As Section 20 closes in on Shiro (Masa Yamaguchi) and Mei (Michelle Yeoh), epic fire fights and a personal tragedy strike.
Let’s bitch it out…In an early draft of this review, I was going to focus primarily on troublesome CIA mercs Faber (Dustin Clare) and Mason (Leo Gregory). They rescue Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) from last week‘s tight spot, but follow it up by claiming they have rights on Shiro. Over the course of 4×04 Faber and Mason agree to work with Section 20, but naturally renege on their word to deliver a kill shot just as Locke (Robson Green) is about to bring Shiro in. It’s a classic serial cliffhanger: the moment that the protagonists can wrap things up is foiled by a third party that doesn’t realize the impact of their actions.
That impact turns out to be the real meat of the episode. Shot as one long gun battle across several locations, 4×04 dedicates the majority of its runtime to the team’s effort to prevent Shiro and Mei’s transport of the Verdanium. After discovering that it has been melted down and is being moved on trucks, the group mobilizes to destroy it. Micheal manages to eliminate one truck, but it’s the attempt to destroy the second truck that ends in disaster. The overwhelming odds the team faces ultimately proves too much and in the melee one of the core team members, Strike Back vet Julia Richmond (Michelle Lukes) is wounded and ultimately killed.
Richmond’s death is hardly a surprise – the writing is on the wall the moment she reminds Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) of their dinner date (these off-hand comments have become death harbingers in recent years; she might as well have signed off the phone with a death rattle). Considering that this is the final season, at least a few Strike Back cast members are guaranteed to bite it. And while Richmond and Scott’s romance has never really blossomed into the kind of deep connection that other series’ would make a big deal of, it has provided a certain emotional undercurrent when they go into action.
As it stands Julia’s death ends up being surprisingly affective. After taking several bullets to the torso (and a nasty looking cut to the cheek) during the siege on the second truck, Richmond is taken hostage by Mei. The North Korean tries to play the interrogation in a sympathetic fashion, sympathizing with Richmond and reminding her repeatedly that she does not want to kill her. Still, everything we know about Julia confirms that she won’t talk, and she holds true to form, playing the dutiful soldier to the end despite clearly lamenting the life with Scott she’ll never get. What impresses me most about these scenes is the surprising intimacy between the two women; they share a tender bond in their brief conversation (even though we know that Mei is a professionally trained liar who has no intention of sparing Julia).
The strongest part of the episode occurs when Scott comes upon Julia’s body. In classical narrative fashion he’s only a few minutes late, arriving on motorcycle in the background while Julia’s prone body occupies the foreground. It’s a beautifully simple and powerful image and I found it exceedingly frustrating when the episode doesn’t just end there. Instead there are another few minutes as Stonebridge arrives, and a final cut to Mei barking orders at the airport where the Verdanium is being shipped off to North Korea. It’s an unfortunate decision that ends the episode in a bland and obvious fashion, undermining the emotional poignancy of that final image of Richmond’s grieving lover holding her in his arms. Too bad someone didn’t realize where the real core of the episode lies.
- Martinez (Milauna Jackson) has a panic attack in the wake of Richmond’s abduction and even tears up when she sees the body. It’s the first sign of character/emotion we’ve seen from Martinez all season. Strike Back could use a bit more of these genuine displays, especially considering the toll this job must take on them.
- After dispensing fatherly wisdom in the form of fortune cookie advice, Scott sends Finn (Christian Antidormi) packing, hopefully for good. While Antidormi did what he could with the petulant and wide-eyed youth, there’s no place for this character right now. It’s likely that when all of this business with North Korea and Mei has been settled Scott will retire and strike up a relationship with his son. Until then, however, let’s prioritize!
- Scott (pronouncing it Yah-ca-zah): “Looks like Yakuza”
- Scott (to Finn, after dispensing fortune cookie advice): “My first piece of fatherly advice. I nailed it.”
- Richmond (delivering her final words on the series): “I always knew I would die like this. In a place like this. I just never knew who would pull the trigger.”
Your turn: what did you think of Richmond’s death? Do you agree that the episode ought to have ended with Julia in Scott’s arms? Are you annoyed at Faber and Mason deliberately constructed role as foils for Section 20? Is Mei a badass bitch? Sound off below, but please refrain from posting spoilers if you watched the UK broadcasts.
Strike Back: Legacy airs Fridays at 10pm EST on Cinemax