Writer: Richard Zajdlic
Director: Julian Holmes
On "Strike Back," we've gotten used to either Sgt. Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) or his partner, Sgt. Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) making a critical mistake during a mission that potentially derails their objectives. Usually it's Scott who screws up, but Stonebridge was definitely off of his game in the last two episodes following the murder of his wife at the hands of his former friend, Craig Hanson (Shane Taylor).
But in this week’s episode, Scott and Stonebridge are both responsible for major lapses that may come back to haunt them in a big way.
It all starts in South Africa, when Karl Matlock (Vincent Regan) and his partner, Jessica Kohl (Natalie Becker) come up with a ruse to enter the home of David (Stephen Jennings) and Melissa Lombard (Erica Wessels) to kidnap them and their son, Harry (Matthew Nel). David makes the mistake of fighting back and Jessica fatally injures him before Matlock finishes him off.
Normally, this crime wouldn’t be on Section 20’s radar, but security footage alerts them to the involvement of Matlock and Jessica and they discover that the real person of interest is a man named Peter Evans (Paul Freeman), a British citizen who is also Melissa’s father. Section 20 manages to get to Peter at the airport before Matlock and his men can, but it soon becomes clear that Peter is being hunted by more than one group.
Prior to the episode’s first firefight, Scott recognizes Matlock’s latest recruit, Curtis (Terence Maynard), a former solider with whom he previously fought alongside. And to Scott’s initial surprise, Curtis passes up a chance to shoot at his old friend and allows him to get away unharmed. However, Scott’s instincts are not as fully attuned to a stewardess named Rebecca (Lyne Renée); whom he allows to enter the airport control room. Rebecca turns out to working against both Matlock and Section 20 as she informs her operatives of Peter’s location.
The resulting car chase sequence was one of the best action scenes of the current season with some impressively staged shots as well. A pair of assassins on a motorcycle pursue Scott, Stonebridge, Peter and Major Rachel Dalton (Rhona Mitra) on a busy freeway. The assassins’ weapon of a choice appears to be a bomb attached to a powerful magnet, similar to a weapon rumored to have been used by Israeli agents to take out nuclear scientists in Iran.
Perhaps that’s just the way that the “Strike Back:” writers are incorporating current events into the show. Because the assassins also turn out to be members of the Mossad, Israel's secretive intelligence and counter-terrorism organization. Eventually, Peter is forced to concede that he was once one of the primary scientists behind South Africa’s nuclear program during the Apartheid era who was forced to flee to Britain with a new identity once Apartheid was ended. However, the Mossad quickly catches up to Peter’s former partner and executes him rather than permit their enemies the opportunity to use his knowledge against them.
The MacGuffin this season is a suitcase full of nuclear triggers which Scott and Stonebridge lost to Matlock in the previous episode. But as Peter points out, he can’t build anything out of the triggers alone. Which means that South Africa’s nuclear program may not be as dead as everyone initially believed.
Enter Conrad Knox (Charles Dance), the millionaire and philanthropist who is secretly behind Matlock. Although Knox uses his daughter, Ava (Olivia Grant) as the public face of an organization that supposedly dismantles and destroys weapons, Section 20 comes to realize that Knox is using his organization as a front to arm Matlock and his agents in addition to using his influence on the South African politicians to force Section 20 out of the country.
For once, Scott has the best plan for neutralizing Knox’s agenda by turning his old buddy, Curtis towards Section 20 with a hefty bribe and a sympathy play for the widowed mother and her young son. However, Jessica and Matlock are on to Curtis from the start and they use him to lure Scott and Stonebridge into a deadly trap. To his credit, Curtis seems to offer subtle warnings to Scott before he is murdered. The ensuing shootout at the stadium was another great action sequence for the week.
In the aftermath of this disaster, Scott attempts to drown his sorrows at a bar before running into Rebecca again… and it doesn’t take much work for her to get him in bed. But it’s a nice touch when Scott realizes that Rebecca is even more emotionally broken than he is.
However, Rebecca proves to be sly enough to plant a tracker on Scott without him realizing it. Thus, a short time later, Scott inadvertently leads the Mossad straight to their safe house. At the very least, Scott figures out that he’s been bugged and deals with it… before Stonebridge makes a massive mistake of his own.
Throughout the episode, we saw that Craig Hanson was in league with Matlock and that Scott and Sgt. Julia Richmond (Michelle Lukes) conspired to keep Hansen’s presence a secret from Stonebridge. As Stonebridge attempts to get Peter to safety, he spots Hanson driving by and he abandons Peter to chase after his own revenge… leaving Peter at the mercy of Matlock and his men.
The double cliffhanger is actually the most effective hook this season, because the stakes are so personal for Scott and Stonebridge. Scott is kind of attached to Rebecca and he doesn’t want to kill her, while Stonebridge is basically making a suicide run against the man who killed his wife. Hanson’s presence in the main storyline is still kind of contrived, but I can’t deny that was a powerful moment.
The writers of “Strike Back” have also gone out of their way to get Major Dalton more involved with the action, even if it seems a little out of place for the commanding officer of Section 20 to keep injecting herself into these situations. At its best, “Strike Back” definitely requires the willing suspension of disbelief. But sometimes Dalton’s actions just fly in the face of even a heightened reality.
Minor faults aside, this was one of the strongest episodes of the season. Hopefully Stonebridge’s revenge epic will end in the next episode before that plotline gets a chance to wear itself out.