Episode Title: "Episode 1"
Writer: Frank Spotnitz
Director: Daniel Percival
In Pakistan, John Porter (Richard Armitage) is held by a terrorist group led by a man known as Latif. At gun point, Porter is forced to read an anti-American and anti-British statement demanding the release of certain prisoners. Outside, a British Special Forces team led by Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) prepares to storm the location where Porter is being held. However, once they breach the building it quickly becomes apparent that the terrorists left a false trail leading to that location. One of the terrorists still there shoots and kills one of Michael's men, but he is in turn shot and killed by Michael.
Back in the U.K., Col. Eleanor Grant (Amanda Mealing) tears into Michael and his team for going in without more actionable intelligence. She also orders him to find Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton), a former Delta Force operative who may be the only man alive who can identify Latif. In Malaysia, Damien is scraping out an existence as a kickboxer and he apparently agrees to throw a fight for cash. But when the other fighter keeps attacking his nose, Damien stops holding back and knocks the man out. Back at his apartment, Damien finds Michael waiting for him with news that his friend Porter is being held captive and needs his help.
Damien refuses to come with Michael until he's assured that he'll be paid. The two men then stage an escape from the building to elude the gangsters that Damien crossed by not throwing the fight. In the U.K., Damien is formally introduced to the people behind Section 20, an elite and secret British intelligence division. He once again reiterates his demand for payment before the assembled team learns that Latif is parading Porter on a live feed. Porter continuously breaks from the terrorists' scripted remarks before Latif kills him with a gunshot to the head.
Afterwards, the team gathers at a bar to remember their friend. Damien joins them, even though "it's not a paying gig." In his hotel room, Damien reflects on Porter's last words and compares them to a code that he and Porter devised years before. Damien then tracks Michael down to his home and shows him the message that Porter relayed: an allusion to something called "Project Dawn" and the name of a prominent hotel in India. Reluctantly, Michael takes Damien along with his team to infiltrate the hotel and learn how Latif is connected to it. Damien also makes a quick b-line to the hotel bar to pick up on women and get drunk.
Shortly, the hotel security team accidentally uncovers terrorists sneaking weapons into the hotel, setting off a siege in the process. Michael is trapped with the primary hostages in the lobby. As for Damien, he hears the gunfire while having sex with the bar waitress. Damien has the girl hide in the bathroom and he kills the first terrorist that enters his room. He then starts leading the girl to safety. In the lobby, Michael notes that Latif's men are looking for someone and demand that he come forward before they begin executing hostages. Michael then manages to get away with two of the hostages.
In the hotel stairwell, Michael and Damien meet up and compare notes. Because Latif is clearly looking for someone important to his plans, they figure that their target must be in the hotel with them. But before they can act upon their knowledge, they are surrounded at gun point and forced to surrender to one of the "hostages" that accompanied Michael.
"Strike Back" is the most unapologetic "guy show" to come along in a long time. In a way, "Strike Back" is Spike TV's dream series; it's heavy on action and naked women. But because "Strike Back" is actually on Cinemax, there's also an abundance of sex scenes to make sure that you won't forget which channel you're watching.
From the opening episode, it seems like "Strike Back" was written by someone who thought that "24" was too complicated and thought provoking. So far, there is no moral ambiguity about "Strike Back;" which is kind of refreshing. This show doesn't try to be anything more than a straightforward action series and that is where it excels. The pilot episode features some outstanding direction and all of the fights and gun battles were entertaining to watch. And there were several sequences that felt like they could have easily been in a feature film.
This is actually the second season (or sequel series) for the British incarnation of "Strike Back," with Richard Armitage reprising his starring role as John Porter in this episode. His death probably held more resonance for fans of the original series, but it was also a powerful moment in this episode. Porter's hidden message for Damien was also well executed and it provided a good set up for the rest of the story.
As the lead characters, Michael and Damien are both pretty one note at this point. Damien in particular seems to care very little about anything except getting paid or getting laid. It's also telling that we see Damien's ass during sex before we even see his face. From the way he dismisses his girl in Malaysia and the two women that he hits on in India, I think we can safely assume that Damien is a habitual womanizer. But for a show like this that's less of a character flaw than a way to get to the next sex scene without wading through the courtship.
Michael is a little bit more boring by contrast. We learn that Michael has a wife and he's trying to have a child with her. But compared to Damien, he's practically the wallpaper on this series. The last time we saw Philip Winchester on screen, he was playing the hapless champion, Leontes on "Camelot." If you missed that show, Leontes didn't amount to much more than this: "I forgive you for sleeping with my wife… my lord. If anyone had to bang her, I'm glad it was you." Or something along those lines. The point is that Winchester didn't get much of a chance to show off what he could do on that series beyond his eventual moral outrage and death.
The upside to Winchester's performance here is that he seems to get better as the episode goes on and there's every indication that "Strike Back" is going to be a buddy story about Damien and Michael. Depending upon how well Winchester and Stapleton play off of each other, that could work out nicely if their last scene in this episode is any indication.
This series is definitely not as sharp as it could be. But if you're looking for a great TV action fix, then "Strike Back" is the show for you. And if it becomes anything more than that, it will be a nice surprise.
Crave Online Rating: 8 out of 10.