Over the years, Strike Back has proven itself to be a malleable series, not unlike the everlasting TV procedurals from the likes of Dick Wolf or Jerry Bruckheimer, in that the basic premise of the show can carry it through just about any overhaul done to the cast. And considering how high the turnover rate is for a show about an elite squad of military professionals battling the worst of the worst around the globe, it’s certainly in Strike Back’s favor that it has proven capable of weathering changes both big and small. Last season, the series faced its biggest change yet, after four seasons with veterans Philip Winchester and Sullivan Stapleton, as the venerable Stonebridge and Scott, the action series began a new adventure with an entirely new cast made up of Warren Brown (Luther), Daniel MacPherson (A Wrinkle in Time), Alin Sumarwata (Neighbors), and Roxanne McKee (Game of Thrones). After a brief getting-to-know-you phase, the new cast quickly gelled, and Strike Back was back doing what it does best: blowing stuff up real good.
Season 5 ended with Section 20 down to three members, Mac (Brown), Wyatt (MacPherson), and Novin (Sumarwata). That’s nothing new for the series, as it frequently kills off members of the team to bring some gravitas to the proceedings. But this time things were a bit different as those who were left had to deal with the team being temporarily disbanded as well as the lingering effects of having been betrayed by their now dead CO. That’s a lot of ground to cover in order for the show to introduce its newest cast member, Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica), as the team’s latest CO, Alexander Coltrane. And as the series demonstrates in its first episode of season 6 on Cinemax, Bamber is more than up to the task of maintaining Strike Back’s place as one of the best action series on television.
Strike Back is a little like the Mission: Impossible franchise in that the plot is secondary to everything that’s enjoyable about the series. In other words, you’re likely not tuning in because you’re overly concerned about the latest nuclear weapon that’s gone missing or why someone would want to steal it and turn it into a suitcase device to further their fringe agenda. No, you’re watching Strike Back to see characters who are exceedingly good at their jobs do some crazy stunts and engage in some truly technically impressive action sequences, all in the line of duty.
So when season 6 begins with the brutal assassination of a military operative who was romantically linked with Novin, and the investigation into her death finds Section 20 up and running again, the incident is important in that it helps color Sumarwata’s character and begins the season’s thematic through-line pertaining to how these soldiers’ find meaning in their personal lives. But really, it’s there to put the team back in the field. And as is the Strike Back way, no sooner has Section 20 put boots on the ground than they find themselves in an unhinged firefight between the Triads and a squad of covert Russian agents (led by series newcomer Yasemin Allen as Katrina Zarkova) tracking down a stolen Russian WMD.
The larger thrust of stolen nukes and aged, but-still-ass-kicking Triad members is only important in as much as it facilitates the relentless forward progression of the season’s action sequences. And as the series has demonstrated for years now, it knows how to pack as much action as possible into a single hour of television and still end with the makings of a discernible enough plot that the viewer is likely to become invested in those gaps between the show’s regularly scheduled shootouts and bone-cracking fisticuffs.
The season premiere offers plenty of the latter, even as it undertakes the challenge of introducing both Bamber’s Coltrane and Allen’s Zarkova. These individuals are not judged by the depth of their characterization, but rather by the competence with which they perform their very Strike Back-y tasks. Both pass with flying colors. Zarkova not only goes toe-to-toe with Novin on a commuter train filled with strangely calm passengers despite bearing witness to a knock-down drag-out brawl between two women that ends when one pulls a gun on the other. Meanwhile, Coltrane proves he’s not just The Guy in the Chair, he’s also got some impeccable timing when it comes to pulling his team out of hot water.
The premiere is also a good example of the grasp the show has on its returning characters and the way in which the communicate with one another. Mac’s promotion is enough to rankle the self-centered Wyatt, but not enough for it to derail their ability to work together and engage in the kind of ego-bruising back-and-forth that’s become expected of the show. Wyatt’s rundown of everything that went wrong on Mac’s first day in charge is the sort of thing that could lead to a tired display of the fragility of the male ego, but instead its an opportunity to insert a little humor into the proceedings. Levity is as important an ingredient of Strike Back’s success as its commitment to producing three or more frenetic action sequences per episode. The ease with which the characters engage in the sort of jocularity, even when their lives are on the line, speaks to the degree to which this new cast has made this show as good as its ever been, yet uniquely theres at the same time.
Strike Back continues next Friday @10pm on Cinemax.