Writers: Jed Mercurio & Alan Whiting
Director: Daniel Percival
Previously on “Strike Back: Origins”
The differences between Cinemax’s “Strike Back” and “Strike Back: Origins” were once again on display this week. Can you picture Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) and Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) being sent undercover to kill a British intelligence operative just for doing his job?
John Porter (Richard Armitage) not only took the assignment, he was prepared to go through with it. Porter even dug a grave for his target ahead of time.
In this case, Porter’s target was former SAS soldier, Felix Masuku (Shaun Parkes). During the opening moments of the episode, Masuku attempts to assassinate Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and he seemingly succeeds before learning that it was a body double who bit the bullet. Mugabe is a real person and his inclusion here gave “Origins” an unexpected dose of reality.
Right off the bat, it was clear that something was off about Masuku’s mission. Upon his return to the getaway vehicle, Masuku’s driver was already dead and he was quickly surrounded by the Zimbabwe police and army. Later in the episode, Porter finds himself in a similar situation. Somebody doesn’t want either man to make it home alive.
There are full spoilers ahead for “Strike Back: Origins” episode 3, so if you missed last night’s American premiere of the episode then you should probably skip this review or else you’ll get the lower bunk in an African prison.
The obvious suspect behind the sabotage of Porter’s latest mission is Hugh Collinson (Andrew Lincoln), the untrustworthy leader of Section 20 who obviously fears that Porter learned the truth about his friendly fire incident from As’ad (Fenar Mohammed Ali ). Collinson also reveals that As’ad may have survived getting left for dead with terrorists chasing him down. After that, I don’t think As’ad will be very forgiving if he encounters Porter or Collinson again.
In Collinson’s defence, it seems less likely that he would also sacrifice his right hand woman, Layla Thompson (Jodhi May) just to get rid of Porter and Masuku. But it is possible. Porter’s change of heart late in the episode was almost solely due to his distrust of Collinson.
To find Masuku, Porter goes undercover as a blood diamond smuggler, with Thompson assuming the identity of a South African diplomatic aide sent to extradite Porter from the prison once he deals with Masuku. It was very interesting to see the shorthand that was developed between Porter and Thompson as they passed intel to each other through coded words and phrases in front of the prison officials and guards.
Regardless, their plans take a hit when Masuku’s transfer is moved up and Thompson’s cover ID is compromised. Once she realizes what’s happened, Thompson is forced to let Porter fend for himself.
Behind bars, Porter nearly gets himself killed for preventing one of the inmates from being gangraped. The corrupt prison officials don’t take kindly to that until one of them realizes that Porter may be perfect for their prison inmate fights.
It did seem a little odd watching this story since a similar prison escape arc was used in the most recent season of “Strike Back.” But the way that Porter and Masuku broke out seemed very clever. Because Porter had studied the blueprints of the prison ahead of time, he knew where he could make his own exit by knocking down a wall.
The staging of the action sequences was less over-the-top than in the subsequent Cinemax seasons, but they were no less exciting. Porter and Masuku manage to get away from the prison despite the escape vehicle not being in place. However, Masuku soon finds himself with a gun held to his head by none other than Porter himself.
According to Masuku, his entire operation was deliberately set up to fail, just as Porter’s rescue mission was. Given the choice of trusting Collinson or Masuku, Porter elects to go rogue and ignore his orders. It’s a courageous turn by Porter and now he finally has someone on this show who may be able to watch his back. But if Porter no longer has Section 20’s support, escape from Zimbabwe may not go smoothly.
There’s a somewhat troubling aspect of “Strike Back: Origins” through no fault of its own. Porter once again finds himself on the outs with his daughter Alexandra (Laura Greenwood) and his ex-wife, Diane (Nicola Stephenson), I get the impression that we’re not going to closure on this before the end of the series.
I don’t want to spoil too much about Porter’s fate in the Cinemax incarnation of this series, but its impact has grown now that I’ve had a chance to see the kind of man that Porter is on this show. In light of that, it’s hard not to think about the people in Porter’s life whom we never saw on the Cinemax incarnation.
All that aside, this was another very entertaining episode of the original “Strike Back” series. If the rest of the first season was this good then it’s easy to see why Cinemax picked it up in the first place.