STRIKE BACK 2.03 Review

As they search for the missing nuclear triggers, Stonebridge and Scott contend with a CIA air strike and a band of militant nomads.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Writer: James Dormer

Director: Paul Wilmshurst

Previously on "Strike Back"

Episodes 2.01 & 2.02 Review

During the closing moments of last week’s season premiere of “Strike Back,” Sgt. Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) was helpless to prevent the murder of his wife, Kerry (Alexandra Moen) after an angry Craig Hanson (Shane Taylor) struck at Stonebridge to avenge his younger brother’s death.

Freeing Stonebridge of his obligation to Kerry by killing her off was a little cheap and easy, but at least the writers of this show have made it clear that Stonebridge is not in any way over death or remotely ready for duty in Section 20. But Stonebridge manages to lie his way through a psych evaluation and his old buddy, Sgt. Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) vouches for him.

It’s interesting to see Major Rachel Dalton (Rhona Mitra) assert her control over Section 20, especially as Major Oliver SInclair (Rhashan Stone) seems to question her every move. Sinclair points out that Stonebridge would owe Rachel if she allowed him back into his old unit. But as far as Rachel is concerned, she already owns everyone under her command. Scott and Stonebridge are no different.

After the radical cleric got away with the nuclear triggers in the premiere, it was a little surprising that the same cleric is rapidly killed off within the first ten minutes of this episode after passing the triggers on to a courier named Othmani (Saïd Taghmaoui). It seems a little wasteful to dispose of a villain just as he was starting to gain a little traction, but it reinforces the idea that “Strike Back” is composed of two episode blocks that function almost as stand alone movies. So for now, Othmani and his terrorist leader brother, El Soldat (Farid Elouardi) are the primary adversaries of this adventure; while Conrad Knox (Charles Dance) remains in the background for now.

The season premiere of “Strike Back” seemed to hint that Scott may have worked for the CIA during the years after he was wrongly dismissed from Delta Force. And after being taken into custody of American special forces, Scott is only slightly surprised to see CIA operative Christy Bryant (Stephanie Vogt), shortly before she initiates a sexual encounter with Scott at around the 13 minute mark. (I think that the only time that Scott has gotten his prerequisite sex scene within the first five minutes was in episode four of the previous season).

But Christy’s tryst with Scott is a little different in that she seems to have the power in that relationship. Scott initially turns her down, but she keeps going until she gets what she wants out of him. She even lightly threatens to tell his British colleagues about his past association with the CIA. More tellingly, Scott seems upset after having sex with her because Christy once again has the upper hand with him.

There’s also a sharp reminder that the British special forces and their American counterparts aren’t exactly cooperating, as Scott and Stonebridge are both trapped in a building hit by an American airstrike before Scott is dragged away into American custody. This lack of communication may also indicate that the Americans’ agenda may not line up with Section 20’s; which could cause Scott’s loyalties to be called into question down the line.

After his release, Scott and Stonebridge get their new mission to retrieve Othmani from the nomadic Tuareg tribe, whose female leader, Makunda (Laëtitia Eïdo) invites Stonebridge to wrestle one of her men in a ring of fire “for sport;” while sharing some time with Scott. Hilariously, Scott shamelessly flirts with Makunda and she takes it up to a certain point… before reminding him that her tent is guarded at night. And even Makunda can see that Stonebridge doesn’t belong in the field when she notes that he seems intent upon killing his wrestling opponent even when their fight is simply meant as recreation.

The Tuareg tribe are fairly pragmatic and willing to sell Othmani to the British… if they can beat the price offered by El Soldat’s terrorist forces. But El Soldat’s representative offers only death and betrayal, leading Makunda and her people to side with Section 20… for a price. Makunda’s flirting with Scott is par for the course with “Strike Back.” But the show really starts to push credibility when Makunda actually accompanies Scott and Stonebridge on the next leg of their journey to recover the triggers.

Meanwhile, we get a brief glimpse into the activities of Karl Matlock (Vincent Regan) and Jessica Kohl (Natalie Becker), operatives who are working for Conrad Knox and serve almost as opposite numbers for Scott and Stonebridge. In seemingly another callback to the third episode of last season, Jessica does her own version of swimming in a pool before emerging topless. Jessica also appears to have a more cynical outlook than Matlock, who indicates that he’s looking for a way out of his line of work. Matlock’s line about being tired of “blood and sunshine” was amusing because blood and sunshine are what “Strike Back” does best.
Early in the episode, Sgt. Julia Richmond (Michelle Lukes) once again joins Scott and Stonebridge in the field, as a welcome addition to that duo… before she is once again sidelined about halfway through the episode. However, Julia does cover for Stonebridge when his still tormented state of mind leads him to miss an obvious tripwire. But she’s not there when Stonebridge has a severe moment of PTSD and nearly allows Othmani to escape before almost beating the man to death.

In a way, it’s good that Stonebridge is so broken, because no one should be able to shake off the loss of his wife so quickly. But I suspect that there will be some contrived way to bring Craig Hansen into the Knox storyline before the end of the season, just so Stonebridge will have to choose between vengeance and his duty to Scott and Section 20.

As far as a cliffhanger ending, I’m not impressed with a rocket seemingly hitting the truck that Scott and Stonebridge are on simply because there’s no doubt that both men will survive. That moment seemed more like a clumsy edit than something that will keep the audience on edge for another week between episodes. Understandably, there had to be some kind of hook to bring people back. This ending just wasn’t very effective.

Still, the third episode of Cinemax season two is more than entertaining enough. “Strike Back” knows exactly what kind of show that it is and it almost always delivers what we want to see. This episode was no exception.