MESSAGE FROM THE BRIDGE: STEVEN KANE INTERVIEW

We talk to showrunner THE LAST SHIP Steven Kane about all things season four, the answers to some burning fan questions, and what we’re all asking about season six.

It is a Tuesday at the beginning of August, and, on possibly one of the worst telephone lines ever recorded, we are waiting for Steven Kane to come on the line from THE LAST SHIP’s production offices in Culver City, Los Angeles. Steve is a very busy man at the moment: not only is the show about to premiere, but the cast and crew are deep into production on the show’s fifth season, after an unprecedented double renewal last year. He has also not long come back from Comic Con in San Diego, after which he took an exclusive showing of the season four premiere to servicemen and women at the Naval Base.

In between this frenetic activity, Steve took the time to talk to us about season four’s origins, its parallels to Homer’s Odyssey, and what we might expect throughout the season for some of our favourite characters. However, we can’t begin without his rundown of where we find the crew of the Nathan James this season.

“It’s been sixteen months since Chandler walked off the ship in self-imposed exile,” explains Steve. “The first episode is called ‘In Medias Res’, which is the Greek term for ‘in the middle of things’, as a theatre term. And we really are in the middle of things. We catch up with the Nathan James, and they’re off the coast of Morocco, tracking down some mysterious seeds. We don’t quite know what’s going on, but eventually we learn that there’s a global famine that’s begun, where the virus that people are now immune to is looking for another host, and it jumps back to its original form as a plant virus, infecting all the crops that sustain life on earth: the commelinids, the wheats, the rices, the grasses – especially the grasses, because they feed the animals and everything else.

“Anything that people and animals rely on for food – and the biosphere in general – is now in decay, and there’s really no cure for it, except, like the original virus, if you go back to the source, you might be able to find something to help. In this case, the source is these old seeds, these palm seeds, that happen to have coexisted back in the Ice Age with the virus itself, so they have a natural immunity to it. These seeds have been stored in a seed bank, and they’ve been stolen from the seed bank, and Nathan James is trying to figure out how to get them back. When we find them, they’ve already made contact with the guy who they think may be their conduit to find these seeds, someone who’s involved in the theft of the seeds.

PHOTO CREDIT: TNT / Ali Goldstein

“They meet this guy in a bazaar in Morocco, and we see Sasha undercover, and there’s another guy there, who’s a Brit named Fletcher, who’s an MI6 officer who is working in partnership with Nathan James in the global search for these seeds. You can sense in the first episode that he and Sasha have formed more than just a friendship, and that maybe there’s a romance budding between them, and you realise how much time has gone by, and that Sasha’s moved on. [On board] the Nathan James, Slattery’s at the helm, the crew is together, and they’re fighting their way across the Mediterranean, looking for these seeds.

“Meanwhile, Chandler’s in self-imposed exile on some island in Greece, and he’s with his family, working as a fisherman anonymously. He has met a girl himself, and there’s a bit of a romance there; if he’s Odysseus, she’s Calypso. But he’s always looking towards home. He’s always thinking about his shipmates, and his home, but he’s trying to find a peaceful life, and is trying to get away from being the hero, for a change. He was struggling all through season three with the idea of being the guy whose face is painted on walls, the iconic, ideal hero. He didn’t want that role, it was thrust upon him. But by the end of season three when he murders Shaw in cold blood, even though he had plenty of good reasons, he feels like he crossed a line. He saw a side of himself he didn’t like, he saw a violent side of himself, he saw a vindictive side, and he didn’t feel like he deserved to be considered a hero, nor a leader, so he walked off the ship.

PHOTO CREDIT: TNT / Ali Goldstein

“Really, this season is about ‘can you do that’? Can you refuse the call? This is a hero’s tale. We set it in the Mediterranean because we found there were a lot of parallels between his story and the Greek tragedies, and the epic poems like The Odyssey. [Chandler] is a hero-warrior, who really needs to get home.

“So that’s the initial condition we find ourselves in, and seeing how this story collides with Nathan James, eventually, and then taking it forward.”

Steve made mention of the virus jumping back to its point of origin in the plant world. However, there has been a lot of discussion – and criticism – amongst long-term fans of the show regarding this, as season one stated the virus’ origins was in Arctic terns. This, though, appears to have been an assumption based on the available information at the time. “It did come from the birds, but the birds got it from the drinking water, and the drinking water got it from the soil,” he explains. “The soil got it from plant life. It was in the permafrost, buried and dormant, then it got into the drinking water of migratory birds, and that’s where it jumped kingdoms, into the animal [kingdom]. It didn’t affect the birds, they just carried it, and when they brought their droppings to the mainland, that’s when it became a zoonotic and jumped from animal to animal, like avian flu and swine flu we have today.”

Despite appearances, the entire fourth season of THE LAST SHIP was filmed entirely in and around Los Angeles, which presented its own challenges. After all, trying to recreate various regions from the Mediterranean within the 30 Mile Zone wouldn’t necessarily be a piece of cake. “We always talk about traveling with the show, and going to exotic locations to film,” says Steve. “We look into them, we pursue them, and there’s some feasibility that it could actually happen, but in the end, LA offers so much, and it makes it so much more efficient for us to do it here. We have amazing locations, we have an amazing art department, an amazing visual effects department. We’ve taken you from the North Pole, to Central America, all across the coast of the Southern United States, all across Asia and the South China Sea.

“The Mediterranean was a new challenge, but not something my crew wasn’t up to. This season, we’ll take you to Morocco Spain, Gibraltar, Northern Africa, Sardinia, Greece, Malta, other little islands in the Mediterranean, and we never left Southern California.”

PHOTO CREDIT: TNT

Given that Chandler is, effectively, THE LAST SHIP’s version of Odysseus, and his Greek girlfriend Cali is the equivalent of Calypso, who attempted to keep Odysseus on her island to make him her immortal husband, we wonder who is Chandler’s Penelope. “His Penelope, in many ways, is Sasha,” begins Steve. “She’s the one who, in her heart, felt that he would come back, and she has her suitors, but he always has that place in her heart.

“His Telemachus [Odysseus’ son] is really his young crew on the ship, people like Ray; he discovered Ray in the south when [Ray] was taking care of a bunch of kids at a summer camp, and they were like ‘Lord of the Flies’, living on their own. Not only does he befriend him, but Ray joins the Navy to serve. Kathleen [Nolan, Tex’s daughter] joins the ship, even though she’s lost her father Tex, she returns and she joins the air crew. Those crew members are like the lost sons and daughters of Odysseus, who are bereft and literally at sea without him.

“There are a lot of references, a lot of correlations, they fight – in some ways – a cyclops, when they fight the people in the caves of Gibraltar. They go to the Land of the Dead in a later episode, they go the Lotus Eaters, and there’s all kinds of fun little references. We really do tackle a lot of the Mediterranean, and we go through a major storm. I think we really did a nice job of standing in the storytelling and the location, even though we shot it in LA, making the location a major character in the show.

“We always like to have fun with languages, too. In season three, Sasha herself spoke something like six different languages in Asia. This season, we have people speaking different dialects of Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Maltese, Greek. It’s a pretty international cast. We take you on a journey, we’re on a ship, and that is part of the lore. We’ve been around the world already on the show, and the Mediterranean was something we wanted to do. The Mediterranean itself is just such a great metaphor: it has 31 countries, 57 languages, and people around the Mediterranean are like frogs around a pond. These are people who have more in common with each other than they do with people in their own country. We also like the historical element of it, like Homer, the fact it goes back to the Peloponnesian War, so all that stuff together made a really romantic setting for the season.”

THE LAST SHIP has garnered an impressively large and passionate fanbase since its premiere in 2014, with people watching it all across the globe, and it is this passion from its fans doesn’t go unrecognised by the cast and crew. “It feels great [to have such a large and passionate fanbase],” Steve says. “We feel like we’re not working alone in a vacuum, knowing there are people out there who care, and who are looking forward to seeing it. It means a lot to us.

“We were just at Comic Con, and we had a large crowd, and they were really excited that we were back, and to see the cast and hear about season four. The very same day, we went to the Navy base in San Diego, where we often film, and screened [the premiere] for the Navy. It was such a warm and powerful experience, because we know that everywhere we travel, sailors come up to us and say how much they love the show, and how it means so much to them to have see the Navy community, and the Surface Warfare community, represented on television in such a positive way.

“That means a lot to us, too: our relationship with the United States Navy has become so close, and they know we’re not setting out to make a commercial for them, but we are telling a story about heroes, and, truthfully, we meet these men and women in real life and they, in many ways, are heroes. It means a lot to us, and I think everyone on the crew has felt the special bond with both the fans and the Navy. [The Navy] come to the set all the time, and they visit, and literally, as we’re talking, I just got an email from an Admiral, inviting me to an aircraft carrier for a visit this weekend. The Department of Defense just presented me with a beautiful flag that flew over the Pentagon in my honor, in July, just to say thank you for what the show does.

“It really means a lot to us that the fans watch the show, care about the show. Anything from you guys is special. We sit here in these offices, and we make up stories, and then we shoot them and put them out to the world, and the great thing about the internet is that you actually get the feedback now, and not just from the ratings and the numbers, but from people actually responding and saying how they feel. It means a lot to us, and we really appreciate it, and we hope we’re giving you guys everything you’re hoping for.”

Speaking of the fans, there’s already rumblings in the fandom about ensuring a sixth season, and what fans can do to help with that possibility. “They can certainly let their opinion be known if they want a season six,” laughs Steve. “Let the powers that be at TNT know. Every year, when we finish a season, it’s television. You don’t know how you’re going to do, you don’t know how your ratings are going to do, you don’t know what’s going to change. Networks make decisions, and every year, we’re hopeful for a renewal. Last year, they had so much confidence in us, they gave us a two season renewal.

“We have episodes that’ll take you through 2018, and I think a lot of it will depend on how we perform, in the ratings, and there are a million other factors. TNT have always supported the show, they’ve been great champions of the show when needed, and we’ve been a real team. We have nothing but great things to say about them, and whatever choice they make, will be up to them. I wouldn’t rule it out, but since we’re so far ahead of schedule, and we have a whole other year of episodes to deliver to you guys, that decision doesn’t have to get made just yet.”

There you have it from the Boss Man himself – if you want season six, keep watching, keep feeding back, and let TNT know you want more of THE LAST SHIP!


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