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Strike Back Episode 7: Expect the Unexpected

by David Chute
October 2, 2011 8:21 AM
4 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

Strike Back's heroes are far from perfect; reviewer David Chute admires their resilience in responding to the unexpected.

“Is this normal?” asks an appalled European Union hostage in Kosovo at the midpoint of Episode 7 of Strike Back. It's an obvious question, after the third or fourth wrenching plot reversal has turned everything upside down yet again; when everything is right on the verge of going irretrievably FUBAR. Section 20 operative Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton), in a grace-under-pressure, “come to think of it” sort of way, says, "well, yeah." For Scott and his comrade in arms, Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester), this life-threatening swirl of menace, this sense of being trapped inside a cyclone, is just another day at the office.


Dropped from the sky into chaotically corrupt and crime-ridden post-Serbian Kosovo, Stonebridge and Scott have been charged with the rescue of five EU officials who have been grabbed off an airport bus by Hasini (Mel Raido), a criminal thug with political clout whose influence has seeped into every corner of his tattered country. The list of his entrepreneurial ventures, when it’s read off, includes not only such global staples as weapons and drug smuggling but also the trendier horror of trafficking in human organs. Which places Hasini pretty close to the top of the list of the Ten Most Vile.

Mulling over the surreal amorality of what they will be facing on the ground, Stonebridge and Scott are frankly contemptuous of their handlers' fanciful insistence on a “clean and surgical operation.” The partners consult briefly: do they have any intention of honoring the elaborate protocols negotiated for exchanging the hostages for the carefully guarded prisoner they picked up in Austria, Hasini’s weasely cousin Rama (Zsolt Nag)? Are they actually going to march trustingly through a pre-arranged set of negotiated procedures, an approach that all but guarantees that some of the scummiest and least reliable men on the face of the earth, will gain exact information about their whereabouts? Glances are exchanged. Heads are shaken. “No fucking way.”

Some fans of Strike Back have complained that too many things get screwed up during the average episode. Prisoners escape; exchanges turn into betrayals; highly trained special-forces dudes get bushwhacked and clobbered with two-by-fours. The question is, should we on that basis doubt the competence of our heroes or celebrate their resourcefulness, their speedy resilience in responding to the unexpected? It’s seemed obvious to me from the start that the show is about men and women whose job it is to walk straight into the messiest and most uncontrollable situations on earth, and somehow survive and bring off a mission. To expect any plan, no matter how carefully worked, to go off without a hitch in this context seems ludicrous. A great deal of the believable rough texture of the show grows out of that harsh reality.

Precautions can be taken to mitigate the cock-ups endemic to missions in lawless war zones – such as, in this case, taking out the sniper positioned strategically over the exchange point (glurk, argh) and replacing him with one of your own. In a case like that, as in many others, what matters most is who the person is who’s watching your back, and whether you can trust them. It makes perfect sense that Episode 7 is also about the growing cohesion of the partnership of Stonebridge and Scott. They rubbed each other the wrong way in the early innings but now, more often than not, find material in their differences for the kind of cheerful insult humor that guys the world over use as a bonding mechanism. The key is that they’ve shared experiences of battling through chaos that not even their own commanders know first hand, bone deep, the way they do.

Glances exchanged. Heads shaken. “No fucking way.”

[Photo: Egon Endrenyi/Cinemax; Philip Winchester, David Haig, Dorian Lough, Adrian Rawlins, Gillian Hanna, Sullivan Stapleton and Annabelle Wallis in Episode 7 of Cinemax' Strike Back.]

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More: TV, Reviews, HBO

4 Comments

  • Val | October 13, 2011 8:50 AMReply

    First of all this is the most embarassing thing to watch im talkin about episode 7 and 8 which are all lies this story was made up by a serbian for sure this is serbian propaganda agaisnt albanian people nothing in these 2 episodes is true about Kosovo there is no way that a criminal thug could drive around Kosovo with his own army and control his own territory and not get murdered or arrested by the kfor the only army with guns there is kfor and the police Kosovo is a small place you cant do things like that open and albanians are not muslim terrorists like they say there albanians dont go killing americans because america saved tham when they were getting massacred by serbs but anyway this whole story is a lie a made up lie by serbians theres not even one albanain actor there cuz these 2 episodes were made by serbs the organ trafficing only happen once during the war 98-99 with a small number of people and serbs try to use this against albanians basicly this is a show for serbs its embarassing i dont know why they would make something like this in english its a joke it shouldnt be out there this makes me think the rest of the episodes are all lies too im never going to watch this show again

  • Vicky | October 4, 2011 4:22 AMReply

    I love the show!!

  • DavidC | October 3, 2011 10:24 AMReply

    Strike Back is an interesting case. It has good ratings, but because it appeals neither to "mainstream" critics or to geeks, it is essentially invisible. Except at TOH. Our mutant powers enable us to see what others miss.

  • Cindy | October 3, 2011 5:51 AMReply

    Good analogy of one of the best shows ever to grace a television screen. I literally sit on the edge of my seat through the entire show waiting for bullets to fly or bombs to explode. That also includes the very rewarding gratuitous sex that Damien manages to have in every show. :)
    There is nothing predictable or typical about Strike Back or Scott and Stonebridges job.
    The fact that they live to risk their lives in such a manner, gives you an idea of what kind of men they are. I love the banter and the go for it attitude.
    I look forward to Scott's antics with the women and Stonebridge's ribbing him about it. All war and no play would make for a boring show.
    If I ever needed to be rescued... these are the two guys I'd want on my side.
    Love Strike Back and Sullivan Stapleton & Phil Winchester, they deserve standing ovations and any kind of awards this show can bring.
    The filming had to be brutal on their bodies.
    Sorry there are only three more episodes left this season and hoping to see both of them back for another season next year.

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