Philip Winchester, Rhona Mitra, Sullivan Stapleton (from left)
Just last week, I wrote about the new Blu-ray release of the first season of Banshee, but it was Strike Back that earlier established an original action series beachhead on Cinemax. The latter, which follows the exploits of a covert British terrorism unit called Section 20, isn’t quite as fascinatingly quirky as Banshee, but it’s tightly written, directed and edited enough to please any fan of the genre.
When I say “written,” I do so in a limited sense, because virtually every episode is divided into three parts: prepping for a potentially deadly confrontation, trying to survive the deadly confrontation and taking stock after the deadly confrontation. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for character development, but then, action movie fans generally don’t tune in to watch the adversaries talk about their feelings.
As in season one, the main focus is on two special agents. The first, Sgt. Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester), left the unit at the end of last season to repair his damaged marriage, so he is training recruits at a military base as the season opens. Unfortunately, that seemingly innocuous routine results in an accident that, in turn, leads to an incident that shatters Stonebridge’s life.
Meanwhile, former CIA hit man Sgt. Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) has been dispatched on what is supposed to be a standard security mission that takes a terrifying turn when this season’s MacGuffin – a box of four nuclear triggers – falls into the wrong hands. When he hears that Scott is in deadly peril, Stonebridge drops everything and rushes to help save him, with their joint mission eventually coming under the command of Section 20’s new boss, Maj. Rachel Dalton (Rhona Mitra, not one of my favorite actresses, but your mileage may vary).
As the unit embarks on a frantic pursuit of those triggers, they fall into the hands of Karl Matlock (Vincent Regan), a decorated war hero turned soldier of fortune looking for a major score to finance his retirement from combat. Matlock sells the triggers to English billionaire Conrad Knox (Charles Dance), whose public image as a South African philanthropist is the perfect cover for a far more sinister scheme.
The banter-filled bromance between Scott and Stockbridge is a bonus for any viewers who may not be carnage-centric, but the acting is surprisingly good across the board. Due to the aforementioned upheaval in his own storyline, Winchester’s Stonebridge spends much of the season in a state of modified shock, but Stapleton continues to impress with all the wisecracker-y of a young Bruce Willis.
It’s the villains this season who are most compelling, though. Dance has been playing dapper heavies for a couple of decades now, and he does so again very effectively here. Regan, however, walks away with the season as the reluctant bad-guy Matlock, who has cracked under years of service left so unrewarded by the people in command. Special mention also goes to series regular Liam Garrigan as Sgt. Liam Baxter, the kind of loyal colleague any special agent with his life on the line wants as his point of contact back at command central.
Technically, this set is up to the usual lofty HBO Home Entertainment standard, but apart from audio tracks and subtitles in multiple languages, extras as somewhat sparse: just four commentary tracks, and be advised in advance they can get kind of confusing, since Stapleton, who plays the American Scott, is actually Australian, while Winchester, who plays the British Stockbridge, is American.