Chris Ryan's Strike Back - Afghanistan: Episodes 5 and 6 reviewed
Review by Jack Foley
THE final episodes of Chris Ryan’s Strike Back were a little bit of an anti-climax in my opinion.
While still exciting and undoubtedly spectacular, the finale was a little too predictable and failed to cover up a lot of the plot holes that had come before it.
There’s still no faulting Sky1’s drama for the scope of its ambition, or the general quality of its acting, but it kind of went quietly, rather than with the expected grand bang.
Episode 5 set the scene nicely, picking up as a hacker interfered with air support causing a British missile to hit American forces, and prompting Richard Armitage’s John Porter to accept another do-or-die mission to find the man responsible, a former guidance engineer (played by Ewen Bremner) who was dismissed from the army and subsequently recruited by the CIA.
Episode six, meanwhile, found Porter’s life is in danger as he attempts to extract Bremner’s engineer from a rebels’ base in Pakistan, before heading for a final confrontation with Andrew Lincoln’s Hugh Collinson, the man he blames for the fatal hostage extraction of 2003.
On an action level, Strike Back continued to deliver the most thrills. Armitage cuts a credible action hero, who despatches his enemies with cold, calculated ease.
An opening firefight, meanwhile, was delivered with all the bone-crunching, gut-wrenching intensity of films like Black Hawk Down, especially in its depiction of bullets hitting flesh. Admittedly, some of the effects shots surrounding the use of military aircraft and missles struck a dud note, but not at the expense of the overall excitement.
Rather, the main problems occurred more in the plot developments and some of its characterisations, as well as the uneven mix of action and politics.
Perhaps the show’s creators should have taken a couple more episodes to really explore the myriad lies, betrayals and double crosses that took place during the course of the final 2 hours or so… but it left me feeling a little short-changed.
Ewen Bremner’s rogue Gerald Baxter failed to generate the sympathy the writers were doubtless striving for, and seemed more of an annoying diversion prone to exaggerated outbursts in the middle of the Afghan desert, while Toby Stephens’ brash American diplomat Arlington was never really afforded the time to carve out anything other than a stereotypical villain.
Admittedly, the scenes between him and Lincoln were among the most compelling… but then Lincoln remains Strike Back‘s biggest asset.
His deceptive Hugh Collinson has been on a collision course with Armitage’s Porter for all six episodes, but while left to simmer in the background (or towards the end of each two-parter), it was never afforded the moment in the spotlight it fully merited.
When they finally met face to face, there was a fight and roll around in the sand, before Collinson broke down and admitted his regret and self-loathing at being the man responsible for the botched extraction in Iraq.
No sooner had he been forgiven, however, then he and Porter were thrust into the middle of another firefight in which there seemed only one possible outcome. As soon as Porter asked Collinson to cover him, you knew the outcome… and so the latter man ended up sacrificing himself to enable Porter’s escape.
This, to me, seemed like a waste of the Collinson character and was far too obvious and convenient a plot device, especially since the remaining seconds saw Porter making good his escape to face an uncertain future – wanted by the US government and Stephens’ sneering new villain.
Lincoln was arguably the show’s most intriguing character, but he was never really afforded the opportunity to really tap into the complex emotions driving him.
That said, the open ending that suggests a second season of Strike Back is to be welcomed as a sophomore outing is more than deserved for this otherwise highly entertaining British show.
Chris Ryan’s Strike Back aired on Sky1 on Wednesday nights from 9pm. This review related to the final two episodes on Wednesday, May 19.
- Strike Back - First two hours reviewed
- Dhafer L'Abidine interview
- Strike Back - Episodes 3 & 4 (Zimbabwe) reviewed
- Strike Back - Episodes 5 & 6 (Afghanistan) reviewed