Strike Back is a strange beast. Based on a series of novels by Chris Ryan, each season is ten episodes long, but it’s more like five 90-minute movies screened over the space of two and a half months. I was all in on Strike Back’s first season, mainly through my love of Damien Scott, which is why the start of the second season felt so cheap. By the end of the season however, I was all in. Strike Back is a show about men being soldiers and looking good while doing it, but it also touches on geopolitical issues, which the second season had. It didn’t have it in spades, because it’s not The Wire; it doesn’t seek to examine just how difficult it can be to change institutions, but it did base its conflicts on current and historical global affairs, which is one of the many things I like in my television. Also Charles Dance is just so good as a villain, which everyone knows from Game of Thrones.
So it’s Good Friday tomorrow and I just went out to dinner with a group of school friends, most of whom I’ve only seen once in the past year. It was great! I spoke to an actor about Birdman, and it was really good to get a different perspective on it. What this means is that I don’t feel like writing a really long review of anything in particular, so this is just going to be a /Filmcast What I’ve Been Watching-style post, which is all the usual things, as well as some things I’m catching up on. There are spoilers for these shows, so if you see something you don’t want to be spoiled on, move to the next section.
I purchased the “first season” of Strike Back a couple of weeks ago as part of a deal with the fourth season of Game of Thrones. To my surprise, when I googled the show (about five minutes ago) to see if the episodes had long titles or anything (thank goodness they don’t), what is counted as the first series in the UK is a six episode series based on Chris Ryan’s novel of the same name. So it is now less surprising that Project Dawn started with such confidence and went straight into the story of a terrorist named Latif who is responsible for killing John Porter, a character in the first series, early on in the season premiere. Regardless, the confidence of the first two episodes of Strike Back have me absolutely hooked, and I took a break from writing this post to watch the third episode, and also meet a friend for coffee. As soon as I’m done with this one, I’ll probably go and watch Episode 4.
At the beginning of Episode 1, John Porter has been captured by Sharif’s men, and his military group, the secret Section 20, have failed to save him. Sergeant Michael Winchester has been assigned to find Porter’s old partner, US soldier Damien Scott to help try and find Latif. In his final message to camera, Porter sends Scott a secret message to let him in on Latif’s plans. There’s the premise for the show and the episode, and that’s all I’m going to tell you. I’m not a particular fan of military shows, but there’s a spy element to this, and I love what I’ve seen of Alias and the first season of Homeland, so I was willing to give it a try. The first two episodes are two halves of a whole, which is how I suspect most of the stories in this series are structured now that I’ve seen Episode 3. Section 20 only partially succeed in their mission, because they only have two pieces of intelligence from Porter’s final message that don’t tell them very much.
Having one story take place over two episodes also gives time to write more complex plots than would exist in an episode of 24, and the procedural storytelling complements the serialisation of the show; each mission may be a different ‘case of the week’, but each of these missions is designed to reach the goal of catching Latif and dismantling his network. These longer storylines also made it that I didn’t predict the twist at the end of the second episode – I knew something was off about the end of the hostage crisis, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. As someone who watches a lot of television, I love to be surprised, and I love it even more when I’m completely wrong about where a particular story element is going. At this stage I don’t really know much about the characters, but I can imagine they’ll be fleshed out enough so that the show can remain fun. There’s a nice biting antagonism to Winchester and Scott’s partnership, even though they trust each other with their lives after what happened in Delhi. Right now this show is fun, and that’s all I want. Now I’m going to watch Episode 4 to see where that cliffhanger went.