Fans of TNT’s The Last Ship may have been surprised by the final moments of Sunday’s series-ending finale episode, when fate was kind enough to snatch Admiral Tom Chandler from going down at the last minute with his beloved USS Nathan James.
But showrunner Steve Kane says he always meant for the post-apocalyptic series, based on William Brinkley’s novel of the same name, to have an optimistic sendoff, because it affirms the whole reason for struggling to rebuild the world in the aftermath of the pandemic virus that sent it into chaos. When Chander gets rescued from what looks certain to be an eternal deep-sea slumber, it sent the message that The Last Ship always has been “a show about hope,” he told TV Line.
“The book… was a nuclear holocaust story which didn’t have much hope. I wanted to change it into a pandemic because that was more frightening to me at the time, but also with a sickness there’s always hope for a cure. So the idea of killing off the hero at the end felt a bit like a betrayal of that,” Kane explained.
“What I wanted to really say in the end is that yes, despite being haunted, despite this fact that the world can be an ugly and awful place with violence, if you theoretically or metaphorically go to the light, or go towards where there’s love and hope, you’ll be better off.”
Not that good people didn’t die along the way — in fact, that’s the point of the closing scene that shows Chandler’s departed loved ones, like Tex, who died in Season 3, making one final appearance. “What was lovely was bringing back all the old faces for the final scenes, when they’re all in the room saluting Chandler,” said Kane. “Actors and friends who’d been gone for several seasons came back, and we had a great kind of reunion there on the set, which was nice.”
Kane also revealed the reason the finale’s incredibly realistic-looking amphibious landing sequence ended up being so effective: It wasn’t done using VFX props on a set; rather, it was done — at no extra cost to the show (or taxpayers) — by actual U.S. Marines, who offered to let the crew shoot during a scheduled live drill.
“What happened was the Marines wanted to play with us in Season 5 — they had been watching the show from a slight distance and eventually were like, ‘OK, we want in,’” he said. “…So I drove down the coast with a small crew, brought like nine cameras and a drone, and we filmed this amphibious assault exercise with the amphibious tanks coming out of the water and all this stuff. That was in April, and we went back in September and shot again with our crew. And then all the Marines who were off-duty came out and worked as extras for us.”
Realism, he added, was always a key factor in heightening the stakes for a show about soldiering through the post-apocalypse toward a hopeful future for society. “We’ve been as much of a genre show as any kind of Walking Dead-type show in terms of our virus,” Kane acknowledged, “but we did a very realistic version of it.”