Writer: John Simpson
Director: Michael J. Bassett
Previously on "Strike Back"
Internationally, the current season of this show is known as "Strike Back: Vengeance;" which has largely been assumed to relate to Sgt. Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) and his quest to avenge his wife and track down her killer, Craig Hanson (Shane Taylor). But this week's episode gave the remaining members of Section 20 their own reasons to seek revenge on their current adversary, Conrad Knox (Charles Dance).
Fair warning, I'm going to name the victim and why they were killed, so consider this your SPOILER WARNING and feel free to skip the next three paragraphs if you don't want to know who it is.
After being formally expelled from South Africa in the previous episode, Section 20 sets up shop within the country under the radar of the local officials. It's kind of a low rent version of Section 20 with only Stonebridge and Sgt. Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) as field operatives and four other members serving in a support capacity. But once Knox's mercenaries spot Section 20's operatives interfering with one of his plans, Knox sends his pet politician, Joseph Dreyer (NicK Reding) and the local military to arrest Major Rachel Dalton (Rhona Mitra) and the other three non-field operatives.
Unfortunately for Section 20, Dreyer and his men have no intention of following international protocol or turning their prisoners over to the British government. Instead, Section 20's support team is escorted to a largely deserted base and detained until the mercs stationed there are given the order to start eliminating them. Major Oliver SInclair (Rhashan Stone) is the first member marched to his fate and he manages to shout out a warning to his teammates as he desperately clings to life before he is fatally shot through the head. Stonebridge and Scott arrive minutes later and manage to save the rest of their team, but the damage is done. Sinclair has been with the Cinemax incarnation of "Strike Back" since the beginning, but my first thought as he died was that I wish we could have gotten to know his character better. Even at its best, "Strike Back" doesn't really try to develop its Section 20 characters beyond Scott and Stonebridge. Colonel Grant from last season got a few character beats, but she was still fairly underdeveloped.
Among the support team, Sinclair wasn't the most expendable member. That would be Sgt. Liam Baxter (Liam Garrigan), whose presence on the show is so slight that I initially thought he was an extra. However, the audience wouldn't have cared if Baxter died because he barely registers at all. Through Stone's performance, we at least feel empathy for Sinclair as his last words revealed that he was a father moments before a bullet goes in his head. Now Sinclair's child or children are fatherless and Section 20 has lost one of its more resourceful teammates. And they clearly cared about him. Sgt. Julia Richmond (Michelle Lukes) makes a point of shooting the hell out of Dreyer as payback for her friend and the rest of Section 20 shares a drink in Sinclair's memory while promising to take down Knox in his name.
Early on, Rachael asks how Dreyer found the team in the first place and the answer is revealed when CIA operative Christy Bryant (Stephanie Vogt) covertly meets with Knox before sharing intel with him. Knox's plans for Africa either have American support, or at least the support of a rogue faction of the CIA. Complicating matters is Scott's relationship with Bryant as both her former colleague and her former lover. Privately, Scott asks Bryant to help him clear his name so he can go home… but she warns him that it will have a price that likely involves him selling out Section 20 in some way. Their choice of meeting places was particularly inspired as they stood in front of an aquarium's shark tank. When it comes to pursuing her own agenda. Bryant is definitely the shark in that relationship.
Meanwhile, the next phase of Knox's plan is set in motion when Karl Matlock (Vincent Regan) and his mercenaries break Walter Lutulu (Eamonn Walker) out of a Zimbabwe prison. It turns out that Lutulu and Knox are old allies and they seemingly have a common agenda to seize control of Zimbabwe. Except Lutulu appears to have the conscience that Knox abandoned long ago. Lutulu wants the coup to be as bloodless as possible and he wants nothing to do with Knox's nuclear weapons. Lutulu stands up to Knox and he seems to truly have the best interests of his people at heart… so, Knox and Matlock decide to make better use of Lutulu by turning him into a martyr.
Before that can happen, Section 20 tries and fails to approach Lutulu's daughter, Lilian (Tracy Ifeachor); who is a respected leader in her own right. Knox seems to believe that Lilian will be more receptive to his plans than her father before he greenlights the execution of his old friend. At a rally, Lutulu has a large crowd of followers hanging on his words before an assassination attempt is made. Hilariously, Scott tries to pass himself off as a battlefield medic while attempting to save Lutulu's life on the back of a moving truck and trying to question Lutulu about the nukes at the same time. At the same time, Stonebridge attempts to chase down the assassin through several crowded streets and alleys.
This episode and next week's installment were helmed by feature film director, Michael J. Bassett; whose experience really shines through with some beautifully shot action sequences. The prison break was the highlight, but there was also a palpable tension as Stonebridge pursued the assassin and ended up shooting several innocent people just to keep the mob of onlookers from slaughtering the assassin before he could be questioned. The cliffhanger ending was also well handled and a very effective hook. I don't doubt the survival of the character in question, but it was a much more compelling cliffhanger than the rocket heading towards a van… that didn't actually hit anything vital from episode three this season.
"Strike Back" tends to have fairly strong episodes, but this was a cut above most of them and it may be the best of the season to date. With three episodes left, the stakes are high and getting higher. And with Section 20 reduced to a shadow of its former self, the team is once again the underdog of this story.