Someone suggested on Twitter last week that perhaps it makes more sense to review Strike Back every two weeks, given that the show is structured in two-part segments. While this isn’t without logic, I think “Episode Four” offers strong evidence for why there’s enough here to think about weekly. While certainly presented as the conclusion to last week’s episode, the story evolves into something quite different from the linear action we saw in “Episode Three,” trapping our heroes in a local Monk’s house and playing out an old-fashioned standoff that lets the tension inside the group simmer.
There’s undoubtedly an element of coincidence to the new storyline. The fact that Dalton happens to have had an intimate relationship with Othmani (El Soldat’s brother) explains why things were getting so strange last week, but it does seem a bit convenient at the same time. It may contribute to the pressure cooker created by trapping the characters within a confined space, with El Soldat’s men destroying their method of transportation and Knox’s team setting up a sniper post nearby, but there comes a point where it seems like there are too many agents operating in the storyline. Dalton’s involvement from afar works, but the involvement of the Monk and the tagalong Doctor seems less necessary at the end of the day.
The material for the regular characters was more successful. Stonebridge’s confrontation with a white-flag-waving El Soldat was a great way to highlight his recklessness, his willingness to let Scott take the shot and endanger his life more subtle than more direct performances of his fall “down the rabbit hole,” so to speak.
The show also got a chance to let Stonebridge, Scott, and Markunda talk things out a bit, the standoff giving them time to just chat. Those quiet conversations are something we’ve seen a bit of to this point in the season, but there was more time for them here, and they offered a nice calm before the storm. The standoff also allows Scott and Markunda to follow through on their sexual tension, but that mostly works to cement this as one of his string of episodic romantic interests that have generally been serviceable but lack any further momentum.
Those slower sections within the standoff effectively serve as the “Act Two” of the larger two-episode story, the chance to decompress, reveal details that complicate the situation, and then build into “Act Three,” which takes the form of an extended battle between “Section 20 & Friends” and El Soldat’s soldiers. It’s a well-designed conclusion, combining two different strategies for offering exciting action. The first is the long gun battle, peppered with some mines and grenades that the characters rig together during their downtime earlier in the episode (which was some nice foreshadowing). The battle doesn’t have huge individual moments, but it’s a back-and-forth affair, and the gradual withdrawal makes for a smooth transition into the next stage in the fight. Things become more intimate once everyone is back in the house, as the character work takes over and the episodic story of El Soldat’s betrayal (selling out the cause behind Othmani’s back) leads Othmani to sacrifice himself and his brother.
Those transitions are a key for Strike Back, as it’s constantly balancing the audience's relationship with episodic characters versus the larger conflict. The early work with Othmani and the Monk isn’t thrilling or complex, but it helps sell this story as part of a larger narrative that has been playing out over a number of years, and the character’s final moment with his brother offers a satisfying climax to their tale. But it’s the transition after it—the arrival of Karl and Jessica—that really brings the story as a whole to its conclusion. The action scene’s most important task is misdirection, helping us forget that there’s another threat nearby, just waiting for the other two parties to kill one another so that they could step in with guns loaded and take the triggers for themselves. It’s a nice reminder that, no matter how caught up Section 20 might get in the specific circumstances they find themselves in, Knox’s agents are waiting in the wings, making sure there’s another threat to fight in the next episodes. So far, the season has used the triggers as a MacGuffin to keep the larger plot moving forward, but it’s put it in the hands of fairly well-developed characters, which will be helped as Craig Hanson—who Michael is hunting down for killing his wife—has chosen to travel to South Africa to answer Knox’s call for new “contractors” for whatever he plans to do with the triggers now that they’re in his possession.
Part of me feels like this larger two-episode story would have been better if it had been a bit more balanced, but “Episode Four” reinforces that the second part of these stories is usually asked to do a bit more heavy lifting. There’s still a lot of exposition to deal with before the episode can really get started, and while the writers mask this nicely with some good tension while character are confined to the house, it does mean that we’re asked to care about episodic characters (Othmani, El Soldat) in ways that 20 minutes of carefully laid out back-story isn’t really able to accomplish. However, in the end, that story offered the structure and dynamism necessary to fuel the action and character tension that have become the show’s trademark, delivering a solid framework for the show to operate and maintain momentum heading into the next story. I believe the show can do better in this structure, but this remains a good approach to delivering episodic action while laying out where the larger story—and the nuclear triggers tied to it—are heading in the future.
- Let’s Overanalyze the Sex Scenes: Of the sex scenes in the show, this was a rare case where the scene really was played romantically. It didn’t last long enough to feel as though it was approaching pornography, allowing it to focus on the characterization in question. One of the show’s better uses of sex, in my view.
- I wasn’t shocked that last week’s cliffhanger proved a complete dud, but I did think the show moved past it quickly enough that it didn’t drag the episode down.
- We could wonder about the logic of Hanson risking working for Knox given his run from the law, but I think it’s worth it to bring the various threads together. I’ll gladly accept a larger contrivance if it offers narrative convergence.
- I’ll be interested to see if the writers actually allow Dalton and Scott to enter into anything close to a sexual relationship. Christy Bryant’s clandestine chat with Dalton offers them a chance to compare notes, with Bryant observing that Dalton’s the other woman in his life, but I’d sort of like them to keep that off the table and focus on both sexual and non-sexual tensions within Section 20.
- Okay, help me out here. When I first watched this, I was convinced that the Monk was actually Othmani's father, but then I realized that one could refer to a Monk as "Father," and by the end of it, I just wasn't sure any more. I'll admit that I didn't have time this week to really closely parse it out, so I wanted to throw it out to you to see if I'm just crazy. I may just be crazy.