Early in the first season of Strike Back, Section 20 lost one of its own when Kate Marshall was killed during a mission. It was a shock to the system because she had been presented as a key part of the series: She was involved in an affair with Stonebridge, offered a female presence in the field (something the show otherwise lacked), and could have easily played a crucial role moving forward in the series. Instead, she became a martyr, a victim who increased the personal connection Section 20 had with their ongoing battle with Latif.
While Stonebridge has been pursuing his own personal revenge against Craig Hanson all season, the rest of Section 20 has lacked the same kind of motivation, which is why Maj. Oscar Sinclair meets his end this week. It’s a predictable development on some level, if you consider what role the character has played this season. Extraneous after Dalton’s ascension to the command of Section 20, Sinclair has spent most of the season as a warm body for Dalton to argue with lest she appear to be talking to herself. And so when Sinclair suddenly returns to the field early in the episode and becomes the first member to be brought into a prison courtyard for what turns out to be an execution, the character’s martyrdom seems inevitable.
To the show’s credit, though, I still had my doubts. The markers were there to suggest he was about to die, but the show had also set Stonebridge and Scott on their way to rescue their comrades (after having been out on a fact-finding mission while Knox has the South African authorities raid their new hiding place and take their captive). I wouldn’t say that this season has pulled punches, exactly, but it’s lacked a shocking moment that flies in the face of television conventions. By having Scott and Sinclair within striking distance, it raises the potential for Strike Back to cop out, which makes the “predictable” death of Sinclair more subversive. While Scott and Sinclair eventually show up in time to save the other members of Section 20, that they didn’t show up earlier provides the season with a shot in the arm (or the head, if your prefer).
Sinclair’s death is made more meaningful by the mirroring of its narrative function within Conrad Knox’s ongoing plans for African ascension. Much as the show uses Sinclair to steel Section 20’s resolve and push them forward in their battle with Knox, the assassination of Walter Lutulu is a case of Knox trying to manufacture a martyr for his cause. Walter is the piece of the puzzle that we’ve been missing to this point, the public face of the coup; while Knox has the money and influence to build an army and play the political game, it’s Lutulu who has the faith of the people of Zimbabwe (where we learn the coup will take place), and who can rally them around the incoming forces. While Walter has value as a leader, he has more value as a martyr, especially with his daughter waiting in the wings to take his place. Walter is reluctant to leverage the warheads, not on board with Knox’s understanding of how political power is gained, but his daughter might be more likely to go along with the plan if her father was just killed. Eamonn Walker—who, despite the fact that I’ve never watched Oz, I recognized from Oz—doesn’t get too much to do before he’s shot, but he gets across Walter’s influence over his people, and he voices the logical objections to Knox’s plan and adds a new dimension to how precisely this scheme would move forward.
The season’s seventh episode is mostly concerned with setting up these two “executions,” one to push Section 20 forward and the other to bring it together with Knox’s plan. The rest of the episode is laying the foundation for upcoming episodes, with Christy Bryant revealed to be working with Knox and Scott sharing information with her in order to attempt to return home (which is a somewhat facile suggestion, given there would no longer be a show if he returned to the United States). Nothing really comes of either development at this point in the season, but the writers clearly thought the exposition was necessary, meaning I would expect us to return to them both in next week’s conclusion to the two-parter and the final episodes of the season in the weeks beyond.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest these scenes are “filler,” they definitely stand out as expositional in an episode with a number of strong action setpieces. The opening break-in at the prison establishes a strong sense of scale (and also efficiently sets up the rest of the episode), while the efforts to save Lutulu’s daughter offer some gruesome blood spatter and the first of many shot knees in the episode. The final action sequences, the escape from the off-the-grid compound and the chaos following Lutulu’s shooting, work even better because the stakes are higher. Richmond avenging Sinclair’s death by shooting the hell out of Dreyer is visceral and effective, while the final sequence takes on greater meaning when we see Walter’s side of the story in addition to Section 20’s perspective. Stonebridge shooting out a shitload of knees in a crowd of innocents in order to rescue the shooter adds some badass flair, but the depth of the overall situation adds to the tension. Stonebridge’s personal struggles fade into the background this week, but that’s only because the plot has expanded to the point where that’s necessary, and the action is helped by the added depth within the narrative.
The episode ends with a fairly rudimentary cliffhanger, with Michael finding that the police station he broke into with the shooter is occupied by someone toting a gun, but this is definitely a case where the story has simply been stopped at its midpoint. However, while there’s a lack of resolution in Walter’s fate in Scott’s hands or Stonebridge’s predicament, the finality of Sinclair’s death offers a clearer sense of the show’s path forward than we normally get from the first half of a Strike Back two-parter, and is a good sign for the resonance of the final episodes of the season. This week’s episode asks some big questions about who has the right to power, and who is able to hand out that power to others, questions that set the show up to say something more profound than “Boom!” as we approach the season’s climax.
- Let’s Overanalyze the (lack of) Sex Scenes!: While we get a bit of pornography and the foreplay in the strip club, the episode ultimately lacks the kind of explicit softcore material we’ve come to expect, which made sense given the crisis situation involved.
- I was uncomfortable with Scott, Stonebridge, and Sinclair acting like such horndogs regarding Lutulu’s daughter, as the lighthearted touch is a bit off. However, the banter elsewhere in the episode works better, with “Gangster Gilligan” proving a bittersweet final hurrah for Sinclair and Stonebridge’s “Every slug has its trail” proving a biting one-liner for Dreyer.
- Eamonn Walker hasn’t had the best luck with post-Oz series, running through a collection of one-season series including Justice, Kings, and The Whole Truth. We’ll see how he manages with Chicago Fire later this fall, but he was good here.
- While I don’t know if this is a spoiler precisely, I will say that the credits for the episode list Shane Taylor among its cast members, and unless I’m mistaken he never actually appears on screen, which would seem to hint at the identity of the person with the gun pointed at Michael at episode’s end.