Strike Back is essentially the most exhilarating, white-knuckle workplace drama on TV right now. Sure, it helps that the offices of Scott & Stonebridge operate globally out of any location known for housing the more unsavory types in the world – i.e., international terrorists, nuclear-arms dealing businessmen and, as we see in the season 3 premiere, South American drug lords.
But while all the running, jumping, shooting and lobbing of grenades operates effectively as the series’ draw, what makes it work is the sense of camaraderie and support between the two main players and the rest of Section 20.
On television, we’re used to seeing how people function within the parameters of their unique work environments, and, in terms of distinctive workplaces, Strike Back pretty much takes the cake. As globe spanning as any James Bond film, the series manages to make dangerous locales and the inevitable skirmishes that arise within them feel like edgy business meetings headed up by two travel-weary warriors who don’t just skip the interminable wait at baggage claim, they don’t even wait for the plane to land before deboarding.
But as in any workplace, a solid staff of associates backs those in the field up by performing all the seemingly small but integral duties that would, without them, bring the whole thing crumbling down. In this case, it’s the crew behind the ultra-elite military unit known as Section 20.
Season 3 kicks off in familiar fashion with a bifurcated storyline that quickly finds a way to converge the seemingly disparate elements, so that a lengthy firefight can eventually ensue and leave our heroes in a bit of a pickle before the next episode. It all begins with Major Dalton (Rhona Mitra) witnessing the murder of one of Section 20’s own, Sgt. Baxter. His killer, a man named Kamali (Zubin Varla), who has very close ties to al-Zuhari (the newest object of Section 20’s special brand of affection), soon leaves Lebanon for South America. And while Dalton remains in Beirut to gather intel on who betrayed the team – partly by manhandling a morbidly obese man with a penchant for working up a good sweat and breaking the neck of anyone foolish enough to fall for the old fully-dressed-with-a-handgun-in-the-shower trick – Section 20 sends out a crew to locate Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) and Stonebridge (Philip Winchester).
As it turns out, the once quarrelsome duo is enjoying a brief respite or “holiday” traveling through California by motorcycle. But rather than engaging in some Rex Pickett-inspired winery tours or bemoaning the ubiquity of Merlot, Stonebridge has taken to teaching some rough looking customers about the game of snooker – and hustling all their money – while Scott is in the bar’s storeroom with the proprietor’s daughter.
The bromantic road trip is certainly a far cry from last season less jovial character introduction scenes, and though it’s meant to be lighter and the tonal shift is appreciated without doubt – considering where the episode is headed – the time spent cavorting with bartenders and impressing beer-swilling ladies in RVs could have been better spent coloring Scott and Stonebridge’s thoughts on staying with Section 20. Instead, we have to settle for a short pre-game conversation that leaves most of the deliberation on the table.
And for the most part, that’s okay; Strike Back typically does a better job crafting some development of its characters than a cursory glance of the series’ action-oriented conceit would suggest, so it remains likely that the discussion will pick up again soon enough. Besides, despite the subtraction of Baxter, season 3 introduces two new players to the game with the new head of Section 20 (and Stonebridge’s military crush), Lt. Colonel Philip Locke (Robson Green – Wire in the Blood), as well as Kim Martinez (Milauna Jackson), the DEA agent assigned with helping Scott and Stonebridge retrieve Kamali from the compound of a drug lord who likes to be called “The Jaguar” (Raoul Trujillo).
As expected, the extrication of Kamali goes from bad to worse in a few short seconds, but it also reunites Scott with the dangerous Mossad agent, Rebecca (Lyne Renee), while saving the last minutes of the program for an explosive and exciting firefight and river boat sequence that ends tantalizingly in a cliffhanger.
For as fun as it is, Strike Back hasn’t garnered as much attention as the other expensive-looking prestige dramas on cable, but through the series’ steadfast dedication to making things consistently go boom and shrugging anytime it’s asked whether it knows what a brake pedal is, this international entertainment package has earned it fans in all corners of the globe.
Strike Back continues next Friday @10pm on Cinemax. Check out a preview below: