[This is a review of the Strike Back Season 3 finale. It contains SPOILERS.]
There is a certain vicarious thrill that can come from watching another person take pleasure in his or her work. That’s certainly the case when it comes to Strike Back and, more specifically, Damien Scott and Michael Stonebridge, but it’s also true of the actors playing them (Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester, respectively). Hearing them hoot, holler and cheer each other on while dodging terrorist bullets or leaping from one speeding vehicle to the next, just to make disposing of the bad guy a little quicker (and exciting), makes the camaraderie they share feel as if it actually extends to those watching as well. They cheer when one another does well, we cheer them when they do well; it’s a win-win.
In that regard, Strike Back isn’t exactly the kind of series that typically ends a season without a win. Season 2 was certainly a downer for Stonebridge personally, but on the up side, he and Scott learned just how well they work together as a team. And the depth of that burgeoning partnership was definitely reflected here in season 3, but never more than it was in the finale. For the past nine episodes, the dynamic duo have been discussing whether or not they would be staying with Section 20. They’ve seen things they’re never going to unsee, done things they will never be able to take back, and watched as the system they are such an intrinsic part of chews up and spits out people like Baxter and, most affectingly, Major Rachel Dalton, whose unbridled intensity was mistaken for madness and instability when it was really just a burning gut instinct that saw her gauge the quality of Leo Kamali’s character with pinpoint accuracy.
Dalton’s death certainly came as a surprise, but the writers managed to use it to punctuate that lingering bit of doubt Scott and Stonebridge shared about their future with Section 20. The demise of her character also gave the season an interesting edge where it felt as though the stakes could be high enough that the lives of either man might genuinely be on the line. That was certainly the case when Stonebridge’s inadvertent exposure to a deadly neurotoxin nearly took him out of the game entirely; and again when Victor Ulyanov made a deal with Locke to trade Leo Kamali for Bravo One and Bravo Two, so he might have the opportunity to enact some revenge for the death of his son earlier in the season.
Tying Ulyanov’s desire to kill Scott and Stonebridge back to the beginning of the season serves as a reminder just how far the storyline came, and just how early the seeds of Kamali’s betrayal had been sewn. When the cross-country motorcycle excursion of the season premiere was cut short, so “the boys” could make a quick trip down to Colombia to be introduced to the Leo, he was painted as Baxter’s murderer and an obsession of Dalton’s that would eventually lead her to Al-Zuhari and whatever horrible plot the terrorist leader had been cooking up since his last transmission. But all of that was quickly turned around the moment Kamali cried CIA and Section 20 was introduced to Ester, the daughter he’d been hiding from Al-Zuhari while working as a deep cover operative for the United States government.
It was all a smokescreen, of course, but it was one that didn’t point out the intelligence failures of the people doing the job so much as it highlighted the desperate need those working against such a shadowy and elusive foe have, to believe horrible actions might be pardoned as long as they’re done in service of “the greater good.” The Kamali who painted himself as a tortured hero driven to make insanely difficult life and death choices was, in many ways, a reflection of those working at Section 20. While corroboration of his story from a source at the CIA helped, Section 20’s willingness to believe Kamali’s story (and in turn doubt Dalton) was, at least partially, born out of a desire to save themselves, and to believe that if someone in as deep as Kamali could be pulled from the proverbial fire, then perhaps they could as well.
That desperation and concern about future exit strategies meant the team would make the mistake of considering Dalton past the point of return, and so no one extended the necessary helping hand – a terrible blunder made worse by hindsight. Scott’s eruption at Locke and Stonebridge after the two narrowly escaped death with a little Morse code and the last minute fastening of their seat belts, was as much about the team having been so easily duped as it was about seeing another individual – who reminded Scott of himself – be swallowed whole by the circumstances of the environment in which they all live.
But perhaps what’s most interesting about Kamali, as a villain, is that the qualities Scott, Stonebridge, and even Locke (briefly) saw in him were also aspects of his character that made him such a dangerous foe in the season finale. He was not only driven, but he also believed himself the hero of his own story – it just so happened that his story was the attempted release of an engineered smallpox virus for which only he had the vaccine. The members of Section 20 are tasked with making split-second decisions that could impact not only their lives, but the lives of countless other people as well; the trick is to weigh the options and come up with the right decision. More often than not, that means the few may be sacrificed for the good of the whole – which was never more prevalent than when Scott and Stonebridge attempted to surrender themselves to Ulyanov in exchange for Kamali and the vaccine.
It was a bleak ending for one bitter man that tied things up in a “win” for Locke and Section 20. But it also put a brighter spin on Scott and Stonebridge’s future with the group and their belief in the job as a whole. The plot elements of Strike Back season 3 broke down in a similar fashion to the previous two seasons, but this time around the effect of the storyline wound up having more of a distinct impact on the show’s primary characters. In doing so, it also developed an entertaining arc for them both, and demonstrated the series understands how to generate and reconcile its characters’ storylines in an effective manner that leaves them and the audience looking forward to what’s next.
Continue along with the six-part Strike Back: Origins (the original U.K. series) starting next Friday @10pm; Strike Back season 4 will premiere on Cinemax in the U.S. in 2014. Check out a preview for Strike Back: Origins below:
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