I say it every season of “Strike Back,” and every season it’s true: They’ve topped themselves again.
This final, 10-episode season, debuting at 9 p.m. July 31 on Cinemax, has been a long time coming. Originally slated to air in Summer 2014, the production was delayed six months in 2013 when costar Sullivan Stapleton was injured off-set in Thailand. The show resumed production in early 2014, after Stapleton had recuperated from his head injury.
The new season is well worth the wait.
For the first time ever, Sgt. Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester), Sgt. Damien Scott (Stapleton) and the other operatives of British counterintelligence unit Section 20 head to Southeast Asia.
Section 20 boss Col. Philip Locke (Robson Green) has been tasked with finding the kidnapped daughter of his friends, British diplomat Robin Foster (Tim McInnerny) and his wife, Mei (Michelle Yeoh).
As is usually the case with Section 20, the mission isn’t as simple as just a kidnapping. With Foster overseeing an international summit in Bangkok, Section 20 finds itself alone in the middle of a political firestorm with disastrous global implications.
Section 20 butts heads with Thai, British and Russian thugs, Bangkok police, mercenaries and spies, the Japanese Yakuza mafia, an Irish bomber, the North Korean army and a fierce big bad whom I won’t reveal here.
The mission leads them to Thailand, North Korea, Russia, Austria and a few other global locales. Stonebridge and Scott scale buildings, jump to and from moving vehicles, blow things up and get the crap beaten out of them by various baddies.
Firmly planted amid all the derring-do are great character moments that make “Strike Back” much more than an action thriller.
Without much exposition, the show gives viewers a glimpse into the lives of soldiers and operatives of this kind. It may seem exciting and fun to hop around the world taking on bad guys, but the losses incurred are real and devastating. Michael J. Bassett, an executive producer, writer and director who has acted as a default show-runner for “Strike Back,” and the writers make that sense of loss palpable throughout the season.
The actors are up to the task. Winchester and Stapleton can mix it up physically with the best of them—as they do with UFC fighter Michael Bisping, playing one of those British thugs. More importantly, they reveal the wear and tear such high-risk, dangerous jobs have on both men and how they function outside of the all-important mission.
Stonebridge, looking beyond the personal losses in his past, weighs the idea of a leadership position within Section 20. Scott faces two immediate threats to the future of his Lothario lifestyle—he just might be falling for Sgt. Julia Richmond (Michelle Lukes) and he meets his teen son, Finn (Christian Antidormi).
Green gets plenty of opportunity to show his acting chops as well. Locke faces his biggest adversary before the season ends in a delicious callback to Season 3 of the series. Green’s scenes with Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton of “Game of Thrones”) as the mysterious Oppenheimer are riveting.
Lukes and Milauna Jemai Jackson, as DEA Agent Kim Martinez, are in top form rounding out the Section 20 team.
“Strike Back” always has drawn some of the best actors into its universe. This season might just top them all with the presence of Yeoh, who demands your attention every time she’s on screen. Will Yun Lee, Max Beesley and Masa Yamaguchi give depth to some of the baddies Section 20 faces. Dustin Clare and Leo Gregory play mercenaries who could be the dark alt universe versions of Stonebridge and Scott.
The guest actor list goes on—Adrian Paul, Joseph Gatt, Mark Griffin, James Wilby, Eliza Hope Bennett and more.
But the focus this season is squarely on Stonebridge and Scott. Winchester and Stapleton continue to be one of TV’s most charming duos. Their banter would fit nicely into any buddy comedy and makes me hope that NBC will see fit to bring these two actors together in crossover episodes of their upcoming shows, “The Player” and “Blindspot.”
Having watched eight of the 10 episodes before writing this review, I promise it goes out on top. I’m dying to see how this final mission ends. “Strike Back” has never backed down from killing off major characters, but I’m hoping Stonebridge and Scott manage to survive.
Mine is a totally selfish but simple wish: I want “Strike Back,” which obviously has plenty of ammunition left, to become a movie franchise.
It would be a shame for Stonebridge and Scott to walk away while the world still needs saving.
If you want to catch up on Season 3 of the series, the DVD and Blu-Ray will be released Aug. 4 with bunch of special features.