The first time ever I saw John Porter

SBPromo_02[Left: Promotional photo of Richard Armitage as John Porter. Source:]

John Porter in Strike Back was the first Richard Armitage role that I saw “almost live” as it appeared. I had listened to Clarissa, live, and experienced my first “thrill of simultaneity” with other fans, one to be repeated a few more times in subsequent years — for the Captain America premiere, and more famously, the first time we saw #richardarmitage trend on Twitter. But seeing “new” Richard Armitage work put me on the same knowledge level for the very first time as fans who’d been watching his work for years.

Of course, it was “almost live” because anyone who was watching Strike Back from the U.S. in those days did it illegally. You couldn’t get even the Region 2 DVD until a month later. I didn’t see the episodes on the days they appeared but just slightly afterwards. I got them from a friend whom I am sure still prefers to remain nameless. I wasn’t technologically adept enough at that point to find them myself, nor to make screencaps (I learned how later that summer), so I couldn’t do what I’d do with Spooks 9 later that year — stay up all night to write an immediate long analytical response with illustrated examples.

But what happened with those episodes, when I saw them, was something that’s been repeated every “first time” I’ve seen Mr. Armitage on screen, with a few minor exceptions — an immediate, visceral response. In that case, when I saw them, I was caught up in the whole question of the family drama and the problem of vindication and community, and it enabled me to write candidly about my past, something that I really struggled to do at that time. (That may be hard to believe now.)



Richard Armitage as John Porter in Strike Back 1.4. My cap.


It was the beginning of a long engagement with John Porter, whose story has meant so much to me — as hero or heroic archetype, as shamed failure, as figure of the search for vindication, as worker-out of trauma, as cheerleader, as father, as wash and wear soldier-type, and infinitely reliable quick sex fantasy, as troubling victim — and there I’m linking only a few of the posts I’ve written about him. A Porter scene was one of the two I was watching on infinite repeat during my mother’s cancer surgery. He’s gotten me through a lot.

And now Porter comes to the United States.

The night after I saw Strike Back 1 and 2 (“Iraq”) I wrote a long, ridiculously emotional post that I’m still too ashamed to publish. Maybe some day.

But I had that experience again last night — watching some new content and just being bowled over by it — and it made me think of the experience of watching Porter. It was exactly the same thing — I was watching from the computer episode 1 from the computer, and was glued to the screen. But every few minutes, I had to make myself stop and catch my breath. And often I rewound a few seconds or a minute to watch again before proceeding.



John Porter (Richard Armitage) takes his first calculating glance at Collinson, in Strike Back 1.1. My cap.


I know now that I’ve become overly tense any first time I watch Richard Armitage do something. I think this was my first evidence of that — so that I was watching very, very closely. Watching like a hawk.

That chin movement, for example, the macho one that asserts his authority when he gives Collinson his own gun.



Collinson (Andrew Lincoln) looks at the gun John Porter (Richard Armitage) presses on him in Strike Back 1.1. My cap.


I remember my sigh of weariness when the bubblegum pop song comes over the helicopter journey into Baghdad, but also my response to the aesthetic of the flickering light over Armitage’s face. (And now, we know, he almost fell out of the helicopter on that shoot.)

I remember the cool determination on his face here:



John Porter (Richard Armitage) on his mission to recover Kenneth Bratton, in Strike Back 1.1. My source.


and how startled he is when he realizes the bomb is attached to a child:



John Porter (Richard Armitage) sees As’ad for the first time in Strike Back 1.1. My cap.


I found myself watching this part over and over again, just to examine how Armitage was using his eyes:


And then I had to pause, as the helicopter left the building. For about fifteen minutes. To catch my breath.

I remember Porter, the still-dazed soldier after the mission:



Collinson (Andrew Lincoln) tells Porter (Richard Armitage) what As’ad said to him, in Strike Back 1.1. My cap.


I watched several times Porter’s affection for his daughter:

vlcsnap-2013-10-24-13h44m45s67vlcsnap-2013-10-24-13h45m58s49John Porter (Richard Armitage) reunited with his daughter Lexi (Lauren das Neves) in Strike Back 1.1. My caps.


I still remember my ten times replay of the guilt and sorrow on Porter’s face as hears from the doctor that Steve’s injuries are not treatable?

vlcsnap-2013-10-24-14h07m33s204vlcsnap-2013-10-24-14h07m43s53John Porter (Richard Armitage) when he hears the bad news in Strike Back 1.1. My cap.


The scenes of Porter in his superior’s office and his concession that he will have to leave his unit and the regiment do not make an appearance in my reactions from that evening, but the subsequent scenes, in which Porter comforts his daughter, and especially the one in which tries to find work with Kenneth Bratton, absolutely haunted me.

This scene affected me for years, I watched it over and over again not just that night but subsequently, and it finally brought me to write about why I love Strike Back despite its kitschiness. It helped me understand why even when I don’t like the stage directions of everything Armitage is doing, I’m so wholly affected by his portrayals.

Probably the most affecting scenes for me up till that point were the ones with the women as Porter is reactivated: with Layla, Danni and the unseen female psychiatrist, and those did finally provoke an early analysis from me, a few days after I saw this episode.

And then I got to that kiss, and all was over — I watched it something like six dozen times in two days.

Looking back now, I see scenes I see differently than I did then, and some things I want to address, particularly the arc of Armitage’s performances against Lincoln and the status games being played there.

But summing up my reaction to the piece at the time — I felt like something inside me had been not just affected, but permanently moved — and the fact that I continue to think about Strike Back three years later, as it makes its way to my own country — suggests a quality to Armitage’s performance in that transcends the kitschiness of its themes and the predictability of its scripts.

Welcome to the United States, John Porter. May my fellows treat you well and learn to love you, may they be as provoked to think, and to be moved, as much as I have been.

~ by Servetus on October 24, 2013.

31 Responses to “The first time ever I saw John Porter”

  1. John Porter, as portrayed so beautifully, skillfully and soulfully by our Richard, ROCKS. I hope he is truly proud and pleased with what he brought to that role, because he deserves to be.
    I also hope many people will tune in and discover why the original SB stands head and shoulders over the Americanized version for so many of us, thanks to the complex, flawed hero RA gave us. (As for the new SB, about kitsch . . . *rolls eyes*)

  2. Yesterday, after a long while, I finally came back to my go-to-episode of Strike Back, the one I watch when I am depressed or otherwise can’t cope with myself. (The second one in Africa.) I avoided or better did not give myself free time to watch anything RA related for a long time now. So lately, I had feared to drift off a bit, but SB finally brought me back to full RA appreciation and his healing effects.

  3. I hope that people tune in and realize just how much talent this man brings to the screen and that it makes them all do as it has made us do and start looking at everything he has done. Then they too can start asking why this man isn’t getting more attention. Now mind you I don’t want him rolled over by the press and ruined like so many celebs have been but I would like to see him get more attention from directors and producers. I think “John Porter” is truly a powerhouse role and I hope that my fellow Americans will realize that and get on the Armitage bandwagon.

  4. It will be interesting to see if there’s a reaction to this on tumblr, new people coming in who weren’t there before, or on Twitter. I do know one fan who was seduced by Porter — mersguy — but in her case it was just that she thought Armitage was really sexy. Not, of course, that that’s invalid, or that he’s not — but I don’t know if you get that so much from the first episode.

  5. Since becoming a fan, whenever I’ve watched Richard Armitage in a role for the first time, I can’t concentrate on the actual work and I’m extremely anxious. It’s not always pleasurable. And this has *all* been in the privacy of my own home and mostly with work that has already been hashed over. )exceptions are Staged, last week’s Strike Back promotion and his audition for Thorin which were fresh for all of us. I felt the same anxiety and distraction. I may actually need a Xanax to see DOS.
    Tomorrow night, I’m going to be someone else when I watch SB. I’m going to be an average viewer who liked him well enough in the Hobbit, heard about this and decided to tune in. Let’s see how that works for me.

    • Good luck. At the beginning of my fandom I thought I still had the potential for a notional objectivity but that’s obviously gone now, if I ever had it 🙂

      • I’m going to give it a go. I’m going to look at the broad picture. I can’t remember now where the episode ends – but I wish they were showing the both parts.

  6. I found myself mentioning to someone who’s a fan of the walking dead that Andrew Lincoln was going to be in something he did before. Too bad it turned out that they don’t have cable. I’m rather excited he’s going to be on our tv after years of watching him with alternative means. It was so exciting to follow the promo for this series, too bad there were no billboards for us here. I’m mostly curious if the US audience will balk at some of the negative stereo typical message about the US, that was on our minds back then after the Sarah Caulfield affair though Toby Stephens did an awesome job of it.


      I did a post about ten days or so ago about the problem of anti-Americanism as a block to the US audience, and I got about three people to agree with me that it was even a valid question. It *was* on our minds back then.

      THANK YOU!!!!!

  7. It was!! ALL the time! ALL we talked about probably because of Spooks 8, but Spooks in general always portrays baddies between Russians or Americans. Who discusses Spooks anymore?? LOL

  8. Please excuse the loud voice, but I am SO upset right now!! I went to check on the schedule for SB: Origins and guess what! They are NOT showing it Canada! 😦 Although they have shown all the so-call “Original Series” of SB here on HBO all we are going to see are repeats of Series 3. Do you see the steam coming out of my ears?? If I was a swearing person the air around me would be blue right now. I tried contacting them and the message they sent back was that someone would contact me within the next three days! Grrrrr!!

    I am somewhat mollified by the fact that I actually own the DVD’s but I *really* wanted to be able to watch it with others in Canada who might be seeing John Porter for the first time. I’ve always loved this character and wanted as many people as possible to see more of Richard’s incredible talents. I guess I’ll just have to haul out the DVD’s and enjoy them on my own! 🙂

    Anyway I hope lots of you get to see “Origins” and that you all fall in love with this character as many already have! Enjoy, dear friends! I’m longing to hear your comments once you’ve recovered!! 😉

  9. RA esta incrivel como Porter…

  10. Have fun everybody, can’t wait to hear the response. I’ll send you some vibes from the Southern Hemisphere and try to drag out my Strikeback DVDs when SO and mini Astera’s aren’t paying attention. Like at 3am.

  11. So excited to see him on US tv!! Luckily I get all the premium channels on cable. I saw it “somehow” before now, but I am so interested to see the reaction to it in the US. Porter is definitely my go-to guy in lots of situations. Another amazing creation by Mr. Armitage.

    • If I were ever in a major jam, I’d want Portah to come to my rescue. He’d be gentle with me and totally kick ass as need be.

      • Absolutely! I just dream about being hugged the way he hugs his daughter! And then to be completely defiant and in his enemy’s face. He can do it all!!

        • And did you not absolutely believe in Porter’s love for and devotion to that child? He was able to be both caring, gentle father and tough-as-nails soldier and make us not doubt him for a minute. He’s The MAN.

          • I KNOW!! Absolutely. Damn, that man! The kiss from North & South, the hugs in Strike Back, etc. He manages to express emotions in a way that so few actors can.

  12. I have been so interested in the idea that so many have about the anti-American factor being so big a deal or possibly being a big deal. I have never let that stop me watching anything really. I really think a lot of us are quite used to the fact that we are not the most popular people in the world. Whether we agree with it or not really doesn’t matter, it is a fact. Many of us understand much of that reasoning as well so seeing it on screen isn’t a big surprise even coming from our biggest ally. So I will be looking myself to see the reaction, if any, to that part.

  13. My idiocy for bringing it up again, but I really don’t want to discuss anti-Americanism — I didn’t the first time and I don’t now. My point in mentioning it to Fanny is that I just find it really strange that we talked about it all the time three years ago and now everyone thinks I’m crazy. Tant pis on me.

  14. Sorry agreed not to bring that up again. Do look at the NY Times review of show though if you get chance. No you are not crazy Serv, not at all. Still Chicago was very kind and praising to Richard. I think we should just talk about Richard’s work in this period don’t you? Forget all the other nonsense.

  15. I wonder if they’ll release it in non-Blu-ray DVD format. I don’t have a Blu-ray player so I haven’t gotten it on dvd yet.

  16. I don’t have a Blu Ray player either just HD TV. When it is available I’ll just regular DVD like I watched tonight. My TV allows me to change the aspect though and it looked pretty good.

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