After the first two episodes of Strike Back worked to set up and then rapidly expand upon the basic details of the plot, episode 3 works to slow things down a bit, mellow out (as much as any episode of this series is capable of mellowing out) and help the audience understand the particular points of view of various characters.
It's as if the show's writers have committed to applying Rob Gordon's philosophy on making a great compilation tape to the violent world of international espionage and elite anti-terrorist military groups as a way to prevent the story from getting away from its self. As Gordon would say, "You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch…then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules." (By the way, how great would John Cusack be on this show? He could be some kind of vaguely burned-out CIA agent; sort of like the guy running Kamali, but less cartoonish.)
Obviously, season 3 kicked things off by eliminating Baxter (that's their "killer," I guess), something that has clearly led to Maj. Dalton's abuse of prescription drugs and her very open distaste for Leo Kamali – who, despite having killed Baxter in the season premiere, has grown on me; I find his desperation, anxiety and dodginess to be a nice counterbalance to Scott and Stonebridge's unparalleled badassery.
Normally, the presence of a character like Kamali working alongside Section 20 would raise all kinds of alarms of pending treachery and deceit, but Zubin Varla's performance thus far has been an interesting addition to the regular cast that has me hoping otherwise. Furthermore, Kamali demonstrates an interesting dichotomy with Dalton's present state of mind that suggests there is a limit to every character's reserve of dedication to their duty and the organization for which they work. Both have come to a crossroads on which they're ready to go all in on a new path.
For Kamali, it's leaving the CIA behind for the daughter no one knows about, while Dalton seems prepared to abandon the rules and regulations and chain of command in order to come to some kind of peace with her role in Baxter's murder.
Another interesting aspect that can arise from cooling it off a notch is there's plenty of time to introduce new characters and illustrate their importance to the story or, in the case of Dougray Scott's psychotic Leatherby, their proclivities and penchant for violence that also ties in to an obsessive affection for his lover, Farhan. So far, Leatherby has proven himself a suitable stand-in for the now deceased El Jaguar, in terms of a predilection for violence. And considering the episode here has established Leatherby's character slightly more than the cursory background check and display of RPG skills that was granted El Jaguar, it looks as though the man who was nearly Wolverine will be sticking around for more than two episodes. Well, we can hope, anyway.
As much time as the episode spent on establishing Leatherby, adding some depth to Kamali's character and further informing on Dalton's shaky psyche, there was still plenty of time for, in the words of Keith "Jonesy" Jones, "A good, old-fashioned good time," meaning, things were blown up, bad guys were removed from the equation and Stonebridge seemed overly concerned about a cut on his arm and less disturbed about having just fallen through the ceiling of a small shack filled with explosives. (If this is telegraphing something, then I have reached the limits of my knowledge about certain weapons and the kinds of negative effects that can result from exposure to them.)
So, in essence, cooling it off a notch in Strike Back means SUVs will explode in spectacular fashion; Scott and Stonebridge will make driving through a minefield at excessive speeds more entertaining than it should be; and Dalton will ignore the chain of command now that she's no longer a part of it. The first two are certainly part and parcel for this show and it would be remiss to not include them, but Dalton's removal by Locke, and subsequent kidnapping of a woman with potential ties to al-Zuhari, could wind up being an interesting development for the character.
So far, Dalton's been given a little more to do than stand behind massive computer screens and deliver orders to Scott and Stonebrigde, and that's helped make her character more interesting and left me wanting to see how she handles things outside the Section 20 war room.
As much as this show actually has to develop its characters, this is an excellent chance for Strike Back to do so with an individual who could help lead the series down an unexpected path. Here's hoping the series finds a way to follow through.
Strike Back will continue in two weeks with episode 4 @10pm on Cinemax. Check out a preview below: