Writer: Tony Saint
Director: Bill Eagles
After building up Conrad Knox (Charles Dance) as a threat throughout the current season of “Strike Back,” it’s somewhat disconcerting to see the man brought so low.
Once, Knox was rich and powerful with a private militia at his command and nuclear weapons at his disposal. But after last week’s episode, all Knox has left are the warheads and a few mercenaries who haven’t already been killed by Section 20. Knox is also apparently willing to sell the weapons to terrorists if it will further his own agenda.
Knox’s motivation for his actions has been somewhat less than clear. Earlier in the season, Knox laid out his ambitions to turn Africa into a nuclear superpower. However, it was left unsaid if Knox expected to be the person leading Africa into a new age as a way to grab even more power for himself. It’s funny when Major Rachel Dalton (Rhona Mitra) attempts to predict Knox’s next move and she assures the people around her that she knows him… because even we, the audience don’t really know Knox.
As a villain, Knox hasn’t been developed very well this season despite Dance making the most out what little material he’s been given. But there’s only so much a performance can bring to the role. Now that we’re so late in the game, “Strike Back” is also attempting to flesh out Craig Hanson (Shane Taylor) and Karl Matlock (Vincent Regan). In a brief scene together, Matlock is able to tell Hanson what drove him to become a mercenary while Hanson offers the bleak reason that he is staying with Knox: he has nothing else.
Less convincing is Stephanie Vogt as CIA operative Christy Bryant. In small doses, Vogt has been tolerable. But as Christy’s role has grown larger (and her alliance with Knox was revealed) the character has become incredibly annoying. It doesn’t help that Section 20 knew that she was acting against their interests and yet they still allowed her in their new control room where she learned who was turned into their newest asset against Knox. That’s pretty sloppy writing.
Sometimes, Sgt. Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) and Sgt. Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) really are the only thing holding this show together. Winchester and Stapleton have developed their chemistry so well that even brief exchanges about “Star Trek” and the proper way to count down before storming a room were hilarious. I can’t imagine “Strike Back” without Scott or Stonebridge, but I suppose there’s always the possibility that one or both of them could be killed off eventually.
The action in this episode was on par with the rest of the season, particularly during an exciting sequence in which Scott and Stonebridge pursued a truck with one of the stolen nuclear weapons… which exploded when local police fired on the truck without realizing what was inside of it.
That was a great and startling moment which was almost immediately undercut by the fact that few people (if anyone) appear to have been dosed with harmful or fatal doses of radiation. It’s irresponsible storytelling to show a nuclear weapon going off without major consequences. What is this, “24” season 6?
The second major action sequence was the nice fakeout that led to the explosive deaths of several local police officers. Another weakness of “Strike Back” is its tendency to use stock characters. This week, we got a friendly (if a little egotistical) police liaison who ignores Dalton’s tactical advice and ends up getting most of his men killed. That character was such a cartoon that the deaths of his men had very little dramatic impact.
We do care about Stonebridge’s quest to avenge his wife and take out Craig Hanson. And while I enjoyed their confrontation here, this story has already played out. It literally took an act of God (or a conveniently timed police helicopter) to keep Hanson alive and presumably ready to fight Stonebridge one last time. It may have been a mistake to let Hanson stick around throughout the entire season. But that’s a flaw that can easily be overlooked if Stonebridge and Hanson get a memorable ending for their feud next week.
As far as cliffhangers go, I wasn’t impressed by Knox’s willingness to use the two remaining nukes in Africa as a means to send a message and possibly resurrect his dream of a more powerful and relevant Africa on the global stage. Knox may have been sincere about his plans, but the moment lacked the impact that “Strike Back” has previously managed to achieve in older cliffhangers.
That said, I’m still looking forward to next Friday’s season finale. And hopefully, both Scott and Stonebridge will make it through the finale alive so we can have another full season of the best action duo on television.