Cinemax's series Strike Back is a no-brainer in every sense of the phrase. Back for its second season (third—and subtitled Strike Back: Vengeance—if you're British), the action series uses straightforward storytelling to facilitate maximum explosions, kill shots, and nudity. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to recognize how unnecessarily layered paid programming has gotten in terms of presenting the holy entertainment trinity of violence, swearing, and good ol' fashioned T&A.; Your Game of Throneses, Dexters, and True Bloods all insist on wrapping up these adult treats in pesky clever dialogue and characters with lame emotional depth. Overachieving fools! Like the elite force soldiers at its center, Strike Back does what others in basic cable can't in a universe as cinematic and highly produced as its subscription-based peers (minus the pansy Shakespeare stuff). Essentially it's the world of Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer, if either of those had the balls to pull a hard R.
Season 1 followed the adventures of Section 20, a secret branch of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) (double secret!) and its efforts to take down a Pakistani terrorist as led by Sergeant Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) and former American Delta Force operative Damian Scott (Sullivan Stapleton). In last night's two-part premiere, we picked up with the former relegated to military teaching, and the latter continuing his work with the private organization. Scott's current mission was helping British Diplomat Patrick Burton and his attache Rachel (a perfectly welcome Rhona Mitra) acquire a Libyan asset from Gaddafi's regime. That's right, the same real-life dictator who was famously sodomized via knife is a reference point in this fictional universe. After all, this is a world of global war crimes, so it followed that while driving through a Somalian hotbed of civil strife, Scott and company were attacked by guerrilla fighters commanded by a local overlord known as Waabri. Rachel, the Diplomat, and a Libyan were all taken hostage and Damian Scott was given his first mission of the season: Rescue the prisoners. Before things got all explode-y though, we were treated to an example of what some might describe as gratuitous sex, when a representative of the British Consulate arrived to escort Damian Scott to a Somalian guide, and the two starred in an impromptu nipple-nibbling montage intercut with scenes of the jeep containing this carnal match-up as it drove across the African desert. Yep, this is Cinemax alright!
So the Libyan bargained for his release by offering the overlord a secret device (unlimited Taco Bell taco card? Next-gen iPod?). After the Libyan was killed handing over the still secret device (a set of bocce balls?) Damian too was taken hostage, but not before slaughtering upwards of 45 Somalians. By the way, the kill count is pretty high on this show, making Rambo look like a member of the Peace Corp. So back in the U.K., where Michael was teaching training camp, a trainee of his freaked the hell out and killed several others. Michael had no choice but to take him down in cold blood, leading to a very tortured and appropriate man-scream under a sheet of night rain. He was so shaken by the incident he requested to go back into combat and rescue the hostages against his wife's wishes. You can tell a man wrote this stuff, because the wife actually apologized for having a miscarriage. Shame on you, lady! You should feel extremely terrible for losing that child. Anyway, when a soldier has seen so much war, playing house just doesn't cut it. Damian was experiencing his own strife, getting tortured in a standard action-movie kind of way, via being chained up and speechified to by the villain Waabri, after which the Somali overlord arranged to sell the weird device to an unknown source (yes, that source is just sinister lips talking next to a cell phone receiver).
Michael and Sergeant Julia Richmond (Michelle Lukes) headed in and retrieved the prisoners while Rachel surprised everyone with her military-like knowledge of weaponry. Turned out she's actually Rachel Durant, a member of the British military and the super-duper secret items were (you guessed it) nuclear triggers. Man, everyone is trying to get their hands on nuclear triggers these days. It's just like the war on drugs: We should legalize all the nuclear triggers and then they wouldn't be so special, right? After a series of narrow escapes involving awesome helicopters and half of Africa being turned into human Swiss cheese, the mysterious bad guy shot the hell out of Waabri and it was revealed that the suitcase housing the triggers had been tampered with (i.e. the items are missing!). Under attack from the locals, finally some support showed up, more explosions happened, the dust settled, and Rachel Dalton became Section 20's new leader. Some old rich guy in cahoots with the mysterious dude who killed Waabri made an old rich dude speech out in the South African countryside and demanded those nuclear triggers be retrieved. Back in Somalia, Waabri's lady was in possession of said devices, until Waabri's heretofore peaceful religious leader had her stabbed to death. Michael shared a special moment with his wife and it looked like the two were about to start a new chapter of marriage, but then she too was killed by a sniper: the brother of the guy who flipped out (Craig Hanson).
At times Strike Back is a pretty fun buddy cop movie set in a high-stakes world at war. There's a lot to be impressed with in a show daring enough to use real-life civil strife as a backdrop for guilty-pleasure adventures, weapon fetishism, and the occasional saucy hook-up. When all is said and done, though, there's a reason this airs on Friday nights. Beyond the excessive bloodshed, high production values, and pert nipples, there's not much else to take away. It's like eating fast food—delicious at first, empty calories at best. Until a modern-day Band of Brothers or another Generation Kill set in the world of secret spies comes along, Strike Back will continue to take point on deep cover missions, succeeding on looks alone. But hey, without much competition, this team looks pretty damn good.
Have you checked out Strike Back? What do you think?