STRIKE BACK 1.02 ‘Episode 2’

Damien Scott and Michael Stonebridge attempt to defuse a deadly hotel siege in India.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Title: "Episode 2"

Writer: Frank Spotnitz

Director: Daniel Percival

Previously on "Strike Back"

British operative John Porter (Richard Armitage) was held in Pakistan by a terrorist known as Latif. When the British Special Forces team from Section 20 attempted to rescue Porter, they found that he had inexplicably been moved right before the attack. One of the team's members was also killed by a remaining terrorist. Col. Eleanor Grant (Amanda Mealing) then ordered Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) to find Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton), a former Delta Force operative who had worked with Porter. Scott was also the only man alive other than Porter who knew Latif by sight.

Stonebridge found Scott engaging in underground fights in Malaysia. Once he was brought back to the U.K., Scott demanded payment to help the team find Porter… shortly before Porter was executed in another message from Latif. While replaying Porter's last words, Scott realized that Porter was using a secret code that they had devised to alert him about Latif's next target: a prominent hotel in India. Scott convinced Stonebridge and Section 20 to bring him with them to finish Porter's last mission. But once in the hotel, Scott made a quick stop at the bar and hit on both the Barmaid (Karen David) and a woman named Iman Zubedah (Sasha Behar).

Latif's men were caught smuggling weapons into the hotel, forcing them to begin a siege sooner than planned. Although Stonebridge was one of the initial hostages, he broke free with two others. Upstairs, Scott stopped having sex with the Barmaid long enough to kill a few terrorists and escort Iman and a young girl to a safer room. He then met up with Stonebridge in a stairwell as they realized that Latif was looking for someone named Mahmood. Moments later, one of the escaped hostages with Stonebridge held both men at gun point as Latif's men surrounded them on all sides.

Story:

The man who is apparently Latif disarms Scott and Stonebridge and disables their transmitters. Scott is then forced at gunpoint to take Latif and his gunmen to the room where he's hidden Iman. As they are led away, Scott admits to Stonebridge that he had never actually seen Latif before Outside, Colonel Grant asks General Kohil (Alyy Khan) for more time in order to give Scott and Stonebridge a chance to resolve the situation from the inside. Kohil gives them until sunrise to overcome the terrorists before his troops go in hard. Grant also gets the Pakistani ISI agent (Jimi Mistry) to admit that Mahmood is the code name for a scientist who has been leaking classified WMD knowledge to his country for the last ten years.

Out in the lobby, one of the terrorists shows a reluctance to kill the hostages that his companions do not. When their first intended victim turns out to be an English speaking Muslim, they return him to the crowd and execute a teenager instead. Upstairs, Scott leads Latif and his men to the wrong room, allowing himself and Stonebridge to break free and grab some of the guns away from Latif's men. In the ensuing gun battle, Scott's leg is wounded before they take Iman and the young girl outside on the ledge. An Indian sniper saves their lives and nearly hits Latif before he and his men retreat.

As Stonebridge removes the bullet from Scott's leg wound with a knife, Scott tells him how he was dishonorably discharged while in Iraq because he had asked too many questions about a WMD inspection. Iman hears Scott's story and becomes visibly unnerved. She takes off her shoes and slips away. Scott and Stonebridge notice her absence a few moments later and split up to find her, leaving the young girl behind. Scott finds Iman attempting to get away in an elevator. He stops Iman and gets her to confess that she is Mahmood and she was attempting to get protection from Pakistan.

Iman also explains that she was part of a plan to plant WMDs in Iraq to justify the U.S. invasion. But the weapons were never found and Latif wants to use them against the west. When they return to rendezvous point, the little girl is being held at gun point and Scott is forced to surrender. Latif escorts Iman away as Scott and the little girl are added to the hostages in the lobby. Realizing what's happened, Stonebridge contacts Grant and she orders him to retrieve Iman at all costs. In the lobby, the terrorists set up a war head to be dropped as soon as the Indian army begins their siege.

The western Muslim from earlier is given a chance to deride the terrorists for perverting the teachings of their religion, but most of them openly scoff at them. Elsewhere, Stonebridge eliminates Latif's men with precision and he even kills Latif himself and frees Iman. In the lobby, Scott appeals to the sympathetic terrorist to let him escort the young girl to the restroom. But after Scott gets her inside, he begins to grapple with the nearest terrorist and grabs his weapon. Scott manages to keep the war head from being immediately dropped and his life is saved by the sympathetic terrorist who turns on his comrades… moments before he himself is gunned down by the Indian army.

As the war head begins to fall to the ground, Stonebridge makes a sliding catch just in time to save the day. Outside, Stonebridge and Grant hand Iman over to the ISI agent, who promises to share whatever they learn from her. Scott returns the young girl to her mother and successfully gets Grant to offer him a position with Section 20. Shortly thereafter, the team realizes that the man that Stonebridge killed was not Latif, but someone affiliated with him. And on the way to Pakistan, the ISI agent reveals himself to be Latif as he interrogates Iman. When Section 20 and the Indian authorities catch up to them, Latif is long gone and Iman is dead.

Back in the U.K., Stonebridge and Scott have a private meeting in which they realize that Porter specifically wanted Scott to join Section 20 because Latif either has a mole within the organization or with someone who has access to their intelligence. The two men then make a pact to watch each other's backs as they search for Latif and the traitor. 

Breakdown:

There's a moment in this week's "Strike Back" where Stonebridge literally catches a falling war head as he slides across the floor. And it's such a ridiculously over-the-top scene that it was almost hilarious.

If you've ever watched an action movie or TV series before, all of the plot twists in this episode were also pretty easy to guess. Latif turns out to be the ISI agent all along while Iman is secretly Mahmood. And there's a traitor inside Section 20. All of these elements should feel very familiar to anyone who has watched "24" or "Alias." While "Strike Back" is never going to win any points for originality, it does have something that other action TV series don't seem to have: money to burn. 

Even though the episode was largely "Die Hard in Hotel," it works because the gun battles were well staged, the action was exciting and both Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester  manage to find the right balance between winking at the audience and taking the events seriously. Both Scott and Stonebridge turn out to be very likable characters and when they make their alliance at the end, it feels like the beginning of a genuine friendship between the two. For all of Scott's posturing, he and Stonebridge essentially share the same purpose to avenge their friend and take down Latif. 

The rest of Section 20 seems largely toothless by comparison and they spent most of the episode holding out hope that that their two operatives could miraculously take back the hotel themselves. There is an attempt to give Stonebridge more depth by revealing that he's having an affair with his teammate, Captain Kate Marshall (Eva Birthistle) while juggling a wife named Kerry (Alexandra Moen) back home… which means he isn't as squeaky clean as he appeared in the first episode.

Scott remains the man that he is throughout: he loves the ladies and he isn't shy about showing it. I'm almost surprised that the producers resisted the urge to give Scott another sexual encounter during the hotel siege, but that would have probably been a bridge too far for even this series. As it is, there's still a partially naked woman when Kate has her scene with Stonebridge. That's almost restraint for this series.

There was also a good scene in which the English speaking Muslim calling out the terrorists for acting against the beliefs of Islam in favor of their extreme ideology. Although some might call that political correctness for covering its bases, it was a needed moment of balance and it helped set up the eventual turn of the sympathetic terrorist.

Again, this isn't the most complex or intricately written show on television. But for an action fix, "Strike Back" delivers what it promises and it's entertaining. Sometimes that's all we need.   

Crave Online Rating: 8 out of 10.