Episode Title: "Episode 3"
Writer: Frank Spotnitz
Director: Bill Eagles
Previously on "Strike Back"
Following the capture (and subsequent murder) of British operative John Porter (Richard Armitage), Col. Eleanor Grant (Amanda Mealing) ordered Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) to recruit Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) for a Section 20 mission to take down Latif (Jimi Mistry), a dangerous terrorist bent on using weapons of mass destruction against the western countries. With his last words, Porter left a clue for Scott that led the team to a hotel in India just before it came under siege by terrorists working with Latif.
In the course of the siege, Scott came across a woman named Iman Zubedah (Sasha Behar), who was secretly a Pakistani asset code named "Mahmood." Iman confessed that she was part of a plan to hide WMDs in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion, but that the weapons were lost. Scott's dishonorable discharge form the U.S. military was also tied to that event and he promised to get her to safety. Eventually, Scott and Stonebridge managed to retake the hotel and save the majority of the hostages. But Iman was taken away by an ISI agent who was later revealed to be Latif himself.
After Iman was found brutally murdered, Scott accepted a position within Section 20. In private, he told Stonebridge that Porter must have believed that there was a mole within Section 20 and the two men made an alliance to watch out for each other in the dangerous times ahead.
In South Africa, Section 20 attempts to spy on a known associate of Latif's as he meets with another terrorist operative. The mission goes wrong when Scott attracts the attention of a machete wielding man who attacks him. As the terrorists attempt to flee, Captain Kate Marshall (Eva Birthistle) catches one of the ring leaders but Stonebridge distracts her, forcing him to kill their only direct lead to Latif. Fortunately, Scott is able to capture one of the escaping mercenaries. Later, Colonel Grant uses the mercenary's family as leverage, forcing the man to admit that he was part of a plan to rob an armored truck. Elsewhere, former IRA terrorist, Daniel Connelly (Liam Cunningham) picks up the young son of a guard assigned to an armored vehicle.
Connelly brings the boy into the path of the armored truck, sending his father into a fearful rage. The father murders his fellow guard when he refuses to yield and save his son. Neve (Orla O’Rourke) and the rest of Connelly's team make short work of the security detail as Hugo (Murray Todd), the team hacker clones a hard drive found within the truck. But Hugo is killed by the lone surviving guard within the truck. Connelly orders the boy to look away as he executes his father and he leaves the young boy crying by the side of the road. From a brief glimpse on the vehicle's camera, Section 20 is able to identify Connelly and Grant realizes that she's had dealings with him before.
Later, Connelly has an extended sexual encounter with Neve before admitting that he is plagued by nightmares that his enemies are coming for him. Section 20 quickly realizes that Connelly was after the protected files of a defense contractor. Scott recognizes the name of the local contact from the contractor, Kenneth Bratton (Alistair Petrie) as someone who was involved with the WMD scheme in Iraq that led to his dishonorable discharge. Meanwhile, Bratton is confronted at his home by Connelly and a topless Neve as they blackmail him for his cooperation using his family as leverage.
Section 20 flags Julian Buckley (Patrick Walton), an American hacker flying into South Africa as a potential replacement for Connelly's deceased teammate. While waiting to grab Buckley, Scott and Stonebridge argue about whether Bartton hid the WMDs in Iraq and Stonebridge's barely hidden affair with Kate. Only the arrival of Buckley gives them the chance to focus on the mission. Meanwhile, Kate visits Bratton to tell him about the possible terrorist activity but he insists that there are no weapons for the terrorists to steal. Once she leaves, he runs a check on her and learns that she works directly for Colonel Grant… a fact he quickly passes on to Connelly.
In Cape Town, Buckley realizes that Scott and Stonebridge are tailing him and he takes off. Buckley leaves a trail of violence in his wake, even shooting a construction worker who got in his way before Scott catches up to him. Buckley gets the drop on Scott, forcing Stonebridge to take him down. Almost immediately after, Buckley's phone rings. After a moment, Scott answers it and he poses as Buckley as he listens to Connelly set up a meeting in ten minutes. Scott and Stonebridge race to the location and for once, even Scott seems taken aback by how dangerous the situation is for him.
Inside the bar, Scott begins hitting on Neve and he doesn't stop even once she reveals that she's his contact. Neve forces Scott to strip out of his clothes before he is drugged by one of her teammates. Stonebridge eventually realizes that something is wrong and he arrives just in time to see Scott loaded into a van. When Scott wakes up, he is tied to a chair and surrounded by Connelly's team. Connelly tells him that Section 20 is after him and he doesn't believe that Scott is who he says he is. So he leaves Scott in an abandoned barn with a bomb in his lap set to go off in just minutes.
Stonebridge arrives about three minutes later as Scott struggles to free himself with only seconds left on the timer. But before Stonebridge can reach him, the bomb explodes.
Credit where credit is due, "Strike Back" pulled off an amazingly effective cliffhanger at the end of this episode. And the endings of the first two episodes were also very solid. I've little doubt that Scott somehow survived the explosion, but I would be very impressed if the series had the balls to kill off one of its stars so early in the season.
The sequence in which Scott struggled with the bomb was gripping and it had some terrific editing between his plight and Stonebridge's approach. While "Strike Back" may lack the writing sophistication of "24," it is a very well made show. The production values are very high for a TV action series and the behind-the-scenes talent clearly knows what they're doing.
Liam Cunningham and Orla O’Rourke basically stole the show as the terrorist couple, Connelly and Neve. Cunningham recently landed the coveted role of Davos on the second season of "Game of Thrones" and it's easy to see why. Even though he murders people without remorse, there's a certain vulnerability to Cunningham's performance that almost makes Connelly sympathetic. Almost.
The sex scene between Connelly and Neve went on for so long it was almost softcore. It was definitely a little gratuitous, but I'm not going to complain about seeing Orla O’Rourke's naked body. If you were wondering when the iconic shot from the "Strike Back" trailer with a topless woman rising from a pool would occur, it happens about midway through this episode as Neve starts to intimidate Bratton. Neve certainly doesn't mind using her appearance as a weapon against Bratton and Scott. Actually, I would say that she definitely enjoys it. She's a fun femme fatale and I hope she sticks around for a while.
Connelly's most intense moment in the episode came during the armored car robbery when he spared the boy, but he probably left him emotionally broken for life. That was another well directed sequence within the episode and it successfully captured the boy's fear and sorrow.
The early friction between Stonebridge and Scott is also a step in the right direction for their respective characters. If they were too close from the start it would take all of the tension out of their relationship. They've both got a shared reason to take down Latif, but their motives and desires are radically different. And it seems that Scott is still more interested in clearing his name than following orders. And still, the two men have an unspoken bond that shows up when they both silently decide to pursue Connelly at the meeting point. There's also a great scene in which Grant relays her orders to Scott and we don't hear what she's saying. We just see the dread on Scott's face.
"Strike Back" has been one of the bigger surprises of the summer. It may be a guilty pleasure, but it's also ridiculously entertaining at times.
Crave Online Rating: 7.5 out of 10.