Richard Armitage + John Porter status games in Strike Back: Origins 1.6 [part a]

From last week, through which you can track the previous installments of this series on Richard Armitage’s performance of status in Strike Back.

[All caps are mine.]

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vlcsnap-2013-11-29-21h06m36s130Collinson (Andrew Lincoln) allows himself a brief moment of delight when he discovers that Porter has given the Americans in Afghanistan the slip, in episode 6 of Strike Back: Origins.

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The final episode of Strike Back: Origins concludes the status games between series protagonist John Porter and his superior, Hugh Collinson, whose struggle to hide his own inadvertent friendly fire caused the premature end of Porter’s military career and set Porter off on a quest for what the series called “atonement” and I would term redemption (the topic of the first four episodes) and vindication (the focus of the last two).

When we left Porter and Collinson, things were (suspiciously) all business as usual, given Porter’s awareness in episode 4 that Collinson had jeopardized his escape from Chikurubi Prison. In episode 5, Porter journeyed to Afghanistan on the trail of Gerald Baxter (Ewan Bremner), a techie who’d been hacking air support phoned in by U.S. forces into friendly fire airstrikes from their UK allies. Porter posed as a weapons dealer to get closer to Baxter. Back at Section 20, Collinson found CIA agent Frank Arlington (Toby Stephens) eager to pursue his own solution to the problem. Porter was kidnapped and driven to Baxter, but the U.S. Marines observed the meeting and took the two to a Marine base for a photo op. Section 20 intercepted the photographs; Arlington rejected Collinson’s request to have Baxter extradited to the UK and denied Porter’s capture. In Afghanistan, Porter and Baxter escaped from their planned execution. The plot gradually revealed that the CIA intended to bury its active role in the friendly fire incidents along with both men in Afghanistan. (This episode, in which the CIA is made responsible for the death of Marines, is one chief reason I called the series anti-American in theme.) Porter and Baxter resumed their journey to the weapons buyer, Zahir Sharq (Alexander Siddig), where Baxter exposed Porter as an MI-6 agent and Sharq exposed Porter to the elements. Baxter overheard Sharq offering to trade them to the CIA and, upset, recorded and downloaded the call.

I trace this episode and the next at such length because in order to understand the Porter / Collinson relationship, we have to assess exactly how badly Collinson wants to extract Porter from the mess he’s put him in. In episode 5, it seems at first that Layla’s the one who seeks Porter’s rescue, but at the same time, Collinson seems to take a signal enjoyment in Arlington’s discomfort when Porter and Baxter escape. At the beginning of episode 6, Collinson is still eager to get Porter and Baxter — now engaged in a game of Russian roulette at Sharq’s instigation — back. Porter ends the game, breaks them out of Sharq’s fortification, and runs for the border. As Porter persuades Baxter to bargain for his extraction, he learns from Layla of Steve Andrews’ death and her intent to determine whose bullet was lodged in his brain. Collinson tries again to negotiate with Arlington, now revealing Baxter’s intel about the CIA connection to Sharq. Arlington returns to Section 20 to press the CIA case. His wildly chauvinistic proclamation of the U.S. macropolitical position offers us the potential to believe that Collinson wants to extract Porter and Baxter so that the UK small guy can stick it to the imperialist U.S. overlord. Until, or course, we see Collinson pull his in and reveal the time and location for the extraction.

vlcsnap-2013-11-29-21h54m23s155The look on Collinson’s face as he surrenders the rendezvous details to Arlington.

The main thing that Collinson reveals here is that he has a poor poker face — or is this performance of anguish intended primarily for Layla and Danni? If Collinson solely seeks Porter’s destruction, Arlington has just given him exactly what he wants. The dialogue suggests that Collinson should look humiliated rather than truly emotionally conflicted, unless this disturbance is a demonstration for his colleagues.

After Arlington’s departure, Danni and Layla receive and process the ballistics report that proves Porter’s innocence. In turn, Layla confronts Collinson, who denies that he wants Porter dead. I would suggest that Collinson should discuss the U.S. position more calmly if he wants Layla to believe that he believes it and that his apparent inability to do so reveals some genuine conflict. As the scene proceeds, however, his at best ragged defense of the U.S. stance must be also performance for her benefit, no? I’ve said before that it’s a bit hard to read all the way through the series exactly what Collinson’s position re: Porter is, and that perhaps the best reading is a both / and one. It’s hard to believe that Collinson could be completely unconcerned for Porter’s fate unless we believe that he only intervened in episode 4 because he had no choice to do so or look villainous, which I suppose is a possibility. But throughout the series, Collinson seems more like a weak opportunist than an actively malevolent personality.

vlcsnap-2013-11-29-22h05m25s116The look on Collinson’s face as he defends the U.S.’s “bigger game.”

Layla has data that Collinson doesn’t know about, however, and just as she slams the file on the desk, she lays out the case for Collinson’s responsibility for the deaths of Porter’s comrades. Then she pressures him to beat the extraction team to the Afghanistan / Pakistan border. Otherwise, Layla says, she’ll report the evidence of Collinson’s implication in the earlier deaths to his superiors. Collinson is thus rhetorically forced to go to Afghanistan.

vlcsnap-2013-11-29-22h11m30s184Collinson (Andrew Lincoln) as he contemplates his options after being informed that Layla knows the score.

But does Layla honestly think he will go there to save Porter? Given the vehemence of her statements about Collinson’s lame attempts to save his career, this dialogue suggests lousy characterization. Layla is smart in this script only when it’s convenient and she’s dumb the rest of the time. A rational observer could hardly assume that Layla would think Collinson had any motivation to bring Porter home safe and sound anymore. So the characterization, too, implies poor plotting. In any case, it does have the effect of forcing Collinson to see that his conflicting impulses will now force him to pursue actively a course that’s been mostly passive up till that point (the progressive destruction of Porter’s career and now his execution in order to save Collinson’s career). It also gives him a decisive reason to go to Afghanistan, which is probably more to the point here and is intended to make us overlook the problems with how Layla is drawn.

In any case, Porter and Baxter embark on their hike toward extraction, talking over a metaphorical minefield as they walk, at first unawares, over a rather more literal one. When Baxter survives both the conversation and the mines only to be killed by local insurgents, Porter discovers a phone on his body and calls Layla, who tells him that Collinson compromised the mission to save Baxter and is on his way to the rendezvous. The stage is set.

The way Porter and Collinson work their history out is given roughly eleven minutes at the end of the series — roughly a quarter of the episode — and includes one of my favorite scenes in all of Armitage’s work.

[continues here]

~ by Servetus on November 30, 2013.

4 Responses to “Richard Armitage + John Porter status games in Strike Back: Origins 1.6 [part a]”

  1. Oh, oh, the steamroll or the wriggling by the door? Both excellent, in my little brain. hee hee.
    You’ve just explained to me why I loved Layla until the end…I was so annoyed with her in the last episode, she felt so helpless and girly and it drove me nuts. Of course, playing dumb will do that. Excellent! Can’t wait for tomorrow!

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    • I admit that I watch “smart girl” portrayals very closely, and honestly most of them are as annoying as hell. The first four scripts were not too bad but the last two were a disaster. If I were Jodhi May, I’d have been really annoyed about this. This wasn’t her kind of production, and to me it demonstrated something that Armitage said in the press around Strike Back, which is that the recession meant there was very little choice of work available.

      More in a bit.

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  2. She’s haunted me since Last of the Mohicans…I’d never seen someone so fragile and just watched them give up. I’ve not seen her in much else but I did love her as Layla, mostly.

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  3. […] from here. A discussion of status conflict in the final encounter of John Porter (Richard Armitage) and Hugh […]

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