I don’t care how wrong it sounds – a burgeoning outbreak is so far the best thing to happen to this show.
I know The Strain hasn’t been that good a series for a lot of people. Even I’ll admit it’s definitely not one will be remembered as one of television’s greatest. At the same time, this is a show that’s been completely honest about its desire to be one bloody, pulpy retake on vampire mythology, and I commend that honesty. This is something I’ll likely come back to at the end of the season, but for now, I just needed to get that off my chest.
Now then, I’m going to stick with thought regarding this week’s episode. I’ve been saying since this show started, there has been a consistent thread of improvement – with each new week we move further away from the personal dramas, the show’s weakest aspect, and go more towards the body horror and creature shocks, which it does VERY well. There are still some bits of melodrama this week, but we’re also upping the ante on the horror aspects. Even some of the family storylines aren’t too bad compared to previous episodes.
Further adding to that doubling down, we start this off shortly after where we left things last week. Abraham has finally started to let Ephraim and Nora know the true nature of this plague – complete with a swift vampire take-down. This week we see Eph riding sidecar on Abe’s vampire-hunting tour of New York, as well as going into some of Abe’s own previously hinted at background. Alongside this and a look into Nora’s background, things continue to go south for the three remaining ‘lucky’ surviving passengers, and Fet solves the mystery of the missing airline corpses.
Here’s where the fun begins.
With the eclipse drawing nigh, those inhabiting the world of The Strain are now on the top of the hill and slowly realizing somebody cut the brake lines.
I’ve always said the show’s strongest moments come from horror. After last week’s slow turning of Ansel, this week offers a bit of both flavors. We have lawyer Joan Luss is currently the slowest to turn, treating her transformation as something akin to a flu – albeit one that causes her to develop a new set of eyelids and start smelling her children as though they were food. Then, rocker Gabriel Bolivar has become almost inhuman – at the expense of a luckless doctor this week. I have to give Jack Kesy some brownie points for this week – even though a large part of this episode is him not really being responsive, he plays the feral side when Bolivar actively goes to feed well. There’s something kind of creepy in the moment when his manager (Regina King) finds him – he simply glares at her, dragging off the doctor he’s still feeding on and grunting “Mine!” It’s even more disturbing when the tongue-stinger she just witnessed is an afterthought compared to seeing just how far her client has fallen. By the time he later feeds on a cleaner she calls to deal with the doctor – after wisely canceling his concert – he’s past even speaking intelligibly, he now lives to feed. It’s fascinating how each of the survivors slid down into their new forms at different times, reacting in different ways. We all know the outcomes, but the different time tables keep it from feeling like the stories are being overly repetitive.
As the show’s next best element, Abe’s story continues to thread itself into Eph’s. In a moment that’s equal parts fitting and comedic, he lays out the situation to his younger colleague, calmly explaining these creatures as he prepares eggs for breakfast. One can definitely read into the scene on a couple of elements – comments on how used to this life Abe has become, as well as the old axiom about making an omelet, but in either case, there is an odd humor here. Besides this, we also get to see another kill – this time closing the thread on Ansel’s story with a bit more flourish than Emma and her father got. Again, Bradley proves the best of the cast, playing the show’s van Helsing tribute perfectly.
The flashbacks to his past are one area where I can see the mixed sentiments – while I know why they’re using it as a background, I can see the complaints about the Holocaust survivor being kind of an old story. That said, based on what we see here, it’s actually handled well. About the only real issue I can say I had as of this episode was the transitions to them were a little abrupt, but not without their purpose in the overall narrative. As a consequence of how often the survivor has been played as a trope, it’s also one that can backfire very easily in the wrong hands. To his credit, director Peter Weller handles it in a respectful manner. The darker side is kept on the fringes, but not really put out there for shock. Further, Abe’s first encounter with the Master in these scenes is nicely executed, with the first few kills out of his line of sight before he finally sees what’s going on directly. It’s a story it’s safe to say we’ll see more of, but for now, it’s one that’s being handled fairly well here, in a non-exploitative manner. With this, we’re now getting some more questions answered.
Meanwhile, Eph continues to become more and more tolerable with each week. He’s still in disbelief, and the entire scene with his car he got in the Congo is a pretty awkward piece of character development – one entertaining bit of snark from Abe aside – but now that his family has taken a back burner, he’s a LOT easier to deal with. Mostly it seems like he’s a character who’s at his best when he’s doing his job, containing the outbreak. It’s when he’s expected to be a human being that the weakness in his character really shines through. Even Stoll’s performance seems to match this, as he feels more invested in the plague story than he does the family drama – and he’s been at his best this week compared to prior episodes.
So there’s hope for him yet!
The CDC and the Stoneheart Group are mostly waiting in the wings this week. We check in on them, but there’s not a whole lot either can do, outside of Jim’s bid for redemption after his mistakes. Again, I have to hand it to Astin – for as frustrating as his actions are, his arc is still sympathetic. Even when the CDC’s director (Daniel Kash) shuts down Eph’s evidence, Jim- despite being cussed out last time- still comes to Eph’s aid, risking his own job in the process. Of course, this tells me he’s probably on borrowed time, but points for the attempt in any case.
Meanwhile, Nora steps out of the rest of the series for a while on this episode with some mixed results. Thanks to reading the books, I can understand why they’re bringing her mother in, but the character is something of a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ prospect at this time. It’s a chance to flesh Nora out beyond just her job and being Eph’s right hand, which is something she sorely needs at this point. At the same time, her mother, an Alzheimer’s patient, is another character in a cast full of them, and her introduction means Nora spends most of this episode being the pace breaker in a show that’s building momentum. It was going to have to happen sooner or later, I’ll concede that, but that still doesn’t change the fact it was going to be a problem in the eyes of a viewer.
Finally, Fet’s now involved in the story proper this week. Not a lot can say here just yet, since it’s only one scene, but it’s another nice little scare in a show that has made those its highlights. The sewer full of the dead makes for a creepy reveal, and ensures he’s finally going to be connecting with the rest of the cast soon.
The show still has its flaws. It’s probably always going to have some of them. At the same time, for what it is and what it wants to do, this has been getting more of a sense of its voice each week, and this week it’s started adding some volume to that voice. Weller at the helm was a good choice to handle this upping of the ante, and with the eclipse next week, it’s only going to go higher.
The previews show a lot of trouble ahead, and I’ll admit, I’m looking forward to watching it all come down.
That’s it for this week – next Monday brings Weller back for Occultation.
-Some good advancing of the storyline
-Potentially dicey matter of Setrakian’s past handled fairly well
-Nora’s subplot lags overall storyline
-Really awkwardly shoehorned in exposition scene regarding Ephraim