Friday night’s episode was…iffy. The team on screen is still finding it’s way to cohesiveness and that mirrors what’s going on behind the scenes. We saw some good moments, particularly with McAllister (Warren Brown) and Wyatt (Daniel MacPherson) and even some really cool looking action shots. Seeing Reynolds (Roxanne McKee) and Novin (Alin Sumarwata) working seamlessly in their takedowns was fantastic.
I really have a lot of faith in these actors, and in director MJ Bassett. That being said, the writing this episode was rough, there were lines recycled from past seasons of Strike Back, but the main problem was arms dealer Morgan Ives (Trevor Eve). This guy comes out the gate as Mr. Richy Rich and hits every rich villain trope on his way through the episode. We saw him briefly (making his first reference to how rich he is) at the end of the last episode. At the beginning of this episode, he’s delivering Stinger missiles to Jane Lowry (Katherine Kelly) and her band of Jihadi terrorists, led by her boyfriend Idrisi. Again, the only lines this guy utters are either directly related to his monetary worth, “Do you see these men here? If I told you how much they get paid you’d probably cry.” or are intended to just straight piss off whoever he’s talking to (we see a TON of this once he meets the 20 team). The main conflict for the episode comes after Ives flies away in his helicopter when Idrisi uses one of the Stinger missiles to shoot him down. Is this really a surprise to anyone?
Col. Donovan (Nina Sosanya) gets word that Ives has been shot down and decides to send the team in to retrieve him. They need the info on Idrisi that Ives might have, which honestly has the poor side effect of saving that jerk’s life. Once the team is inserted we get our first awesome Reynolds/Novin takedown when they sneak up behind a sniper and knife the guy right in the neck.
I really like these two together and I’m glad to see women taking a lead in this show. Strike Back has always had great women characters, but the focus was on Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) and Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) with the women being peripheral. This time around with 2 of the leads being female I’m excited. I do think that the makeup crew is doing Roxanne McKee a disservice with too much makeup. The rest of the team looks appropriately dirty and rough – fighting in the desert will do that to you. The realism on that is a Strike Back hallmark – in past seasons our heroes got beat to hell and back and it showed. Unfortunately, Reynolds looks in every scene like someone has fixed her eyeliner and touched up her foundation. This is not a reflection on McKee’s acting – she’s properly in charge – they just need to ease up on the makeup in future episodes.
Once the team has Ives firmly in hand or as firmly as they’ll ever have the Jack Nicholson wannabe (seriously y’all – the way this guy delivered lines was weird!) they creep as fast as possible through the town, trying to find a vehicle for escape. During all of this Ives has to be the least grateful rescued guy ever. From lines like, “your intel was bad boys, suck it up.” to “you have to keep this piece of shit alive so, eyes on soldier, look frosty.” he pulls out all the stops. It felt like the writer dug down deep in their villain trope folder for this guy. This is not at all typical of Strike Back – we’ve had some dynamite villains with a serious backstory and complex motivations – I’m hoping that Jane Lowry will be the saving grace in this department.
Ives tries to convince the team that he has nothing to do with Idrisi but after a young boy they’d come across gets shot, McAllister has had enough. After the emotionally stunted Ives comments, “for the best right? Four years time he’d be strapping on a bomb vest and strolling into the Red Cross.”, McAllister throws Ives onto a table, forcing his face closer and closer to a table saw. This was literally my favorite thing – the team obviously as fed up with Ives as the audience.
Ives still won’t admit anything, and as gunshots ring out our team has to make a quick exit, dragging the arms dealer with them. When they are able to finally find a vehicle, Ives gets shot, almost dying once again. Wyatt comes up with the brilliant if insane, idea of taking Ives to General Farid, who, if you remember from the last episode, was the guy McAllister had to rescue Wyatt from. Everyone else is skeptical about this plan, except Novin who lays down some quick Bedouin culture knowledge regarding how they treat guests. I love that smart ass Novin is also the quick thinking intelligent one, I was afraid she’d be very one-note (even if it was a good note lol) so this was a relief! The General agrees to treat Ives, keeping him alive long enough to finally share his information on Idrisi and the Stinger missiles. He gives the team the location for the missiles and they’re gone – leaving him with the Libyans, which, once his guest right (3 days of good treatment) is over, is going to be very very bad for him. Win-win!
General Farid decides to go with the 20 team – he wants to take down Idrisi for how he’s corrupted the Libyan people. En route to the Idrisi cave system, we get the high light of the writing this episode. Donovan is encouraging the team from afar, she knows this fight is going to be near impossible, she tells them (at this point I *may* have gotten slight teary-eyed):
“20 stood for something. They were the soldiers who kept going when others fell, who saw the odds and didn’t blink. Who got the job done, even when it meant paying the ultimate price.”
The team storms in, they capture Jane Lowry (pretending she needs help and crying) and then split up. When Reynolds and Novin exit the caves with Jane they get a call from Donovan and find out that the Americans have sent a bomber and are planning on taking the whole cave system out in one blow. They are able to get word to Wyatt and McAllister, still inside, and McAllister almost loses it on Wyatt mid-mission. Wyatt had called his American CO to update on the op status and led to this. These two have some trust issues to work out that’s for sure.
One of my favorite moments during this was actually after General Farid is shot. Wyatt is kneeling over him and Farid tells Wyatt that the westerners should have never come to his country. Wyatt is broken a bit by this and answers, “I know.” We saw this some last episode with Wyatt not wanting to shoot the Libyans – staying McAllister’s hand when he’d have killed them all to escape. I really like that this go around Strike Back is making sure that there is some understanding of the multiple sides argument and not making it simply – the west is good, everyone else bad.
In the end, Wyatt shoots Idrisi to get McAllister out of the cave before the bombs arrive, but Reynolds and Novin let Lowry escape after she causes their car to crash. This was so disappointing – I just can’t imagine either character being the type to get overwhelmed so quickly or to let their prisoner get away.
So it was..iffy. There were a couple of car explosions that just made me go “WHY?” instead of “yeeeaaah” which I would like to feel about explosions. The actors are still not doing their own stunts which leads to cut up shooting and far away shots of some of the cooler scenes which would benefit from continuity. I think Warren Brown was fantastic this episode, he’s very convincing as McAllister, and so is Alin Sumerwata as Novin. I still have hope for this season, and everything I’m hearing from overseas viewers (who are 4 episodes ahead) bodes well. Which is to say – stick with us, I *think* it’s going to get better.
Strike Back returns on Cinemax Feb 16th at 10/9c.