There's nothing unusual, in movies and TV series with a military theme, about a storyline involving a top-secret mission.
What makes the new made-for-cable drama The Last Ship a bit different, however, is that the men and women carrying out the mission are not in on the secret.
In The Last Ship, which premières Sunday at 8 p.m. on Space, the crew of the U.S. navy warship USS Nathan James thinks it's on a routine weapons-testing assignment in remote northern waters. After four months at sea, however, it becomes obvious that everyone on board, from the captain on down, has been deceived.
And the truth the crew is forced to confront is more terrifying than any military-conflict scenario that could be imagined.
The title of the series offers a clue as to what's going on -- this ship might, in fact, be the last operational vessel on Earth, because the USS Nathan James was actually sent to the high Arctic in order to isolate it from a global pandemic that has been ravaging the planet during the four months the ship has been away.
Only a small fraction of the Earth's population is left alive. And the duo of scientists offered passage on the ship to conduct some odd form of bird-related research during the naval destroyer's mission are actually the only two people with a shot at saving what remains of humanity.
It is, as such sci-fi-flavoured dramas are, a rather far-fetched yarn, but The Last Ship does a better-than-average job of creating an intriguing story filled with believable, relatable characters.
Central to the narrative are Capt. Tom Chandler (Eric Dane), who is justifiably outraged at having been kept in the dark about the mission's real purpose, and Dr. Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra), the scientist tasked with finding a cure for the fast-spreading virus before it's too late.
Chandler and his crew have been in radio-silence mode for the past four months, and after their last test missile is fired and it's time to head for home, the captain impatiently orders the scientists to wrap up their specimen-gathering and get back on the ship.
Scott, stubborn and argumentative, insists she needs more time, but Chandler is determined to reunite his crew members with their loved ones back home. But just when he thinks he's got the destroyer headed in the right direction, he receives a cryptic message denying permission to return to U.S. waters.
And after Russian helicopter squad makes an out-of-the-blue attack on the Nathan James, making veiled references to seeking possession of "the cure," Chandler demands answers, and the ones he gets are not at all comforting. The home to which he was hoping to return his crew no longer exists. Most of the U.S. population -- including the president, vice-president and most of the U.S. Congress -- is dead, along with more than 80 per cent of the rest of the planet's residents.
The hour-long series première -- which, by the way, counts Michael Bay (Armageddon, Transformers) as an executive producer -- seamlessly blends science-minded storytelling with big, flashy action sequences, creating a foundation for a series with pretty decent escapist-fun potential.
It'll be interesting to see if there's a significant drop-off in special-effects and big-blowout action content in subsequent episodes, given the diminished budgets that ongoing-series episodes have in comparison to the flashy pilots that introduce them.
But the characters, as introduced in the opener, seem sufficiently interesting, and the fast-escalating global crisis certainly provides a backdrop against which a compelling race-against-time story can unfold.
It's a good start, but The Last Ship still needs to prove over the span of several weeks that it's worthy of a summer-viewing investment. And it's no secret that a quick spiral toward extinction remains a possibility.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @BradOswald