‘Strike Back: Project Dawn’: Episode 2 review

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After the naked fight scenes and perennial nudity of last week’s opening episode, the second instalment of Sky1’s Strike Back: Project Dawn reels in some of the more outrageous aspects of the show, with the focus instead lying on a complex and surprisingly well-plotted narrative.

Episode 2 picks the plot up exactly where the previous episode left it, with Stonebridge and Scott trapped in a hotel with a man that they believe to be the Pakistani terrorist Latif. “Latif” asks Scott to take him to the room where he has hid the woman he was talking to in the bar (Sasha Behar), who is later revealed to be Mahmood, a weapons researcher that has been leaking information about WMD’s to the Pakistani intelligence service. The rest of the episode involves a series of twists and turns that are sure to keep viewers on the edges of their seats until the credits roll.

Although the true nature of the titular “Project Dawn” isn’t explored at all, the episode manages to do what Torchwood: Miracle Day has so far failed at, offering compelling and engaging sub-plots in the form of the Iraqi WMD conspiracy and corruption within Section 20, to distract from the lack of development in the main story arc.

Though the show remains decidedly crass and tongue in cheek, some of the plot developments in this week’s episode are genuinely quite interesting. Mahmood’s revelation to Scott that an unspecified organisation was involved in planting weapons of mass destructions in Iraq, before pulling them out at the eleventh hour, adds an interesting tinge of reality to the plot.

Shows like Spooks have been successful at interweaving fiction and non-fiction, and the inclusion of this interesting narrative technique serves to legitimise Strike Back’s farfetched plot, allowing viewers to take the show a little more seriously. The acting on display has also seen an improvement, with particularly compelling performances coming from Sasha Behar as Dr Zubedah and ex-EastEnder Jimi Minstri.

That’s not to say that the show is any less ridiculous than Episode 1. Some particularly unbelievable scenes include a highly trained MI6 agent forgetting to turn his phone off when pursuing armed terrorists, psychotic jihadists letting one of their hostages go to the toilet, Damien Scott somehow coming to the conclusion that John Porter knew about the corruption within Section 20 without any real supporting evidence, and the main character being offered a job in Section 20 in the absence of any traits that qualify him for the job.

However, these moments are a lot less frequent, and a lot less jarring than equivalent moments in the previous episode. Sadly, much of the dialogue remains groan-inducingly laden with expletives and lewd sexual references. It seems a shame to degrade what is turning out to be quite an interesting story with such unintelligent and frankly unfunny dialogue.

The one-dimensional characters of Stonebridge and Scott are also increasingly seeming like a wasted opportunity, acting as nothing but husks through which viewers can vicariously live a male power fantasy. Though these elements may well seem appropriate for the show’s Bravo-style target audience, that is to say, adolescent boys and younger men, even in this capacity the dialogue and main characters leave allot to be desired.

A vast improvement yes, but high art this is not. Nevertheless, the second episode of Strike Back: Project Dawn is infinitely more interesting than last week’s series premiere, and is certainly worth an hour of your time if the themes of the first episode didn’t turn your stomach.

Airs at 9pm on Sunday 28th August 2011 on Sky1.

> Buy the Series 1 DVD on Amazon.