Richard Armitage + John Porter status games in Strike Back: Origins 1.3, addendum

Time for week 4 of Strike Back: Origins on Cinemax. This is actually from last week. Sigh.

I mentioned two weeks ago that one of the irritating things about this series is that the viewer, in attempting to assess what’s happening, doesn’t necessarily receive all the information from scenes s/he sees in sequential narrative time. The viewer’s reading of the status game of 1.3, in which Collinson is now Porter’s boss, instructing him on an operation, and simultaneous ends up losing status because he’s trying to find out whether Porter knows anything that Collinson is unaware of, is inevitably complicated by a moment of that scene that we see only at the end of the episode.

At apparently the same point in the conversation after Layla’s left the room, Collinson gives Porter an additional charge:

Masuku is supposed to “disappear completely” in the sense of being executed.

One reason I hate this is that knowing that Porter agreed to this order, apparently without protest, potentially changes my allegiances to him throughout the previous thirty minutes or so of the episode. What looks much more heroic (risking one’s life for Queen and country by breaking a rebel out of prison) now looks much more subtle, much more political, maliciously directed, and much less heroic. I think it’s more realistic. Still, the episode proceeds without my awareness that Porter is essentially acting as a contract killer. So I feel betrayed by the storytellers because I was denied information that would have allowed me to make a more subtle estimation of Porter throughout the earlier part of the episode. I remember, the first time that I saw the episode, that I was very much surprised, even if I ended up thinking, “it only makes sense.”

The second problem, though, is that the status game in the end of the scene I discussed two weeks ago is fundamentally complicated and intensified by the fact that Collinson implicitly orders Porter to kill Masuku before he starts to ask for information about Porter’s knowledge of As’ad’s whereabouts. In the flashback I clipped above, Porter appears to be accepting Collinson’s order and thus his hierarchical position. Viewer knowledge of the flashback could make Porter’s apparent disgust for Collinson at the end of the scene seem even more intense. Additionally, however, we now know that in this exchange, Collinson is asking Porter not only to kill for him, but also to keep his secrets. In that sense, Collinson is putting himself one down even before he asks Porter about As’ad. I had mentioned that I thought Lincoln was overplaying Collinson’s status descent in that scene — but if we incorporate the flashback, by asking this of Porter in Layla’s absence, trying to “get him on side” against that “cerebral woman,” and implying the need for secrecy, Collinson’s sudden status drop seems much more intelligible.

~ by Servetus on November 23, 2013.

One Response to “Richard Armitage + John Porter status games in Strike Back: Origins 1.3, addendum”

  1. […] From the first to the third episodes of Strike Back: Origins, we followed the status competition of our protagonist, John Porter (Richard Armitage) with Hugh Collinson (Andrew Lincoln), the man who ended his career and in consequence, seriously disrupted his life. In episode 1, Porter ended up one down, but used the same body language in episode 2 to move up. In episode 3, we again saw Porter toying with his status, playing a poker game around knowledge that Porter has (that a British soldier killed his comrades) and Collinson is uncertain that he has. We discussed how Armitage used timing in order to make Collinson squirm (and then I added the point that the flashback scene makes Collinson’s sudden status drop seem more intelligible to the viewer). […]


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