The arms race is on as Section 20 discovers that Li-Na (Michelle Yeoh) and Kwon (Will Yun Lee) are constructing the ultimate weapon: a nuke.
Let’s bitch it out…
With only a few episodes left in the series, Strike Back reveals Li-Na and Kwon’s ultimate plan: they’re building a nuclear weapon. It’s not an entirely surprising development considering how radical the North Koreans are, but it obviously portends a massive disaster if they can bring their plan to fruition. However, since this isn’t the finale, they still have steps to complete, including acquiring some final materials that Oppenheimer (Michael McElhatton) needs to create his doomsday device.
After Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) and Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) extricate themselves from the police after last episode’s bank heist, they track down a university student who has the capacity to crack Li-Na’s codes. In order to decipher the content, they first need to free Matthius (Ryan Sampson) from his guards, which proves to be a little complicated because Matthius is a bit of a disaster: he’s intelligent, neurotic and combative. None of these qualities endear him to Scott. Clearly Matthius is meant to be comedic – and Scott’s exasperation certainly is – but as a character Matthius is more annoying than anything else. I won’t lie: it’s a relief when it is revealed that he is working with Kwon, who promptly kills him as soon as Matthius confesses he no longer has the codes after he escapes from the diner. While I appreciate that Strike Back‘s writers aim to introduce the occasional burst of levity into the narrative, especially when things get heavy and dark, Matthius is the kind of nuisance character that’s more of a distraction than an amusement. Good riddance.
The other unsuccessful piece of this episode is Locke’s (Robson Green) revenge against Oppenheimer. Randomly introduced in the last episode, Locke’s vendetta against the man who murdered his son all of those years ago produces some crackling dialogue between the two actors, but as a plot device, it is incredibly frustrating. Locke knows what’s at stake when he arrives at Li-Na’s secret base and he opts for revenge rather than eliminating the threat. Sure he ultimately murders Oppenheimer, but by then Li-Na has escaped with the bomb, which is both a strike against Locke as an agent and also an irksome development that feels artificially constructed to keep the plot going for two more episodes. As a result this B-plot has to be chalked up as a loss. Considering that we cared nothing for Locke’s dead son, it feels like a waste of time.
More successful is Li-Na’s discussion with Oppenheimer earlier in the episode. When she accuses him of performing awful crimes, while hiding behind her “cause”, she reveals how much of a hypocrite she is. Unlike the character development of the last few episodes with Kwon, this conversation deepens our understanding of both villains. If they’re judged by their crimes, they’re both monsters, but their motivations clearly distinguish them from one another. Oppenheimer realizes the impact of his actions, but he is removed from the humanity; he does what he does for the beauty of the design and the human fall-out is immaterial. It’s a dehumanized philosophy, but (from my point of view) it is easy to excuse than Li-Na’s. She readily admits that she acknowledges the casualties, but she justifies the deaths of innocents as an unfortunate but necessary accessory to the revolution. If Strike Back plans more deliberate diversions en route to its undoubtedly action-packed finale, I hope it is this kind of character-building exercise, and less like the introduction of silly characters like Matthius.
- After obtaining the information they need from Oleg (Máté Haumann), Nina (Tereza Srbová) bids the team adieu with barely a goodbye. As far as memorable guest turns go, Nina’s return for this final batch of episodes has felt like little more than a narrative contrivance. She turned up, had connections and then left when she was no longer needed. It’s not like the world (or more specifically the UN) is in danger or anything.
- The codes themselves are a bit of a McGuffin: we’re told that there are twelve of them, but the three that Max cracks before he is killed are enough for Kwon and Li-Na to identify the scientist who helps them extricate the biological material required to complete the bomb. It seems odd to explicitly identify twelve, but then only need three.
- I know that the series depends on a high level of suspension of disbelief, but I don’t understand why the goons don’t wait for the truck to explode or for Scott and Stonebridge to escape before leaving. This literally only occurs so that our heroes can live for another day and that’s irksome because it smacks of lazy writing.
- Stonebridge (to Scott, as they’re arrested against the hood of a cop car): “I saved you a spot”
- Stonebridge (when Max argues no one was shooting before they arrived): “Yeah we get that a lot.”
- Max (when Scott insists that the jump between levels is like Donkey Kong): “How old are you?”
- Oppenheimer (to Locke): “I don’t know what it is about the Catholic church that attracts sadists and psychopaths”
Your turn: what did you think of the episode? Are you glad that Locke’s vendetta has been put to bed or are you disappointed that he neglected the real mission to kill Oppenheimer? Who is the worst villain: Li-Na or Oppenheimer? Did you find Max funny? Are you sad to see Nina go? And how will they drag out the nuke attack for two episodes? Sound off below, but please refrain from posting spoilers if you have watched ahead in the UK.
Strike Back airs Fridays at 10pm EST on Cinemax