[This is a review of Strike Back: Origins Episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
The degree to which Strike Back: Origins eschews the sort of buddy-oriented gun-ho bravura of the newer Strike Back is one of the main talking points when viewing the six-part series on Cinemax for the first time. Instead of Scott and Stonebridge triumphing over seemingly insurmountable odds by doing their part in a shooting gallery filled with bad guys, Origins seeks to balance the action elements with a more internalized struggle of John Porter and the machinations of the internal component running Porter’s mission with Section 20; namely, Hugh Collinson.
To that end, episode 1 left the door open for what exactly was going on the night Porter lost several soldiers on the eve of the Iraq invasion. It was the springboard for the series, and it set the trajectory for Porter’s character arc by pushing him all the way down to rock bottom and then pulling him up again through the successful rescue of Katie Dartmouth (Orla Brady). Still, the tiny but potentially devastating thread that Hugh Collinson was actually responsible for the soldiers’ deaths is really the true starting point for the rest of the series.
Strike Back has a history of bureaucratic types with questionable motives being at head of Section 20 and showing little remorse in the often-difficult decisions that have to be made on a day-to-day basis – almost always at the risk of soldiers’ lives. As of late (i.e., Strike Back season 3), there’s been more of a focus on that bureaucratic type as a mirror of the soldiers themselves. We saw this with the late Col. Rachel Dalton and again with the introduction of the terrific Robson Green as Lt. Col. Philip Locke.
On one hand, Dalton helped signify what kind of destructive path working for Section 20 could lead a person down. Although Dalton was exonerated by the end of season 3, she was still looked at as a prime example that the job can lead a person to some incredibly dark places. Meanwhile, although Locke is certainly an extension of that idea, he’s also there to demonstrate what happens when the soldier emerges from said dark place – even though the odds are good he still carries it with him.
Ultimately, given what we know about him, the Locke character could be something of an analogue to Porter, which, depending on when you first saw Origins, makes Porter’s tale feel either like the passing of some torch or something incredibly tragic.
That hint of tragedy that comes from watching the series as a prequel, rather than the show’s starting point, gives Porter’s journey a more distinctly heroic feel, especially when he’s going to extreme lengths to rescue Dartmouth and bring As’ad (Fenar Mohammed-Ali), a.k.a. Scarface, along. And when it’s discovered that As’ad had, in fact, been unknowingly framed by Collinson for the murder of British soldiers, the Porter/Collinson conflict takes on a whole new level of intrigue.
But more than that, it points to the series’ depiction of Section 20 and, more specifically, the people who are in charge of it, as a fallible institution capable of wrongdoing that’s as dangerous to men like Porter as the terrorists he’s fighting. And that depiction of the institution’s evolution makes watching Origins as a prequel a little more interesting.
Strike Back: Origins continues next Friday @10pm on Cinemax.