By now you’ve likely noticed that Strike Back delivers its story in two-hour blocks, and that the first two hours tend to set off in one particular direction, only to have the narrative expand dramatically through not only some revelation in the story, but also through a dramatic escalation of the stakes.
So far, what has set season 3 (as its known here in the U.S. – otherwise it’s Shadow Warfare) apart from previous seasons where the story began by introducing the big bad – such as Game of Thrones‘ Charles Dance in season 2 – and by laying out some kind of character arc for Scott and Stonebridge, is the run-and-gun style execution of the plot has largely kept both of those bits of the formula out of the equation in favor of demonstrating just how much larger the storyline is this time around.
In that sense, the scope of last week’s premiere certainly differed from seasons 1 or 2, in that the basic narrative was split in two, with Scott and Stonebridge raising hell in Colombia while Dalton was engaged in her own action-oriented storyline in Lebanon, but it managed that scale at the expense of the characters – or so it seemed.
Now granted there isn’t a shocking amount of character development in episode 2, as the driving element of any episode of Strike Back is (and always will be) the plot, but what makes the series so much fun to watch is the way the writers manage to place smaller but still meaningful character moments into the larger action sequences to help color the experience of, say, Scott, Stonebridge, or even Dalton – now that her storyline has expanded to allow Rhona Mitra a chance to show off her abilities as an action star.
In this case, episode 2 rather deftly handles its two primary tasks of giving a main character some resonant emotion to carry over the course of the season and to blow up the plot enough that most preconceived notions about where things are headed get thrown out the window. Now, al-Zuhari is still the main get here, but unlike Dance’s delusional South African businessman Conrad Knox, al-Zuhari is more of a figurehead, a somewhat standard leader of a shadowy terrorist organization who is known by many, but seen only through videotaped messages of the most dubious quality.
On one hand, this makes al-Zuhari more familiar and perhaps even plausible in a real world sense, but it also has prevented him from feeling like a tangible presence in the world of Strike Back. On the other hand, the lack of introduction to al-Zuhari helped give the reveal that Kamali is actually a deep cover CIA operative a little more juice.
Of course, Kamali’s last-second declaration of his true mission to Scott and Stonebridge felt more than a little artificial, and his CIA handler that’s introduced near the episode’s end is even less inspired. But if anything, Strike Back is one of few series where such contrivances can easily be overlooked for the sake of keeping the narrative’s engine revved at all times.
Case in point: The re-introduction of Rebecca last week had a lot in common with Kamali’s admission in terms of feeling overly manufactured and convenient, but it paid off during the firefight with The Jaguar’s men at the exchange when she was struck down and subsequently died in Scott’s arms. Now this isn’t to say the only way for something to resonate emotionally is for a character to be killed – though that is pretty standard for this show – but Rebecca’s established history with Scott, and what her death may mean for him throughout the rest of season 3, is again part of the perpetual motion of Strike Back that makes forgiving certain coincidences a little easier.
But it’s all part of telling what appears to be Strike Back‘s most ambitious storyline yet. So far, the season has introduced a bevy of new characters (Robson Green’s Major Philip Locke seems like a great addition) and is preparing to unleash them on a quest to uncover a global terrorist threat. Although the circumstances feel familiar, the delivery has been spot on, and if the story continues to interweave character and plot as well as it did here, the season may very well set a new standard for the series.
Strike Back continues next Friday @10pm on Cinemax. Check out a preview below:
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