Americans of all stripes love to put down the entertainment industry. It is too violent, too politically correct, not violent enough, not politically correct enough. We still watch. We flock to movies based on comic books, and we make a television series like Modern Family a mega hit even though anyone who thinks it’s a realistic depiction of family needs to actually spend time in one. Then along comes a hit based on heroism, patriotism, and faithfulness; and it is panned by the critics. I refer to the first season of the TNT series The Last Ship.
A US Navy destroyer is on a mission in the Arctic when a global pandemic breaks out. By the time they hear of the disaster, eighty percent of the population is estimated infected or dead, they are under attack by rogue Russian forces, and they have lost contact with their chain of command – which appears to no longer exist. Their new mission is to use the samples of the original virus collected in the Arctic as raw material with which the Centers for Disease Control doctor on board – and on secret assignment – can create a vaccine or antidote or both. As entertainment, it celebrates the highest incarnation of the American character – including our traditional and dynamic reliance on God to draw out the fullness of our humanity.
The cries of non-credibility are expressed in terms of “no crew is that heroic or patriotic in the face of such a disaster,” or “no captain is that iron jawed,” or even “the performances are wooden and one-dimensional.” Inasmuch as these are clearly NOT the main objections, let me knock down the straw men quickly.
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Crew members – from officers to ratings – show plenty of ambivalence about their mission and continued service in the face of the total breakdown of civilization. A score decide to leave the ship because their enlistments are up, but change their minds and re-up as a body. The show presents American military people as the flawed but utterly dedicated human beings the vast majority of them are; they are why I am so proud to be an American in the face of the savagery our people encounter on many battlefields without losing their humanity. The captain has his moments of ambivalence – and errors in judgment – but he always comes back to accept responsibility for his missteps and have another go at it. Most of the time, he is a great example to his crew in that he is doing his job and nothing more nor less. The performances range from adequate to awesome, with almost every character exhibiting – one way or another and sooner or later, after internal struggle – that heroism Ernest Hemingway defined as grace under pressure.
My own credibility rant would focus on the captain being a part of every foray off the ship. The captain is the least expendable crew member and ought to be minding the store. But we accepted this in every captain in every Star Trek from original to sequel to prequel and just went with it. It’s still a television drama. Why not give Captain Chandler the same break we give Captain Kirk? Why not is because of the references to God. Really.
The master chief tells the captain and others he has been placed on the ship by God and for His purposes. Members of the crew are observed praying in varying circumstances from the worshipful to the critical. In at least two episodes, miracles occur; and there are other events open to that interpretation. The captain has not yet revealed his faith or lack thereof; it is pretty clear the XO is a believer. As one would expect, there are varying degrees and visibilities of faith – and plenty of characters who exhibit none whatever. The crew is a mixed bag, just like the culture in which the rest of us live – in the real world. Nobody recoils in horror when the master chief prays for a miracle, reads his Bible, or says yet again that God has placed him on this ship for His purposes. In other words, faith is portrayed as a potent feature of everyday life.
My prayer for this most excellent program is that it neither descend to a televised Bible study nor blow away into the winds of politically correct New Agey nonsense. I pray the writers and producers maintain their integrity and their commitment to excellence. I pray the new season that began June 21, 2015 sees millions of Americans tune in to TNT at 9 PM Sundays.
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