In the world of pop culture – and especially movies – the idea of prison as a dramatic setting has become its own subgenre. Whether it's classic escape films like A Man Escaped, Escape From Alcatraz, The Great Escape (sensing a theme?) or something on a different dramatic scale like The Shawshank Redemption, they all operate within a certain framework and there is generally a specific set of criteria that is expected while watching them.
With episode 7, Strike Back introduces its run-and-gun style of fast-paced action to the more confined, claustrophobic setting that is such a key part of prison films. The episode operates as a kind of mini-movie unto itself, and the start of the fourth two-part arc of the season. And since it takes place in Russia, the episode should also get Scott and Stonebridge some fairly serious travelers discounts. But more importantly, the episode serves as another demonstration as to how well the writers know their program, as the show seamlessly jumps over into a new subgenre, while keeping the other subplots of the season ticking away underneath.
Maintaining the series' frenetic pace and managing to get Scott and Stonebridge in (and nearly out) of prison in under an hour is no small feat. Thankfully, the writers knew to speed up certain things like processing and questioning and after a twisty car chase inside an abandoned factory building, Section 20's best and brightest have their mug shots taken in an manner reminiscent of Hot Fuzz and in no time flat are walking the yard looking for trouble.
There's no mention of just how long it'd been since they were arrested and when they first donned those stylish maroon prison duds, but the episode is still operating under the assumption that the hacking of the NATO hard drive is underway, and therefore time is of the essence. This raises a few questions in terms of the legitimacy of the plan, and for all the fun that was the cold open, perhaps it would've made more sense for their entry to be gained through more bureaucratic means (Col. Locke does have an agent in Russian FSB, after all), but whatever – the show has played fast and loose with more important plot points and gotten away with them, so there's no reason for it to stop here.
Perhaps in an effort to keep viewers from concerning themselves too much with leaps in logic, the episode goes down the prison checklist fairly quickly. Stonebridge picks a fight in the yard; the crooked warden is introduced (and seemingly dispatched in a riot); and we also meet a quirky, but kind inmate who befriends our heroes and helps them navigate the world inside the prison (oh, and he also instigates the riot).
As much as episode 7 is the continuation of the overall plot to shut down al-Zuhari and his terrorist network, it winds up feeling almost like a standalone episode. But the writers manage to ground it within the framework of the season's plotline by bringing Stonebridge's illness (brought on by exposure to a neurotoxin) to the next stage, while also giving Locke a reason to believe Dalton was right about Kamali.
It may have amounted to little more than setting up what's to come, but with the season pushing into its final leg, more setup should equal higher dramatic stakes.
Strike Back will continue next Friday @10pm on Cinemax. Check out a preview below: