Writer: Richard Zajdlic
Director: Julian Holmes
Previously on "Strike Back"
This week's "Strike Back" picks up pretty much where we left off, with Sgt. Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) facing off with Craig Hanson (Shane Taylor), the man who killed his wife while Sgt. Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) attempts to talk down Rebecca (Lyne Renée); a deadly agent for the Mossad. Collectively, it's not their finest moment as they allow Karl Matlock (Vincent Regan) to easily escape with Peter Evans (Paul Freeman); a nuclear scientist attempting to free his kidnapped family.
Needless to say, neither Scott nor Stonebridge are able to fix their mistakes before Major Rachel Dalton (Rhona Mitra) catches up to them and chews them out. And it was pretty hilarious to see Scott attempt to explain how Rebecca got a tracking device on him without admitting that he slept with her. But it speaks volumes about Scott and Stonebridge's partnership that both of them privately admit to each other how and when they screwed up.
It's almost justifiable. Scott is always vulnerable to his baser instincts whenever a beautiful woman crosses his path while Stonebridge doesn't have much left in his life beyond the pursuit of vengeance against Hanson. However, Stonebridge is clearly the more emotionally unstable of the two and Scott has to openly wonder whether he can still trust Stonebridge to have his back in the course of a mission. Ultimately, Scott appears to still trust Stonebridge and their relationship remains the crux of "Strike Back." This series wouldn't work without that dynamic between Stapleton and Winchester.
Less convincing was Scott's emotional bond with Rebecca, who basically shrugs off the fact that Scott murdered one of her partners during their initial stand off in this episode. The way that Scott relates to Rebecca does seem to indicate that he has acted as an assassin before, perhaps alluding to a stint with the CIA. That connection seems evident when Scott tries to sell Rebecca on the idea that she doesn't have to kill Peter to protect Israel. But aside from a brief romantic interlude with Scott and an appearance at the end of the episode, Rebecca largely disappears during this episode. Unfortunately, this renders Rebecca largely superfluous after building her up in the previous episode. We learn that she wants to escape the life of an assassin, but we never come to care about her fate one way or another.
Fortunately, Charles Dance's Conrad Knox finally comes to the forefront as we learn why he had Matlock kidnap Peter's family after stealing the nuclear triggers. Knox wants to use the hidden South African nuclear materials to turn Africa into one of the world's superpowers. Although it's unclear if Knox means just South Africa or literally the entire continent. The way Knox describes it makes it sound like he wants Africa to get a seat at the international table from a new position of power. Also left unsaid is whether Knox intends to hand over his arsenal to another country's government or if he plans a takeover that would place him in charge of Africa's nations. Somehow, I don't think that last option would go over well.
Knox clearly has power and influence in South Africa as he manages to discredit Section 20 at every turn with the politicians in his pocket. It's all painfully obvious to everyone in Section 20 who their true enemy is, but they can't seem to strike at him openly while the South African government is breathing down their necks. Stonebridge even finds himself benched by Rachel after abandoning Peter to chase after Hanson.
In the interim, Stonebridge makes himself useful by approaching Ava (Olivia Grant), Knox's idealistic daughter who runs the organization that is supposed to be disposing of weapons instead of funneling them to Matlock's mercenary forces. Stonebridge's initial conversation with Ava is well played as he volunteers to endorse her organization at a fundraiser. But it feels like the character development between the two of them was extremely rushed to get Ava to the point where she was forced to look into Stonebridge's claims about her father. There's nothing wrong with that turn, it just didn't feel like it was completely earned in the short amount of screen time it was given in this episode. The disintegration of Ava's relationship with her father also felt very rushed and it may have been more effective if it had happened across multiple episodes.
Hanson's return in this episode also bordered on the absurd as he single handedly took down Matlock's security detail just to impress Knox into hiring him. Bringing Hanson more completely into the main story may have been inevitable, but it was still a bit contrived. Last week's confrontation between Stonebridge and Hanson was intense and gripping, but that same intensity was missing when they crossed paths again this week. Part of the blame for that has to lie in some weak writing, particularly a really cliched moment in which Hanson mocks Stonebridge about killing his wife. It's not like "Strike Back" has never used cliches before, it's just that usually the writers seem to be a bit more clever with the execution.
For his part, Stonebridge manages to walk away from an obvious trap set by Hanson and return his focus to the mission… at least for this week. Hanson's survival and escape means that we'll see him again as soon as next week, and probably all the way up to the season finale. The danger of letting Stonebridge's revenge epic play out all the way through the season is that it may run out of steam by the time we get to the end. And that was already starting to happen in this episode.
There is a good sequence where Rachel confronts Scott about his relationship with Rebecca and he admits to sleeping with her… twice. I liked that scene because Scott actually got to bring up that he recruited his friend, Curtis to turn on Matlock in the previous episode and it cost Curtis his life. The problem is that Scott's mistakes are out in the open and he suffers no personal consequences for them. When Rebecca finally returns in the closing minutes, she fulfills her mission in an attempt to get Scott to kill her… and he still encourages her to quit her calling as assassin while tending to her wounds! While Scott may not have been directly responsible for Rebecca's actions, his relationship with her still facilitated that tragedy. And for that, Scott isn't even called out for his latest mistake. That just didn't play very well, nor was it convincing in the slightest.
As for the action, I have absolutely no complaints about that. "Strike Back" still has the best action sequences on TV and even the regular gun play between Section 20 and Matlock's forces was really entertaining. The cast and crew of "Strike Back" know full well how to please their audience, even if the scripts aren't always as strong as they could be. Last week's episode was one of the best of the season, but this was more of an average episode of "Strike Back."
Despite that, it's still far above every other television show in the same genre. As long as "Strike Back" keeps delivering the goods, it's going to be a must watch TV series for action fans.