[This is a review of Strike Back: Origins episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]
When you stop to consider the open-ended conclusion to Strike Back: Origins, it’s plain to see that the series had wrapped its first season with an eye toward the future of wrongly disgraced soldier John Porter and the various classified, disavowable exploits of Section 20. As we all now know, those plans did come to fruition, but not in the way fans of Origins (a.k.a. Chris Ryan’s Strike Back) had likely thought was coming.
But what’s interesting about Origins and where it fits into the overall story of Cinemax’s Scott and Stonebridge-led Strike Back is how the whole thing plays out as a tragedy. This is an aspect that has been brought up a few times during the course of Screen Rant’s coverage of Origins, but as the credits rolled on episode 6 (otherwise known as ‘Afghanistan: Part Two’), the feeling was somehow doubled.
In fact, upon completing the Origins finale, I was compelled to re-watch the series premiere of the reconfigured Strike Back just to put eyes on the unpleasant fate awaiting Porter, and to see how his legacy – although rarely mentioned anymore – was served, and would become the catalyst for the high-octane buddy version the show would eventually morph into. And although there was plenty of hope in Porter’s continuing exploits – or at least his successful escape from Afghanistan following Collinson’s final (heroic?) last stand – the end for both characters wound up coming only an episode apart from one another (though some time had passed in the storyline of the new series).
The promos for the series’ arrival on Cinemax said, “Before Scott and Stonebridge, there was Porter and Collinson,” which wound up being a clever bit of marketing misdirection for what was tonally a completely different series. But it wasn’t untrue in the sense that Origins was primarily driven by the somewhat tortured relationship between John Porter and the head of Section 20, Hugh Collinson. The fact that this relationship revolved around a tragic conflict between teammates, rather than collaboration, was an interesting way of looking at the series many outside the UK have only seen as a team-based show. But rather than illustrate the kind of teamwork that is a staple of the new series, over the last six episodes, Origins has painted Porter as the prototypical lone wolf; the hero who never backs down from a fight, regardless of the odds.
There’s definitely a thread of that seen in nearly every episode (or every second episode) of Scott and Stonebridge’s story as well, but here the idea helped to paint Porter as the long-suffering hero, put-upon by the betrayal and deception of one of his own. So then, it was only natural that the character would feel most at home in the middle of an operation, relying on his wits, training, and whomever he came across that was in the need of a mutually beneficial team-up.
In that regard, Porter’s off-the-cuff team-ups with guys like Felix Masuku (Shaun Parkes) and Gerald Baxter (Ewen Bremner) wound up being replaced by impromptu and obligatory team-ups of another kind, typically involving Scott and a member of the opposite sex. But that idea of Porter as a mostly solitary figure amongst those who know partnership and group effort generally produce the best results also gives the series’ final shot a far weightier notion than simply contemplating whether or not Collinson’s death resulted in something approaching redemption for either character.
Episode 6 was, for all intents and purposes, facing the dual tasks of getting Porter out of the clutches of Zahir Sharq (Alexander Siddig) and wrapping up his storyline as it pertained to the friendly-fire deaths of his comrades that kicked the story off all the way back in the series premiere. With the addition of CIA representative Frank Arlington (Toby Stephens), the episode would have to juggle more characters and storylines than usual, but seeing as how the series generally likes to finish big with some sort of explosive flourish that conveniently handles character development in only the broadest sense, there was little doubt that the most important facet of the story would find some kind of conclusion.
Whether or not you’re of the mind that Collinson’s sudden attempt to extract Porter from enemy territory was a satisfying conclusion to their protracted, and somewhat passive, battle that had been going on all season may come down to how much you expect in terms of character development from the series. But considering Porter’s ex-wife and mother of his child died rather unexpectedly, and, like his daughter, Alexandra (Laura Greenwood) was only mentioned again in passing, it’s not too surprising then that Collinson could make the trip to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, procure a jeep and make his way to Porter’s location unmolested just so the series could find some closure for the two main characters.
But the broad strokes of Strike Back typically wind up working well within the framework of a series fraught with bloodshed and the imminent threat of death. It’s safe to imagine that had the producers known Richard Armitage would choose leading a pack of dwarfs in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy over the continuing exploits of John Porter, there would have been a greater amount of closure when it came to the character’s personal life.
That is to say: we might’ve seen Alexandra one last time, and been able to gauge her response to learning her father was innocent of the accusations that’d ruined his life. But personal development and the many what ifs left on the table aside, the finale did manage to handle the clearing of Porter’s name, in a suitable fashion that also brought the mostly underused Layla Thompson (Jodhi May) into the fray for one last storyline from which we can surmise Porter’s name and record were cleared.
With Porter getting an admittedly downtrodden send off in the series premiere of Cinemax’s Strike Back, the biggest storytelling casualty of the finale, then, becomes the potentially rich antagonist the series had been building in Frank Arlington and his clandestine dealings with Zahir Sharq. And although that storyline (and many others) likely won’t ever see the light of day, at least Strike Back: Origins can be looked at as a solid proof of concept that, in the future, Scott and Stonebridge may one day be thought of as the precursor to another collection of roguish Section 20 soldiers who’re looking to carry on the legacy of those who had come before.
Strike Back will continue on Cinemax with season 4 sometime in the summer of 2014.