Ryan Phillippe Treks the Desert at Gunpoint in ‘Shooter’ Season 3 Premiere

Shooter” enters its third season all guns ablaze as our hero finds himself kidnapped and forced to trek the burning desert. Adapted from a 2007 action thriller, the USA show has maintained interest by staying true to its roots. It moves with the pace and grit of an action flick, revealing new puzzles as old ones get tossed away. The big focus remains the secret organization known as Atlas and the season kicks off with the ultimate mystery surrounding the possible link between the group, and Bob Lee Swagger’s father.

The season premiere, appropriately titled “Backroads,” finds Swagger (Ryan Phillippe) still held captive by the nefarious Chechen, Solotov (Josh Stewart), who seeks to gain access to the funds of Atlas. His plan is to leave the group broke and doomed, apparently a much wiser idea than simply killing everyone. Swagger is injured but holding strong. Meanwhile FBI agent Nadine (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), is trying to find Swagger while facing off with enigmatic senator and power player Addison Hayes (Harry Hamlin). Nadine is trying to get Hayes to come clean about his links to Atlas, possibly even as the head of the group, but Hayes refuses to budge. The episode also takes time to go back to 1988, when Swagger’s father, Earl (Derek Phillips), a sheriff, was mysteriously shot down one night. Solotov begins to hint to Swagger that he may know a deeper truth about Earl’s death, and cryptically tells Swagger it was no coincidence how was recruited into being a sniper.

Longtime followers of “Shooter” will be taken aback by at least one key development in “Backroads.” Suddenly the main villain from the last season is snuffed out. Solotov meets his end in the Texas desert as Swagger escapes and puts one through his head. It’s a well-done, tense action scene as Solotov, thinking he has won the day, boasts about his victory while Swagger figures out how to escape. This of course opens a whole new can of questions. Who is the real villain now? Will Swagger face off with Atlas? Even by the end Nadine has become a cold-blooded agent, poisoning Hayes in a hotel room without a second thought. How far will she go to uncover Atlas? Secret Service agent Isaac (Omar Epps) is also around for deadly chess moves, whacking Hayes with Nadine and warning her that she has crossed a certain line from law-abiding to rogue. Like all good series, the plot is designed to keep you hooked. If you are into this kind of macho gun mystery play then “Shooter” season three will be just as involving as season two. The one plot line where the episode slips is in the flashback sequences involving Swagger’s father. It is not really clear who shot Earl or why, and while we can assume more will be revealed later on, it’s not clear how rural Texas in 1988 has anything to do with the grandiose schemes of Atlas. Never doubt the writers to find a way, but the following episodes will have to justify this jump into prequel territory.

Because this is an action series, it is the moments of suspense that keep the whole enterprise going. There’s lots of testosterone in “Shooter,” especially in moments like where Solotov hijacks a truck and Swagger begs the driver, a Texan who is well-armed (of course), to not try anything or face certain death. We also get those slow motion shots where Swagger, trapped, zooms his eyes into nearby by items or rocks he can then use for a smooth escape and takedown. Ryan Phillippe has transitioned well into action star in “Shooter,” gritting his teeth, refusing to pass out, not fearing death (“it ends here, and you will get nothing”). Fans get it all in “Backroads” with rugged skill.

With Solotov gone “Shooter” is expected to now expand its plot into a bigger narrative. Like any action franchise one smaller villain leads to a larger fish. Nadine is now a ruthless player, Swagger is left pondering his past and viewers will be left pondering what’s in store in the next twist.

Shooter” season three premieres June 21 and airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET on USA.