In terms of stakes, Strike Back excels in maintaining the sensation that they're always fairly high; major and minor characters alike come and go with frightening regularity. Normally, that wouldn't be saying much, considering this series typically racks up a significant body count in every episode, and it moves through Big Bads like most shows cycle through extras. But what's surprising is the manner in which the show maintains a high level of action, and still manages to craft an interesting story around its characters that generally gives them a new and unexpected dimension. Even if that added layer of character is offered as a parting gift.
After the brief hiatus for the Labor Day weekend, episode 4 returns with great energy. The opening sequence alone, in which Dougray Scott's scenery chewing Leatherby storms Kamali's house and takes Ester (Amy-Leigh Hickman) hostage, could have sustained a much larger portion of the episode's plot. Instead, it simply generated the momentum for the remainder of the two-part arc, which, consequently, wound up being a rather effective swan song for several characters. It successfully demonstrated just how adept Strike Back is at coloring in these individuals' backgrounds to make them more interesting and have what feels like a greater impact on the overall storyline.
Of course, that's in reference to Leatherby and his lover Farhan (Daniel Ben Zenou) and the incredibly dark and tumultuous love-hate relationship that existed between the two and somehow became a great source of the underlying tension anytime Leatherby was onscreen. And that's not simply because the mad Scot put a bullet through Farhan's hand for thinking he'd made eyes at a hotel employee; it had to do with an unspoken understanding that Leatherby had his suspicions regarding Farhan's forced collusion with Section 20, and despite this, he still chose to save the young man's life – if only so that he could wind up taking it (while sacrificing himself) when the perfect moment arose.
The tension that sprang from putting a character with dubious intentions in the same environment as one who has clearly gone off the rails was mirrored by the late-in-the-episode pairing of the increasingly interesting Kamali and the exceptionally volatile Maj. Rachel Dalton.
What happened with Dalton was something of a Strike Back staple – i.e., depicting the mental and emotional anguish a character experiences when they feel responsible for another life being unjustly taken. It wasn't all too dissimilar from what Stonebridge had gone through during much of season 2. But here, Dalton's obsession with avenging Baxter's death and capturing al-Zuhari had consumed her beyond any hope of return and translated into the quick and vicious death of a character who had risen and become almost as essential to the series as Scott (are there enough Scotts in this episode?) and Stonebridge. Her death may not have been mourned by the surprisingly contemplative Damien Scott, but that just shows how well the series knows its characters.
Besides, in true Strike Back fashion, the second story arc ends with the introduction of new villains and a massive expansion of the overall al-Zuhari plotline. And now, more than ever, Section 20 has some real incentive to, well, strike back.
Strike Back continues next Friday @10pm on Cinemax. Check out a preview below: