Fire at will: A farewell to “Strike Back”

Strike Back, the British-American action series, comes to an end this Wednesday with a two-hour finale. I’ll share my thoughts about the series finale and final season in a later article, but first, my thoughts about the show in general.

When we think of TV action heroes, the first (and only, I argue) name to come to mind is Jack Bauer of 24. Bauer was invincible, foiling terrorist plots, overthrowing a corrupt U.S. President, creating diplomatic incidents, defusing bombs, and killing hundreds of terrorists all with a trusty handgun and his sidekicks. He was the perfect action hero: relentless, always fighting the bad guys, with only his country on his mind.

After 24 came to an end with its eighth season, Sky/Cinemax’s Strike Back filled the void perfectly. Explosions? Check. A solid 10-15 minutes of gunfire and fighting every episode? Check. Nefarious plots hatched by evil masterminds? Check. Invincible good guys to root for? Double check.

The show started as an adaptation of a Chris Ryan (a former British Special Forces serviceman) novel and was named Chris Ryan’s Strike Back. The first season starred Richard Armitage (The Hobbit) as the lead and featured a secret British military unit – Section 20 of MI6 – which recruits ex-soldier John Porter (Armitage) to take down a terrorist group called “Sword of Islam”.

Left: Sullivan Stapleton (playing Damian Scott) and right: Philip Winchester (playing Michael Stonebridge)

The first season was successful enough to earn a renewal. However, there were several cast changes made before the second season: Armitage left the show to work on The Hobbit and new leads Philip Winchester and Sullivan Stapleton were drafted in.

Also, the show featured a new plotline, where Section 20’s Sergeant Michael Stonebridge (Winchester) teamed up with disgraced former Delta soldier Damian Scott (Stapleton) to track down a terrorist named Latif who was planning a plot called “Project Dawn”.

It was during this season that the blueprint for the rest of the series would be set: the show would visit several locations every season, often exotic (Asia, South America and Africa come to mind), engage in furious firefights with the bad guys, and the mastermind would inevitably be planning to set off a bomb or some other evil plot. The seasons were named in an ever more grandiose fashion (Project Dawn, Project Dawn, Vengeance, Shadow Warfare, and Legacy) , and the dialogue was functional at best, but the show pinned its credentials on being slick and explosive.

With a style so basic, the bad guys had to be memorable, and so Strike Back has featured a few impressive guest stars: Andrew Lincoln, Charles Dance, Will Yun Lee, and Michelle Yeoh in her first TV role.

Now, in its final season, Strike Back is not winding down but blowing up everything in its way. In this age of what I call “thoughtful” dramas, where the action tends to be more gritty than flashy, Strike Back remains unflinchingly loud, visceral and slick. It’s Die Hard, where we root for two charismatic leads who kill terrorists as easily as if they were playing a video game. It’s a James Bond movie, where the action spans multiple countries and where the bad guys are almost comically evil. It’s 24, where stunts are impressive and the explosions even bigger.

I’ll miss the show. It has never been intellectual, but it is tremendous popcorn fun. This is a show that is unpretentious – what you see is what you get. Who needs diplomacy when you have two trigger-happy action heroes?

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