Early in “Episode 6,” Rachel Dalton summarizes the state of the case against Conrad Knox, concluding “we need to find out exactly what he is planning, and shut it down fast.” Dalton is right on both points in terms of Section 20’s path forward, but the story is different for Strike Back as a series: While we’re at the point where a clearer sense of what Conrad Knox plans to do with the nuclear warheads he’s assembling is necessary, we’re still too far from the season’s conclusion for a quick shutdown to be on the horizon.
Accordingly, “Episode 6” offers the most comprehensive explanation for Knox’s actions yet, using the kidnapped Peter Evans and Knox’s daughter Ava as outlets through whom we can get a better sense of the reasoning behind the plan. The picture we receive is that of a man who wants Africa’s voice to be listened to on a global scale, positioning the continent as a nuclear superpower backed by a powerful military force armed with the guns Knox is supposed to be decommissioning. While Israel might have perceived Knox as a direct threat to them, in truth he is simply trying to arm Africa with what he sees as the necessary prerequisites to earning a spot at the table when it comes to global affairs. If Africa wants to regain power over their own future, they need to play the power game the rest of the world is playing, which in Knox’s eyes means the arms race his foundation is outwardly condemning.
The “villain” side of the equation offers the most consistently engaging side of the episode, as the show does a nice job of contextualizing Conrad’s actions in his confrontation with his daughter. They both have the same goal, which is improving life in Africa, but they have different methods for achieving this goal. While Ava sees decommissioning as the logical partner to vaccines and other forms of constructive and philanthropic intervention, Conrad believes this does not give the leverage necessary to truly draw attention to their cause. Stonebridge’s stint at Ava’s fundraiser might draw a few more donors, offering a true account from the ground, but Conrad believes a set of nuclear missiles will have a more wide-reaching effect, finally elevating Africa to the place that it deserves (and the place he believes it might have gone if not for the nuclear program being decommissioned). The show has done a nice job building out this back-story over the course of the past two episodes, and Charles Dance and Olivia Grant offered some strong performances to allow the “bad guy” side of the episode to hold up its end of the bargain.
The show also gets some good mileage out of Stonebridge’s battle with Craig Hanson, who has become a more prominent member of Knox’s security team after completely dismantling the existing security team as a demonstration of his talent. The resolution to last week’s cliffhanger is fairly quick, a real showdown interrupted by Dalton’s arrival, but they get a chance to shoot out again later in the episode. Although it’s still a cheat to enlist Hanson with Knox, as it still doesn’t make a lot of sense given he’s a known fugitive, it does help the show combine Section 20’s showdown with Knox and Stonebridge’s showdown with Hanson, which I’m sure will each play a major role in the season finale. Their showdowns here were the calm before the storm, giving Stonebridge a chance to prioritize his mission over his target (which he failed to do this week, but succeeds with at Coldfall Ridge). It seems like just the right time to start teasing this showdown, giving the show four more episodes to bring the two characters back together.
That being said, I do have some concerns with the other major arc in the episode, which at times struggled under the weight of some hackneyed writing. While Rebecca’s struggle with the weight of her task as a Mossad agent was a subtle undercurrent in last week’s episode, here it becomes overdramatic, their post-coital discussion bearing the markers of suicidal tendencies without any of the context necessary to flesh out that characterization. The character’s return at the end of the episode was suitably shocking, as I had forgotten about the character entirely, but I was glad to forget about her, and her logic for shooting him—that she did it so Scott would kill her—was tenuous. I’m not against the series incorporating elements of melodrama, but the writing just wasn’t up to the task of selling her actions, meaning the logic wasn’t capable of supporting the themes being presented.
This isn’t enough to entirely undermine the episode, but it does emphasize how much the episode was about the other side of the war. Although Stonebridge gets to schmooze in order to reach out to Ava Knox, she becomes the focus of that story, just as Evans’ time with Section 20 last week transitioned to him having a more substantial role in “Episode 6.” The strategy proved both efficient and successful, as the two episodes work together to explain Knox’s plan while rarely including scenes that exist solely as exposition. Between the kidnapping, the raids, and the family drama, every scene was telling at least two stories, something that invigorates the action and keeps the plot moving forward. While uneven at points, “Episode Six” nonetheless succeeds at its primary goal: to assemble the pieces necessary for us to understand the motivations of the parties involved, so that the show can transition into the season’s climax.
- Let’s Overanalyze the Sex Scenes!: A rare case of a two-part sexual encounter, with Scott’s rough first engagement with Rebecca last week counterbalanced with a more romantic, loving affair this time around, reflecting the Mossad agent’s changing attitude.
- The above review probably sounds more like a “B+” than a “B,” but on principle I lowered the grade due to two absolutely awful writing/directing decisions: Evans’ daughter tossing a gun on the ground where it falls apart (just like decommissioned weapons!), and the cut from “little boy” to Evans’ grandson staring out the window. Terrible.
- By comparison, while Hanson yelling “How’s the wife?” to Stonebridge is also plenty silly, it’s silly in a way that fits better with the show’s action atmosphere. I’m fine with Hanson being an over-the-top villain, given how he’s being positioned within the narrative as a whole.
- The end of the episode called attention to the fact that Section 20 largely attempted to work with local authorities in this two-part episodes, something that “going dark” would suggest is off the table for the remainder of the season.
- In case you’re interested in seeing Paul Freeman’s most infamous role on the big screen, a reminder that Raiders of the Lost Ark’s IMAX run was extended for another week, giving you another chance to see Belloq eat that fly.