After a quick funeral service, Scott (Sullivan Stepleton) and Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) take the action to North Korea as the final Strike Back heads into its second half.
Let’s bitch it out…
With the vanadium on the move, the boys are forced to sneak into North Korea without back-up or support. In this day and age of spy dramas, it carries less weight to hear that they’re embarking on an unsanctioned mission that will leave them abandoned by their country and horribly tortured if they’re apprehended. After all, we’ve all seen Mission: Impossible before.
As you might expect from a semi-serialized action series, some things go well and others fall spectacularly apart. One of the key strengths of this series has always been its ability to deliver on the expected tropes of the action/spy genre, and 4×04 is a great example of how the series unfolds in the exact way you would expect without being boring.
The boys are able to make their way across the border fairly easily, all things considered (although Scott clearly should have brushed up on his Korean on the flight). Things get more complicated after an aborted meeting with their man on the inside leaves them with the weapons and intel they need to carry on, but no comms.
Their run-in with the N.Korean army also breaks their cover, which leads to increased security and the implementation of Mei’s (Michelle Yoeh) contingency plan. Who does that involve, you ask? Why Finn (Christian Antidormi), of course! Just when I thought we were done with the brat, he becomes a piece of leverage. In all fairness to the American dolt, he does manage to alert Locke (Robson Green) and Martinez (Milauna Jackson) that he’s in trouble before taking off into a crowded Thailand market, getting struck by a car and tossed in the trunk. Finn actually manages to avoid his captors longer than I would have anticipated, though I’m still annoyed that he’s effectively human leverage rather than a legitimate character.
After Locke unloads the truth about Finn’s predicament on Stonebridge, the writers pay-off S4’s earlier storyline revolving around Michael’s impending leadership in missions. With the fate of the free world on the line, Stonebridge has to decide whether or not Scott can handle the truth about his son (in the wake of Julia’s death). Naturally he has to decide what the prioritize is: the mission or his friendship. After Scott blows the brains of their transport out in retaliation for the murder of a random prostitute, Stonebridge (wisely) chooses to remain silent and keep the mission on task.
The decision works like a charm until the aftermath of the vanadium processing factory explosion. As the men escape through the woods, a recording of Finn’s voice begins to play on a loop. Stonebridge is forced to confess, leading to a) a punch in the face from Scott and b) their surrender, which will be interpreted as an act of terrorism and a declaration of war regardless of how the boys play it. Expect torture and bloodshed as we head into the second half of this final season.
- In a surprising development, we learn about Mei’s past. She’s a complicated lady, as 4×04 sees her both overcome with nostalgia for the home she left behind ~20 years ago and simultaneously hugely confrontational whenever someone misjudges the capabilities of Section 20. It makes sense considering how much she has sacrificed to ensure the plan’s success, though it is surprising that her strong-will extends even to her childhood sweetheart, Kwon (Will Yun Lee).
- Amusing action moment of the episode: the boys jump through a window directly onto train tracks and the train nearly mows them down. Out of the frying pan and into the fire is basically Strike Back‘s mantra.
- Just to reinforce how closed off North Korea is, their contact asks if the Beatles are still going strong. Ummm…
- One thing that often goes unsaid is how beautiful this show makes its locations look. The scene in the forest when Scott and Stonebridge unexpectedly encounter a family features gorgeous trees bathed in golden light, and the establishing shots of the guys crossing the plains after sneaking across the border are similarly breathtaking.
- Unsurprisingly these scenes were not shot in N.Korea. Apparently this scenario is courtesy of Hungary.
- The camerawork in the climax, as Scott battles a variety of soldiers on a metal stairwell, is really top notch. A variety of interesting point of views (from below, above and a sweeping helicopter shot) keep the action feeling fresh. I particularly liked it when Scott throws a soldier off the landing and we see the body fall in slow motion in the background as a bevy of soldiers jump off a truck in the foreground – it offers perspective on how large scale the battle is and makes it feel a little more operatic. The scope of the explosions, as the boys bring the factory to ruin, is appropriately spectacular (and expensive) looking.
- Finally, this is the third time in five episodes that the team’s safe house in Thailand has been compromised. Perhaps it’s time to move out of there, considering the Thailand bad guys seem to have really good intel.
- Stonebridge (after Scott knocks out a man with a liquor bottle): “That’s actually a decent vintage, mate. Next time throw the cheap stuff.”
Your turn: are you interested in learning more about Mei? Are you frustrated that Finn has been captured? Did you anticipate that the boys would be captured? Will Martinez leave Section 20? Sound off below, but please refrain from posting spoilers if you’ve watched the UK broadcasts.
Strike Back airs Fridays at 10pm EST on Cinemax.