[This is a review of Strike Back: Origins episode 5. There will be SPOILERS.]
There has been a hint of distrust in authority coursing through Strike Back: Origins from the very first episode, which saw John Porter erroneously relieved of duty due to an event caused by his future superior Hugh Collinson. In the penultimate episode of the series (or Afghanistan: Part One), those misgivings, which have been mostly below the surface, come rising to the top, and essentially become the focus of the final act.
Generally speaking, the show portrays its protagonist as a beacon of all that is good and just in the armed forces; John Porter is selfless, capable, and determined. On the flipside of that is his superior, Hugh Collinson, who – as a figure of authority is required to splash around in the murky waters of moral ambiguity – sometimes weighs the life of his own soldier against the larger picture of international diplomacy (read: deniability) and war.
But the series has stopped just short of painting Collinson as a straight-up villain; he is more of an anomaly in the world of Strike Back, which mostly sees things in black and white.
And so, because the show works very hard to present John Porter’s actions as heroic, meaningful, and, most importantly, easily identifiable as such, we become inherently suspicious of anyone whose actions are less cut and dry.
In essence, the show demonstrates how a character and plotline that typically performs at an optimum level in binary can be complicated by anything that adds an extra dimension to the mix. Collinson committed a crime and has essentially gotten away with it for over seven years; that, in conjunction with the act of routinely making Porter a deniable asset, demonstrates the ambiguous gray area that Collinson inhabits.
With the storyline shifting to look at what may be the moral differences between the bureaucrats making the decisions and the soldiers in the field, it’s no surprise, then, that the plot comes full circle and arrives once more upon the doorstep of the issue of friendly fire.
The episode begins with a group of American soldiers being killed by a hijacked missile from very air strike they called in from British forces. Now, fears of technology and questions about its effectiveness in this storyline aside (thankfully, the hacking of missiles in mid-flight – no matter how plausible – only serves as the catalyst for the story), the real focus of the episode is on culpability and bureaucratic finger pointing.
In that sense, we see Collinson at his best doing a different version of what Porter does. Hugh is dodging bullets too; they’re just coming from the mouth of a man in the CIA named Frank Arlington (Toby Stephens, Black Sails) who, as it turns out, is trying to track down his own deniable asset, the emotionally unstable missile hacker, Gerald Baxter (Ewen Bremner).
The CIA’s involvement not only serves as a mirror to Section 20’s shenanigans, but because Arlington and Baxter are wading even deeper into the hazy moral waters along the fringe of the War on Terror, the upside is that Collinson suddenly doesn’t look so bad.
With just one episode left, there is precious little time to wrap everything up with regard to the conflict between Porter and Collinson. Sadly, that may wind up going unresolved as a result of unforeseen production developments when the show was being made. At any rate, there is still the story of Baxter and Arlington at hand. However things go, that may have to be enough.
Strike Back: Origins concludes next Friday @10pm on Cinemax.