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When it debuted four years ago, the set-up for TNT's The Last Ship focused on the battleship the USS Nathan James, en route to the Arctic, where Captain Tom Chandler (Eric Dane) learns that the destroyer will be in the best possible place to save humanity from extinction. It turns out a virus has wiped out more than half the population since the ship embarked, and despite orders from the U.S. government to return, Chandler — believing home is now a shadow of itself — decides the safest place to develop a vaccine is at sea.
Over the first three seasons, Chandler, his first officer (promoted to captain at the end of season three when Chandler gave it all up) Mike Slattery (Adam Baldwin) and their crew have worked to help rebuild society in the face of new enemies and alliances. Things are destined to get much worse in season four, which is previewed in this discussion taken from the recent Comic-Con panel devoted to the show. Answering questions are executive producer Steven Kane, Baldwin and Dane.
FHM: Steven, how did you shape the season?
Steven Kane: “We were blessed, because TNT gave us a two-season pickup right away. We had the chance to make longer term plans. But a couple things were going on. For me, it was, ‘Where do we want to go in the world?’ I always wanted to go to the Mediterranean. I thought that'd be a great place for the ship to go. I wanted to do our telling of The Odyssey, which is the greatest sea story, with our guys on the ship. I wanted to explore different themes, especially because it's been a few years since this show started. We really haven't focused a lot on the average person and how the plague has affected them; the plague and now, in this season, the famine.”
“Picture in this room if 90% of the people in his room left the planet. You're left behind and you're in a world of chaos and civil wars and all kinds of terrible things happening. You have all this post-traumatic stress. These guys on the ship, they are always focused on the mission. They don't have to think about that as much. But the rest of the planet is suffering. We deal with those issues. We deal with big issues of homecoming, what that means, and then we're sort of doing a little bit of our own version of "The Odyssey" in the Mediterranean. We go to Greece, Italy, Algeria, Morocco, Spain. It's fun.”
FHM: How has the plague actually changed over time? We've seen it in different stages, but where do we find it in season four?
Steven Kane: “Well, as another big science fiction film [Jurassic Park] likes to say, ‘Life finds a way.’ The virus is no longer affecting human beings. It jumps kingdoms back to where it started, in the plant world. It's affecting grasses, wheats, corns, soybean, rice — basically all the food crops and everything that's needed to sustain the biosphere. There's a massive worldwide famine spreading. These guys on the ship are looking for a primordial seed that has inside it DNA that makes it naturally immune to this disease so they can hopefully tap into that and find a cure.”
FHM: What are some of the themes you wanted to touch on in season four?
Steven Kane: “Well, on a bigger scale, it's the idea of homecoming and how do you remake the planet that you've lost and try to find a way to be a human being inside of it. On a personal level, it's for our characters. Chandler left the ship at the end of season three. He exiled himself from the ship, because he felt he couldn't be the leader he needed to be because of the crimes he committed. He'd seen parts of his personality he didn't like anymore; angry, vindictive. He put himself into exile. Really, what he's struggling with is what humans all struggle with, which is, ‘How do you deal with all those parts of your personality?’ We deal with that issue, too, about what makes you a human being and how do you keep the angry, ugly, dark sides in check while allowing them to serve their purpose. They need to keep you alive.”
FHM: Eric, Chandler did leave at the end of last season. Some time has passed. How's he doing when we meet him up in season four?
Eric Dane: “Happy, healthy, a little angry. It's been a very long hiatus for him. We find him in the Mediterranean, which is probably where I would have gone.”
FHM: He seems happy, though, at least for a few minutes.
Eric Dane: “For a few minutes, a few episodes, actually. Chandler is in probably a better place now. I really think that Greece was good for him, and I wish he would have spent more of the season there. But duty calls and eventually you have to know Chandler's gonna, in some way, shape, or form, find himself in the mix again.”
FHM: Trouble eventually finds him, as it tends to do.
Steven Kane: "That is one of the themes, as well. To borrow from the Greeks again, the idea of destiny. You can't run from your destiny and Chandler's destiny is to be the hero, even if he's the reluctant hero. He has to eventually answer the call."
Eric Dane: “I don't think he ever embraced being a hero. Everything for him was always a ‘we’ and never an ‘I.’ As reluctant as he may have been to take over the reins, it's always been a group effort for him. The hero thing is not something he was very comfortable with. Those are the best heroes, anyway, the guys who don't want be heroes. Chandler, like you said, trouble kind of finds him and he finds himself in precarious situations and, one way or another, figures a way out of it.”
FHM: Do we have a single big bad this season, or at least the start of the season?
Steven Kane: “We have a host of big bads. A lot of stories will collide. But because the seed is so important to sustaining life, there are a lot of people out there who want it. Our guys come across various bad guys. Jackson Rathbone came this year to play a really delicious villain for us. He's a Greek mafia guy who shakes down fishermen for their take and runs these fight clubs for his enjoyment. But there are others that they come across in Morocco and in southern Spain and in Algeria, and then we have a few surprises down the road, too.”
FHM: Adam, how's Slattery doing? He's the captain now. He's in charge of the "Nathan James." But how's he doing without his best friend and just with these responsibilities?
Adam Baldwin: “He misses Chandler, obviously. The mission must continue and as we came to know the characters, they were of equal rank. Chandler had more years in and a little bit more seniority. He has the ability to take over and he's able to run the "Nathan James" as need be and continue the mission. But he does hope to one day reacquaint himself with Tom Chandler. There's some interesting things that happen in his history. We all suffered the losses of our families and our friends by the millions and he and the crew are struggling with those tragedies and with survival. Slattery's family, there's a way that we explain some things about his lost family that I think are really cool and really interesting. He won't let me tell you how.”
Steven Kane: “It's really cool, though.”
FHM: Without Chandler there, who is he leaning on? Who's his go-to?
Adam Baldwin: “Well, something we've learned through our filming with The Last Ship is we've had the honor of spending time with the real Navy and aboard real Navy ships. We’re impressed by the strength and the courage and just the ability of young people to run these platforms of battle. Slattery's no different. He relies on his crew. He leans on his crew. They work as a unit. He has a good crew. There's a bit of a hole in his heart.”
FHM: With food being scarce in the whole world, does that also affect the ship? Do we see it affect that?
Steven Kane: “It affects the mission. One of the reasons why they're once again the last ship is that the Navy can't sustain a fleet without the ability to replenish them. They go onto this mission and they find out they're pretty much their home base in Rota, Spain, where they've been working from, is closing down because they can't support it. They're on the ship with a supply of food. They'll see signs around the ship saying, 'Please just take one, ration your food' and all that stuff. Hunger affects them and everyone else. Yeah, they're much more in it. In previous seasons they've been in hazmat suits or hiding on the ship. Here they're among the people and they're really sharing their pain and they're doing what the Navy actually does, which is share and shoulder the burden. It definitely hits home for the crew, as well.”
FHM: You guys all have dialogue with real-life service people out there via Twitter and other social media. How has that influenced your role and how you approach it?
Eric Dane: “I still talk to the original captain of the USS Halsey, the ship we shot the pilot on. He's since moved on. He's at the Pentagon now. He's actually in charge of buying all the weaponry for the military. Can't really say anything else about it. But every time I go to Washington, DC, I make time for him. The Navy culture has been something that we've been living with for the last five years. It's been educational and inspiring. It's changed a lot of people's attitudes toward the military. I think that's a good thing.”
FHM: What would you guys say surprises you the most? Some of the situations these people put themselves in, or is the emotional journeys they go on?
Adam Baldwin: “I just love, again, the youth and the strength and the dedication that we meet in and amongst the service members, especially the Navy and the Marines these days. They spend time sacrificing away from home, loved ones, but they do it with honor, courage, and commitment. They stand strong and they're happy to do it."
Steven Kane: "We also do respect our people on our crew who work really, really hard and treat our job like a military operation. The Navy was blown away by the people who work with us, at how well we do our job. But it was this great mutual love affair. Everyone's working together, everyone's doing their job, and suddenly the whistle blows and it's time for colors. The flag's going up or the flag's going down. It doesn't matter if you're a teamster or you're a fire control officer, you're an XO or you're a catering guy. Everyone stopped, turned towards the flag, and we all felt like patriotic Americans in that moment. I think it really helped the actors feel like sailors."
Adam Baldwin: "That's a really important point. Our crew, again, we're not military. There's a military ethos of work that our crew puts in. The hours that they put in, the dedication they put in, and they love it. They love being a part of it and getting our show up and running. The logistics, when you see the amount of gear that has to be transported to the pier and back and onboard and back and forth, it's amazingly impressive."
Steven Kane: "We just hope that we take you around the world every year and give you a great story, and hopefully dig deep into what makes these people who they are as sailors, as characters, and this season is no different."
Season four of The Last Ship will arrive on TNT August 20th with a two-hour premiere.