Is it possible to always be so close to dangerous situations without it negatively impacting your daily life? What happens when you start to see too much death and destruction? Is it possible to continue doing such life threatening things without paying the ultimate price? That was part of the premise behind the latest season of Cinemax's "Strike Back," which revolved around a group of British military agents who went to great lengths to keep the world safe. The results may be familiar, but the show executed those routine plots with the right amount of humor and the occasional surprise to keep viewers interested.
"Strike Back" followed Sgt. Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) who was an active member of the British military and believed in fighting for his country, even if it meant sacrificing himself in the process. He worked with a former American soldier named Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) who was sometimes reckless off-duty with his personal life, but he was focused when it was time to work. Stonebridge and Scott were partnered together by chance to work in Section 20, which was a very top secret government agency that worked best below the radar. They have weathered a lot of professional storms and some major personal losses as well, which included the murder of Stonebridge's wife as a response to something he did for his job. Scott and Stonebridge have been tasked with going after a mysterious terrorist by their boss Major Rachel Dalton (Rhona Mitra) who went through a major trauma while she was undercover, which could likely be affecting her judgment when it came to determine right and wrong. She was very close to losing her position when her boss Lt. Colonel Philip Locke (Robson Green) stepped in just as she was about to cross a dangerous line with a suspect. Locke proved to be a valuable asset to Section 20 when things got to be too dangerous and Stonebridge's life hanged in the balance. Luckily, Stonebridge and Scott also had the support of Sgt Julia Richmond (Michelle Lukes) and their newest ally in DEA Special Agent Kim Martinez (Milauna Jackson). Both women helped to support them in the field and also grew closer with them when they weren't on duty. Was it possible to mix business with pleasure once the assignment was done? Does it make that much harder when there were lives at stake on an assignment?
In terms of questions, the show asked a few big ones, but the biggest one was whether the show was conclude with both Scott and Stonebridge leaving together instead of in separate body bags. The show seemed to be testing viewers with the possibility of an upcoming final season because there was talk throughout the season of life would be like outside of Section 20 and planning for the future. The show has managed to succeed in balancing the action with the appropriate amount of humor and drama to keep audiences tuned it each week. The only drawback was that departing cast members sometimes left rather too abruptly. Mitra's brutal exit was a sad one because the character was never truly fleshed beyond being a mere workaholic that took a job a little too seriously. She didn't seem to have connected with the cast, until her character was written out of the show. Overall, this season's newest terrorist story was actually full of surprises, because no one genuinely knew who it was going to be. When Zubin Varla's Leo Kamali was revealed to be the true mastermind, it was such a shocking twist that came out of nowhere. For most of the third season, viewers were told to believe that Varla's Kamali was an undercover CIA operative pretending to be a terrorist to catch a bigger one. The twist was that he knew how to play Section 20 and the CIA into believing his lies by proving his sincerity in minors bouts of guilt in order to help others. The only flaw in the reveal was that viewers didn't get much more of a solid explanation as to why Kamali became what he originally didn't want to be. Varla's portrayal of Kamali brought this season its complicated story of the moment because the agents trusted a man that they should've realized was evil. He also gave the character a little bit of humanity whenever Kamali's daughter entered the room, which also helped to fool Stonebridge and Scott as well. Hopefully, the show will choose the right villain to end the show on a high note. Only time will tell if that's the case.
As for breakout performances, Winchester and Stapleton led the pack as two very different leading men who had more in common than their characters expected. Winchester embodied Stonebridge to be a character of duty and principals, except when it came to his personal life. His character was involved in an extra marital affair early in the series that ended when she was killed in an explosion. He made Stonebridge a lethal individual who was full of complications, but Winchester also excelled at bringing out Stonebridge's comedic side which always came out things were getting to be too dangerous. He had a dynamic rapport with Stapleton that allowed viewers to laugh as the explosions were happening on-screen. Let's hope that Winchester will get a chance to have a love interest in the show's final season to help see a different side of the stoic agent, and also have a change of pace from Stapleton's steady flow of regular love scenes. Winchester's most memorable storyline came when Stonebridge was infected with a dangerous neurotoxin that nearly killed him. He showcased how the character was struggling to die with some professional dignity left in him, but he also showed his fear that his death was closer than he thought. Stapleton, on the other hand, had the challenging task of evolving beyond being the show's resident smart aleck. He embodied Scott with the right amount of arrogance and vulnerability that drew women to his character on a weekly basis. Stapleton's most memorable scenes came from he was bonding with Kamali's daughter and he grew to care about her in a way that made him overlook her father's sins. He was able to express Scott's genuine anger over being fooled, but he still stopped at nothing to save the girl when her life was placed in danger once again. The show should find a way to put Stapleton's Scott in a different direction for the next season, which will likely be coping with the realization that he was a father and facing up to his responsibilities.
"Strike Back" aired its season finale on October 18th at 10:00 pm on Cinemax. It was just recently confirmed that the show was renewed for its fourth, and rumored to be final, season.
Verdict: Stapleton and Winchester have developed the perfect on-screen buddy rapport, but the real draw was the unpredictable action and the plot twists that kept people guessing until the end of the season.
TV Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)