The Last Ship returns to TNT for a second season on June 21 at 9 p.m. and we have your ultimate recap of season one so you can jump right into the action. Here’s everything you need to know to understand season two of The Last Ship, TNT’s apocalyptic action drama, set on the high seas.
The Navy warship USS Nathan James heads to the Arctic for a routine weapons testing, bringing with it scientists Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra) and Quincy Tophet (Sam Spruell), who are there to study birds. Under Commander Tom Chandler (Eric Dane), the Nathan James drops anchor and goes radio silent. After four months, the testing is over and the crew is ready to go home, but Rachel radios her secret contact in Washington D.C. (she’s had communication all along!) to say that she needs more time for her research. Chandler finds out the testing has been a cover and that Rachel and Quincy have been looking for the primordial strain of a deadly virus.
Rachel is a brilliant virologist who first encountered the virus six months prior in Cairo, where she saw firsthand its deadly effects. The red flu is airborne and highly contagious. After three to five days of incubation, the virus causes lethargy, coughing, dementia, festering red lesions, and eventually death. Eighty percent of the world’s population has died in four months and Rachel and Quincy are racing the clock to find a cure with the help of the primordial strain, which they correctly assume has been carried to the arctic by birds. Upon learning about the secret mission, Chandler and his crew are full of anger and despair. Had they known about Rachel’s secret research, they could have said goodbye to their loved ones, most of whom are feared dead. This especially troubles Executive Officer Mike Slattery (Adam Baldwin) who has a major crisis of commitment before coming around to the ship’s new mission to save the world.
As the world turns apocalyptic, entire civilizations crumble and humanity as we know it no longer exists. One especially evil officer of the Russian navy, Admiral Ruskov (Ravil Isyanov) commands his battle cruiser, the RFS Vyerni, around the world, taking what he wants. With his own scientist on board, Ruskov sets his sights on Rachel and her virus samples, ambushing the Nathan James several times (but never successfully capturing the ship). Having kidnapped Quincy’s wife and daughter, he uses them as leverage to force Quincy to spy on the Nathan James. The crew takes Quincy prisoner and locks him in the brig, only giving him a chance to redeem himself when Rachel needs an extra set of hands to formulate a vaccine.
By staying at sea, equipped with a lab for Rachel, and defended by the Navy’s best and brightest, there’s no question that the Nathan James is the safest place in the world for Rachel and Quincy to work on a vaccine. Still, the ship meets peril at every turn as they try to stay alive. A mission for medical supplies on an Italian cruise ship turns deadly as the away-team is confronted with piles of infected corpses; a trip to Gitmo for fuel and food leads to a run-in with remaining Al-Qaeda operatives; a visit to a monkey sanctuary in Central America results in a meeting with a sadistic, murderous drug lord. The USS Nathan James may be the safest place in the world, but it’s still deadly.
At the seemingly deserted Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, three away-teams from the Nathan James seek out supplies, but what they find is a motley crew of former Al-Qaeda prisoners and the guard who set them free. His name is Tex Nolan (John Pyper-Ferguson) and he’s not really from Texas — he’s from Reno. Subcontracted by the U.S. military to guard Gitmo, Tex is a wild card, passionate and brave. He admits to having released the prisoners — just about everyone on the planet is dead anyway — but this proves to be a very bad idea when the terrorists hold him hostage. Chandler commands the Nathan James to send bombs to the base as a diversion while he rescues Tex, bringing him on board for the rest of their mission.
The crew finds themselves scared, sad, and angry with the revelation that most of the people they know and love are gone. Many of them congregate to pray and remember at night, bringing photos, emails, and trinkets from their families to an informal service led by Commander Master Chief Hugh Jeter (Charles Parnell). Jeter offers hope to the crew, even though his own life story is a tragic one. He killed his entire family in an accident, but forges ahead with the philosophy that larger plans are at play. He brings comfort to the crew and proves to be a clutch soldier on a number of missions. He also selflessly offers himself up for a clinical study which nearly kills him to help Rachel test her vaccine.
Fraternizing is not allowed on the Nathan James, but that hasn’t stopped Lts. Danny Green (Travis Van Winkle) and Kara Foster (Marissa Neitling) from falling in love. Their relationship compromises the crew at two separate times. First, in a plan to divert the Russians, Danny has second thoughts about putting Kara in danger, nearly blowing the operation. And Kara, thinking that Danny has the virus, puts the whole crew in jeopardy as she races to be with him. Realizing that their relationship is clouding both of their judgments, they split up. But during Rachel’s clinical trials, Kara learns that she is pregnant and the two are allowed to see each other.
In her research for the vaccine, Rachel finds that a human gene has been added to the virus, making it more fast-spreading and deadly. Who would do such a thing? His name is Neil Sorenson (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), and he’s the scientist hanging around the Russian battleship, waiting for the opportunity to create a cure. Sorenson is from Norway, where six months before, he recklessly added his own gene to the virus, making himself immune but allowing it to spread from person to person like wildfire. He even infected his own girlfriend. He may not be patient zero, but he’s certainly the catalyst for the global pandemic. He’s last seen, escaping the RFS Vyerni in a Russian military uniform.
Rachel Scott is the best virologist in the world and, even under the most hostile circumstances, she manages to unlock the secret to curing the red flu. With every complication, Rachel is able to figure out what’s wrong and fix it. The major breakthroughs — realizing that Sorenson had added a human gene to the virus, discovering that animal testing can’t predict the efficacy of the vaccination, and adding the plasma of an immune patient to invent a cure — are civilization’s only hope. And after a dismal start with the crew (especially Chandler and Slattery), Rachel earns respect and trust from all of those aboard the Nathan James.
With the entire crew inoculated and enough doses of the vaccine to start mass production, the Nathan James heads home to the United States. The plan to use a lab at Fort Dietrich is thwarted when Chandler and his crew see satellite shots of the razed facility. The ship has no choice but to head to Baltimore, where Amy Granderson (Alfre Woodard), the vice chair of the president’s policy board and one of the only remaining members of the cabinet, offers a safe, functioning lab. For Chandler, the homecoming is bittersweet. His wife, father, and two children, also in Baltimore, have the virus, and he’s trying to reach them with doses of the cure before it’s too late. Meanwhile, the city is apocalyptic. Large red Xs mark the homes of the red flu victims and chaos is everywhere.
The name Granderson is familiar to those who’ve been following the goings on aboard the Nathan James. Amy Granderson, in charge of Baltimore and running the Avocet lab where Rachel will manufacture the vaccine, is the mother of Alisha Granderson (Christina Elmore), a junior officer under Chandler’s command. It turns out that Amy deliberately planted her own daughter on the Nathan James when she learned about the outbreak, but never told Alisha why. With her daughter safely on Avocet’s dry land, Amy starts to question Alisha about whether Chandler can “take orders” — the first indication that Granderson Sr. is up to no good. Alisha wants to head west and find her girlfriend, but Amy tells her to stay put.
As for Tex, he professes his love to Rachel in the throes of a 104-degree fever during the clinical trials, but his feelings are seemingly not reciprocated. Once he and the doctor arrive in Baltimore, Tex decides to move on (presumably to find the girl whose picture he carries in a locket). He says farewell to Rachel, who responds with a handshake. Tex starts to walk away and then turns back and plants a big wet kiss on Rachel’s mouth, which she doesn’t resist. Tex leaves and we don’t know when or if he’s coming back for her.
Granderson wants the primordial strain for the Avocet lab and sends her chief officer Lt. Pete Norris (Derk Cheetwood) to retrieve it from the Nathan James. Norris holds up the bridge with a gun, hijacking the ship and demanding the cure. In an act of heroism, former bad guy Quincy tries to tackle Norris, but is shot in the process. At the same time, Rachel learns that Granderson’s master plan is to manufacture a cure and save only those who she believes deserve saving. Appalled by this Darwinian nightmare, Rachel and Alisha tell Granderson she’ll never get away with her plan as long as Chandler is around. Granderson assures them that there is nothing Chandler can do to stop her.
A mysterious sniper by the name of Thorwald (Titus Welliver) is all over Baltimore. First, he’s seen acting as a menacing guard at the border of the city, then he’s shown with his henchman, trying to assassinate Granderson. When Thorwald learns that the navy has brought a cure with them to Baltimore, he tells his men that they have to take the Avocet lab before they lose the city completely to Granderson. And once Granderson’s plan of who lives and who dies comes to light, Thorwald suddenly seems like a shred of hope.
Chandler, confronted with Baltimore’s wretchedness, sets out to find his family and cure them — but they’ve already gone to Olympia, a stadium re-purposed as a triage center for the sick. When Chandler tries to enter Olympia, he is stopped by Granderson’s goons and has to sneak in. He finds his father and children, but learns that he is too late to save his wife — she’s already dead and burned. As for the other people in Olympia, they are equally doomed. Promised treatment for their symptoms, the red flu sufferers are given shots that actually accelerate their deaths, their bodies then burned to generate power. This atrocity, of course, is the work of Amy Granderson, who by the end of season one, appears to be holding all the cards.