Section 20 goes rogue for one last mission as Li-Na (Michelle Yeoh) takes the UN hostage.
Let’s bitch it out…
The action begins in media res with Li-Na delivering a message at the podium of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, surrounded by bodies. It’s a solid opening, albeit one that lacks much suspense since it’s highly unlikely that Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) is dead or that Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) will be shot by Kwon (Will Yun Lee).
By now the flashback structure is a fairly conventional spy/action series trope (as always, shout out to Alias). As a result the time jump 12 hours is hardly a surprise – if nothing else it sets up a ticking clock situation to build up anticipation of how these events came to pass.
The answer: fairly easily. The boys infiltrate the United Nations posing as tourists with the expectation that Li-Na is en route with Oppenheimer’s toy. Because of their notoriety from the bank robbery, Scott and Stonebridge’s exploits immediately land them in hot water. What’s surprising is how quickly everything descends into chaos: almost immediately they end up handcuffed in interrogation rooms as Li-Na’s squad of men descend on the UN with tear gas and guns. In a matter of moments the building is hers and the boys find themselves at a disadvantage in the one of the world’s most heavily guarded buildings.
The sequence in which they’re trapped in the hallway by the automatic door locks is extremely well executed. By privileging the audience with more information than either Scott or Stonebridge, we know that they’re walking into a trap set by Kwon. They, of course, have no idea. Watching the doors lock and unlock around them produces some lovely tension, even as we anticipate that they will find the loophole that allows them to survive when Kwon descends on them with a kill squad.
The same goes for the brief sequence in the elevator chute as the lift rises while they climb the ladder. Waiting to see if Kwon will notice as they step onto the roof of the elevator is great, especially since Kwon already looks so suspicious (it’s as though he’s just waiting for them to bust in).
When the action finally reaches the climax within the meeting room, it all comes down to whether or not the boys can reason with Li-Na and Kwon. Naturally we know that their attempts won’t work because the pair made a pledge earlier in the hour to see things through to the end. A few bullets in Kwon’s leg won’t change that. A last minute call to Scott’s old agency pal, Mitchell (Andrew Pleavin), resolves the bomb threat while Locke’s (Robson Green) ballsy move to drive a military vehicle into the building ensures they leave with Li-Na in their possession.
The final moments are heavy with foreboding foreshadowing: it’s clear that Locke should not trust Whitehall when he says that Section 20 will be reinstated and their records expunged. Li-Na, as usual, is the only one frank enough to speak the truth: the meeting feels wrong. And it is. Li-Na is executed in front of their eyes and Locke takes multiple bullets to the chest at close range. It makes no sense that Locke survives long enough to make it to the escape helicopter, but his death should provide the motivation to take the boys into the final episode to seek their final vengeance. As both Li-Na and Locke suggest moments before their respective deaths, they’ve given everything to their country. After Michael and Damien survive the helicopter plunge next week, it will finally be payback time for all of the missions over the years that have required them to risk their lives for bureaucrats who sit behind the desk.
- Just in case we’ve forgotten how ridiculous this show can be, the boys manage to run up a flight of stairs and Scott manages the rappel off a second story scaffold with nary a gunshot, despite armed guards shooting at them in both situations. Thank heavens for thugs who can’t hit the broad side of a barn.
- Speaking of which, how do you suppose that Li-Na managed to find/recruit/pay for that squad of heavily armed/trained men that she uses to infiltrate the UN? I’ve always wondered where the terrorists in movies manage to outsource their muscle. Do you think she just hit up a temp agency or something?
- Despite the severity of the situation, there’s still room for a little comedy when Scott takes a tumble through the ceiling as they’re escaping from the cells. The bit with Scott telling off Mitchell arguably serves the same function, though wrapped in the cliche of the ticking bomb, it is a little less successful.
- While I applaud Carol (Anne-Solenne Hatte), the tour guide’s sensibility, her suggestion that she stands a better chance at surviving with them once again puts the boys into saviour/hero mode for a helpless female. Luckily there’s a mild inversion of expectations when she ends up turning out to be a mole for Li Na (though Scott’s subsequent ability to emotionally blackmail her using her kid feels both cheap and easy).
- Good of Scott to raise the issue of Julia’s final words from 4×04 when he gets Li-Na face to face. It reinforces that Julia’s death was a worthwhile emotional beat for the series to hit.
- Stonebridge (mocking Scott’s use of his line about expressionist art as a pick-up line): “My name is Damien Scott and I dabble.”
- Li Na (when Stonebridge commends her for getting this far): “I’m not interested in your approval.” I love how she’s such a straight shooter.
- Stonebridge (when Scott decides to call a friend): “What do you mean you’re calling a friend?! This isn’t Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”
- Scott (describing Oppenheimer’s improvised nuke): “It looks like the fucking death star with a shitload of wires!”
- Scott (to Mitchell after he insists he said to cut the right wire): “Fuck you, you said red. Say hi to Sadie and the kid for me. You owe me a beer.”
Your turn: did you find the in media res narrative structure effective? Were you tense during the locked door or elevator sequences? Annoyed by Carol’s mole status or impressed that she wasn’t simply a damsel in distress? Surprised that both Li-Na and Locke bite the big one? And what are you expectations for the final episode next week? Sound off below, but please refrain from posting spoilers if you watched ahead in the UK.
Strike Back airs its series finale next Friday at 10pm EST on Cinemax