Strike Back Season 6 offers up a meditation on mortality

Strike Back’s latest episode pondered what’s worth dying for amidst collateral damage as the Cinemax action series continues to gain momentum.

If you only know one thing about Strike Back, it’s that people die. There’s a mantra that everyone involved with the Cinemax show repeats: there’s a bullet with everyone’s name on it.

Death is a constant on Strike Back, and not in the way that it’s presented on other TV shows. The series makes sure there’s always a price to be paid for Section 20’s missions, and it’s often paid in lives. The unit has gone through four commanding officers, more than a few computer guys, and a lot of good soldiers. It’s a constant state of volatility that keeps the show honest and the stakes high.

“Episode 54” adds a few more characters to the body count, while also asking what someone is willing to die for. Everyone has a different answer to the question.

Left behind at the end of the previous episode, Sgt. Samuel Wyatt (Daniel MacPherson, who gives his best performance of the season) is well aware that “the mission comes first.” He’s beaten and bloodied and knows he may wind up dead because of the choice he made to go back for Samira (Pallavi Sharda) last week.

Though Wyatt stays alive, his monologue about Samira’s death and his reaction to it is one of the best Strike Back scenes since the show was resurrected. This is what the show is really all about: not the explosions, not the gunfights, but the cost of saving the world. MacPherson is brilliant as Wyatt explains to the last surviving henchman that he feels terrible now, but those feelings will eventually give way to an emptiness he clearly struggles with.

No wonder why he’s still hanging on to his estranged wife—as Sgt. Thomas “Mac” McAllister (Warren Brown) pointed out last time, she’s Wyatt’s one lifeline to the outside, to some kind of feeling other than the inevitability of combat.

Wyatt isn’t the only one who faces the mortality question in “Episode 54.” When Gracie Novin (Alin Sumarwata) finds herself amongst a group of hostages when 30 terrorists overrun the offices that Section 20 is entering, she makes the bold decision to draw attention to herself.

Unarmed and with no help in sight, Novin knows the only thing she can do is to give up her life instead of letting the bad guys shoot someone else—a difficult and painfully selfless decision, reminiscent of when Spooks killed Danny Hunter by having him sacrifice himself for a colleague. And just as well acted, too.

Unfortunately, some of those innocent people don’t get a choice; two hostages end up losing their lives for someone else’s agenda. Connor Ryan (Aidan McArdle) dies for money—he’d rather try to run off with a suitcase full of it and is fittingly shot in the back after betraying Anjali Vartak.

As for Anjali (Shivani Ghai), she dies for her cause when she and Wyatt fall four stories and she’s impaled on the way down. Wyatt—still clearly smarting emotionally—tries to talk her into staying alive, but Anjali would rather martyr herself to get revenge for her son’s death. She dies for family, essentially, while Gopan (Rudi Dharmalingam) just dies.

Even Katrina Zarkova (Yasemin Kay Allen) has to ask what she wants to die for when she finds out that the Russians are involved with the nuclear plot. Will she put her life on the line by defying her country? Because as the show has already said a few times, if she betrays Russia, that means her life and possibly the lives of everyone she loves.

The gun battles and explosions are a whole lot of shameless fun, but what makes Strike Back tick is the emotional and ideological text underneath that. If you don’t have characters, if there’s not meaning, then it’s just a whole lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. There was a lot of sound and fury here, but “Episode 54” was pivotal to this season in that it truly illustrated the meaning for almost every character.

While last season was good entertainment, the fact that it was a new season that had to build up new plots and a new team meant that it didn’t quite get there when it came to the elements that make Strike Back more than an action show. This episode proves without a doubt that Strike Back Season 6 has made it there. The characters are better developed, they’re given a chance to sort of breathe (metaphorically, not always literally), and the actors are digging deeper.

Now we just hope that all of them make it through the rest of the season, because it’d be a shame to lose any of them now—they’re all too good to take that bullet yet.

Next: Read our interview with Strike Back's Daniel MacPherson

Strike Back airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on Cinemax. For more on Strike Back and other Cinemax shows, follow the Cinemax category at Hidden Remote.

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