Strike Back is on its final mission (again) and so the stakes are higher than ever for Cinemax‘s action series—the most underrated TV series that’s ever graced our screens. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Strike Back season 7, episode 1 immediately ratchets the action up to a new level; the shock comes from the episode’s emotional gut punch.
The gang’s all here: Thomas “Mac” McAllister (Warren Brown), Gracie Novin (Alin Sumarwata), Samuel Wyatt (Daniel MacPherson), Manisha Chetri (Varada Sethu) and Alexander Coltrane (Jamie Bamber). They’re dispatched to save a scientist from enemy clutches, but things go south in a hurry when Coltrane is suddenly intent on executing her instead. And from that point on, Strike Back fires as many moral shots as it does literal ones, which is also what makes this series absolutely nail-biting.
Like many final seasons, this one has the clear undercurrent of the band breaking up at the end of it. This isn’t abnormal; when any TV show winds down, the writers have to get their characters to a point where there’s some kind of closure, otherwise, there’s no real ending. But the way that this series handles it is kind of brilliant, and uniquely Strike Back. No one’s going to end up sipping a margarita on the beach at a Mexican resort at the end of this, even though they all deserve it. Instead, everyone’s got a choice to make—and almost certainly a price to pay.
Episode 1 shows us that Coltrane has a screw loose, which isn’t a surprise (you don’t end up leading Section 20 if you’re doing everything right). But it’s nice to know more about him since we did just meet him last season and he miraculously managed not to die by the end of it. He’s convinced that one of the bad guys is someone from his past, and no one believes him. He’s also trying to keep the wolves away from the door, in this case, the usual out of touch bureaucrat (John Michie), and so he’s torn between what he believes, what’s best for his team, and what his orders are. None of those things are the same, and Bamber gives a remarkable performance while his character breaks down a little.
Meanwhile, Mac has the opportunity to become an officer and get the career recognition he’s long deserved if he doesn’t do something to screw it up first. It’s fantastic news but it would also mean the end of his time with Section 20, and he has to decide what’s more important to him. And Wyatt, who already left once only to realize that normal life was harder than being part of an elite counter-terrorism unit, is immediately on edge at the idea of his family splintering apart. Strike Back puts everyone under pressure from go, and everyone has an individual story of what that means for them and how they’re going to deal with it.
That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of action in Strike Back season 7. There is. Alin Sumarwata is the episode’s clear MVP in that category, as she gets yet another vicious fight scene, this time taking place in a restaurant kitchen. That’s after almost every single piece of property in a house gets wrecked when Novin and Wyatt have to fend off a massively armed gunman. The writers seem to have a knack for running Gracie Novin through the wringer, and Sumarwata rises to every occasion; she deserves several gold stars for how she makes these bloody engagements look like Tuesday. And there’s a laugh-out-loud moment when Mac dryly asks Coltrane, “When do we ever blow anything up?” only for Coltrane to give him an absolutely perfect WTF look in return.
If there’s a weak point in the Strike Back season 7 premiere, it’s that the antagonists this season aren’t yet as compelling as the ones from last year (though that’s more credit to the work of Yasemin Kay Allen and Alec Newman than anything else). But with this episode, Jack Lothian and company make a clear statement that not only do they want to scare the crap out of the audience with these incredible high-stakes missions, but they also have something important to say about how time is running out for Section 20 and what they’re supposed to do afterward. It’s going to be an absolute pleasure to watch where the journey takes them, and the giant mafia henchmen with the massive machine guns will be an added bonus.
Strike Back airs Fridays at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on Cinemax.