They won’t go quietly.
All good things must come to an end. And in the case of Cinemax’s Strike Back “good” means “over-the-top action and lovemaking and automatic weapon fire and explosions and dead terrorists.” Also, “good” means “good” too.
For real, bro: Strike Back is more than meathead catnip. This is a well-made show, sporting feature-worthy action staging and sneaky-impressive plotting and writing. Following the disjointed exercise in debauchery that was the first Cinemax season, the writers settled on a one-long arc approach to the series. That was the best decision the showrunner made, leading to a stellar second installment, which to this day remains one of my all-time favorite seasons of television ever. Not joking.
The basic framework of the show: British intelligence created S20, a super-secret team of counter-terror pros, featuring bad-ass Englishman Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) and former Delta operate and crazed libido-devil Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton, 300: Rise of an Empire). When the situation calls for it — and it always calls for it — these two are deployed into the heat of the battle. Thankfully, they are immune to enemy bullets.
For this, the final season, the boys square off with the most world-threatening threat they’ve ever faced: some rogue North Korean hardliners making off with weapons of mass destruction. I won’t spoil the reveal of the main heavy (it’s a legit actor), but the casting is in line with the high standard that came before (see Season 2 and the awesome Charles Dance).
What’s cool about this go-round is you know it’s the last season so literally anything can happen and anyone can die. This feeling of uncertainty runs all the way to the last three minutes of the last episode and the season is better for it.
At the core of the show is the relationship between the two leads. Now this is an action-fest first and foremost (a remarkably well-staged action-fest), but there is chemistry at play with Scott and Stonebridge and you end up rooting for them in a big way. Of course they’ll never go as far as emoting in each other’s presence, but the low-key character moments that are given to them actually land. This lends weight to high-octane pyrotechnics, elevating all the material beyond mindless gunplay.
So how does Season 4 stack up against its predecessors? It belongs, for sure, which is notable as the production had hit some turmoil when Stapleton seriously injured himself during filming. But despite the delay, Season 4 is a winner. Season 2 is still the king, but I liked this more than Season 3, thanks to stronger cast and a ballsy decision to mix it up in North Korea.
This is definitely something to see in HD if you can, but the DVD set is no slouch. Strike Back: Season Four looks (1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen) and sounds (Dolby 5.1 Surround) great. Extras are recycled promo featurettes from the broadcast run, which is a disappointment considering this was the curtain call.
One last note: this season is easily the least porky of the series. Compared to the romps of yesteryear, Season 4 is downright prudish. And, you know, it’s better for that. Nothing felt like it was forced in to check some sort of Cinemax fornication prerequisite. Satisfying ending, too.
Not Guilty. Kaboom, brah.