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The Last Ship
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Last Ship is a tense drama about a post-apocalyptic scenario involving a pandemic and military personnel attempting to find a cure. The show contains no sex, drinking, or drugs and only the mildest of foul language, such as when one Navy officer calls another "badass." However, the premise of the show is quite scary, and both plot points and imagery are far too frightening for young viewers. The camera shows us dozens of dead bodies, including hospital wards stuffed full of the bloody, groaning dead and dying. Young children are affected by the pandemic and shown dying in bed. Family members are killed or in danger; characters are suddenly killed or commit suicide on-screen. There are countless shots of high-tech military weaponry that make it look glamorous; guns and bombs are shown and fired/detonated.
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What's the story?
A virus has decimated the world's population, and now Navy destroyer U.S.S. Nathan James is THE LAST SHIP with any hope at all left. Under the fearless command of Captain Tom Chandler (Eric Dane), Nathan James was out at sea when the virus took hold of the global population, on a mission to carry researcher Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra) to the site of the first deadly contagion. With blood samples from those first victims and a pristine copy of the virus scavenged from bird droppings in the polar ice caps, Scott hopes she can fashion a vaccine. But all is not well, neither in the virus-ravaged country that Nathan James' crew hopes to return to, nor onboard, where duplicitous researcher Quincy Tophet (Sam Spruell) is secretly reporting to the leaders of rival countries. With so much stacked against them, it's not likely that those aboard the Nathan James will either survive or help others to. But they have to try.
Is it any good?
Spanish flu and the Black Plague had no trouble killing off enormous percentages of the world's population even before casual international travel was a thing, so a pandemic that snuffs out half the global population in a matter of months doesn't read as sci-fi; it reads as an all-too-possible scenario. That adds a creepily realistic little chill to The Last Ship that's not present in dramas built on less grounded scenarios. We can all imagine being in the shoes of the U.S.S. Nathan's crew: stuck somewhere remote, safe for now, but wondering grimly what's waiting for us back home.
Things move along briskly on The Last Ship, so much so that there's not much time for characterization. And, thus, the characters on the show read a bit as ciphers or plot devices, making it more difficult for the viewer to relate to them or care what happens to each in particular. But there's certainly enough gee-whiz exotic imagery of global locations, as well as loving shots of military gear, to satisfy action lovers or armchair soldiers. The Last Ship isn't a show viewers need to think deeply about; it's enough to be swept away by the dramatic plot.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how realistic the scenario for The Last Ship is. What is a pandemic? What pandemics have there been in human history? How did they spread? How would a modern pandemic spread, given that humans are more mobile and countries have much more contact with each other?
Is The Last Ship scary? Why? Is it supposed to be? How is the show attempting to make viewers feel?
The Last Ship's creators were able to partner with the United States military to film real equipment. Does this partnership improve the show? Make it more interesting? More realistic? Or does the focus on gear harm the show's dramatic potential?