathan James and thanks to the press conference we know we’re going to get to know a lot of them. As they explained, this is a show that has a very finite number of possible characters. They cannot rely on guest stars every week because The Last Ship is largely confined to the ship. So the characters will be pulled from the rest of the crew. Everyone is going to be dealing with all of this in their own way and there are going to be a lot of internal conflicts for the characters to deal with as well. It’s not all about finding a cure for the virus but also about how to keep the ship running, how to find food, and how to deal with over two hundred people who don’t know whether their loved ones are alive or dead. The main characters themselves and their internal conflicts also seem like they are going to be pretty common. Which is understandable considering the setting and plot. We’ll be seeing some disagreements between the leadership over what to do and other similar dynamics as these two-hundred-or-so people are faced with an impossible challenge.
As beautiful as Eric Dane is and as compelling as his character, Captain Tom Chandler, is, though, our most relatable character is likely going to be Travis Van Winkle’s character Lt. Danny Green. As the leader of the Naval Mountain Warfare Unit on board the ship he’s going to be front row and center on most of the off-ship missions. But while he comes off as a strong, solid sort of character he’s also very vulnerable. He suffers a personal loss – even more so than the rest of the ship who learn their families are all probably dead – in the first episode and Winkle said that’s going to greatly affect his character. He’s also involved in a forbidden-by-regulations relationship with another lieutenant on the ship and their romantic relationship is going to be a key point during the series as well.
I’m going to be interested to see how they handle the military aspect of the characters’ lives and the show in general. So far I can say that I have been incredibly pleased. Since the show is part of the “Michael Bay camp” as the show runners put it, we knew it was going to look good. But I am always concerned – as a life long army brat – about just how well military characters are going to be portrayed on television. Too often characters get stuck in stereotypical roles with stereotypical issues.
One of the great things about The Last Ship is how dedicated they are to getting things right.
At the press conference they spoke at length about how they spent a significant time filming their pilot episode on an actual, active naval vessel. The cast and crew got to see the ship and spend every day with actual sailors. They took the time to really embed themselves with the real US Navy and learn the ins and outs of their every day duties. Everyone spoke very highly of their time working with the navy and they seemed very earnestly determined to make this show as much theirs as the company’s. I can applaud that and I can’t wait to see more of the show.
The Last Ship premiers on TNT on June 22nd at 9 PM ET/PT. This will be the first of hopefully many seasons to come.