Review: The Strain: ‘For Services Rendered’

Well, this week has me conflicted.

Last week I’d commended the showrunners on their decision to hold off the much-hinted at eclipse until the end of the episode. At the time, this seemed like a sound idea to help hint at apocalyptic events to come while also not selling the event short. Then this week happened, and while it’s not a bad episode, it picked a REALLY hard act to follow for what it seeks to accomplish. After the momentum of the past few weeks, For Services Rendered does tighten up its focus, but at the cost of a lot of said momentum. We really only see three major plots this week, two of which are already connected.

TheStrainLogo

This week, most of the episode is devoted to the efforts of the newly formed Team Setrakian (for lack of a better name). Having finally gotten them to take him seriously, Abe has now enlisted Eph and Nora to help him hunt out the Master, assuring that the outbreak will stop with his death. With this, the show is finding interesting ways to depart from the text at this point. Jim Kent and his storyline are probably the biggest example in play at the moment – in the book, he’s barely there for a handful of chapters before he’s killed early on. The series has in turn built him into more a supporting character with the tricky challenge of providing a sympathetic angle to the characters being manipulated by the likes of the Master and the Stoneheart Group. His storyline is a bit of a trope on its own, but the casting has at least managed to make up for that so far. Even at his most frustrating, we can see why he’s made the choices he has.

While I’m acting as Devil’s Advocate for this storyline, I have a bad feeling some people are probably going to give Jim’s wife a lot of flak over how she acts in this episode. To be perfectly honest, I can’t really say I blame her. Yes, we as the audience have seen the vampires running rampant, but she hasn’t. It’s like how I keep seeing audiences expecting characters in horror films to be genre savvy; it’s easy to entertain those theories when it’s a work of fiction. If you’re a character in said fiction, the odds that you’re going to buy it are laughable. So when Jim shows up with his colleague who’s wanted for murder and in FBI custody, and they come up with a story about vampires…hey, I can’t really give her too much grief here. Sometimes you need to put yourself in a character’s shoes.

"Okay, so we're clear... You don't mind my taking bribes from the corrupt corporation, you're only angry about the vampires, right?"

“Okay, so we’re clear…
You don’t mind my taking bribes from the corrupt corporation, you’re only angry about the vampires, right?”

Those points aside, time to get back to the overall Team Setrakian storyline. The plan this week is a promising one on paper, but doesn’t really add much to the overall narrative. I liked the idea of the new plan to try and trap Eichorst, but it feels somewhat like a one-off in the overall story: he slips right through and barring a brief moment with Setrakian, the team never really seems to be in danger either, so the overall suspense is low – the one standout being a moment where Jim tries to call Eichorst’s bluff in public. The chase afterward does lead to a few great moments, though – mostly in building up to the reunion with Abe – what it lacks in stakes, it at least makes up for in leading one to wonder what Eichorst is planning as far as his own escape for revenge.

"Where is your Mister Frodo now?"

“Where is your Mister Frodo now?”

Speaking of the former Nazi vampire, he gets more time and development this week care of some further flashbacks to when he and Abe first crossed paths. While the flashback transitions are still somewhat abrupt, the context this week makes up for some of that. The scenes between Eichorst and the young Abraham are worth watching thanks to Richard Sammel’s antagonistic performance. We see he’s clearly in this for a personal gain and would gladly sell out the Nazis for his own immortality. In Abe, he sees someone he can guiltlessly confide in and gloat to about his new plans to outlive Hitler. For the time the show gives this dynamic, it’s an interesting element of this episode. As the young Abe, Jim Watson doesn’t have as much to do here, but he still holds his own – particularly in the second half when Sammel is openly basking in his evil glory. It gets over the top and a bit silly, such as when Eichorst gets quite drunk and proceeds to urinate in the room while discussing his plans for the future, but Sammel’s committing to the part enough that I almost don’t mind that. The story is still left a bit hanging, but it has me interested to see where it goes from here.

Okay, NOW I see why this episode of Drunk History was deemed unsuitable to air.

Okay, NOW I see why this episode of Drunk History was deemed unsuitable to air.

This brings us to the other main storyline this week – okay, there’s Gus but it’s really just him and his friend in prison waiting for the inevitable moment when the worms in Felix turn on him- We follow up on the now increasingly screwed Luss family. Joan Luss, the last of the survivors, is now officially in on the blood drinking – which also gives us a nice bit of creature horror to open the episode, since it’s gonna be kind of slow goings for a while after this. Actually, this storyline winds up getting all of the stakes this week; while the husband is pretty well doomed, we do still focus on the children and their nanny, Neeva (Kim Roberts). Roberts continues to play one of the few people on this show who, when faced with the inhuman, has decided to take the logical role of “nuts to this! I’m out!” and is focusing on trying to protect the kids. Which is all well and good until her daughter talks her into bringing the kids back home.

The group, consisting of Neeva, the two kids, and Sebastiene (Shailene Garnett) find the situation to be about as bad as Neeva warned them about. The result of which makes for an effectively tense chase sequence through the Luss residence. There were two things in particular that I really liked on this storyline: The first was how they offered another varied transformation in how Joan has turned – where we previously saw Ansel recognizing he was changing and actively tried to keep his loved ones away, Joan starts realizing her family smells really, really good. Any sign of recognition is gone as her horrified children try to appeal to a sense of humanity that we can see has long since died out. The other thing was, as I hinted earlier, this was the story that felt like it had genuine risk this week. We see Neeva and the others trapped in a room as Joan and her newly turned husband try to force their way in. These aren’t main characters, so we have no reason to believe they’ll be safe – especially having seen how some of these other stories involving the loved ones of victims have ended.

also, this week we get to see Tyrol from Battlestar Galactica attacked and eaten. Nothing against the character, just an interesting bit of trivia.

also, this week we get to see Tyrol from Battlestar Galactica attacked and turned.
Nothing against the character, just an interesting bit of trivia.

It looks grim until the end of this episode and storyline, and honestly, it’s the best part of this episode. This is one of those areas where, having read the books, I am pleased with the show’s departure from the text: this week culminating in the arrival of a black-clad vampire hit squad. I know it may seem random, but to be honest, they kind of arrive out of nowhere in the book as well. It’s just not a story you can really ease into. For what we do get here, it’s a memorable introduction. After this hit squad quickly dispatches of Joan and her husband, they suddenly become friendly (as friendly as vampires can be, anyway) in order to properly ascertain if Neeva and the others were, in their words, corrupted or not.
It’s a change of pace for the story, but an interesting one that I’m looking forward to its development in the coming weeks, especially knowing who they’re connected with.

"Yes, we know. You expected less Cobra Commander, more Blade. We can nitpick that once the others are dead."

“Yes, we know. You expected less Cobra Commander, more Blade. We can nitpick that once we’ve got the rest of the outbreak dealt with.”

I’ll just say outright – I didn’t find this to be a particularly strong episode compared to the last few weeks. It’s well-shot and the ending has a lot of potential for the coming weeks, but much of it really doesn’t do much for the overall story. Outside of a bit more development between Eichorst and Setrakian, this is largely just an episode biding time. It’s not bad, but after last week, it feels like a step down.
On the plus side, again, it could have been a lot worse, and it set up some interesting material to come, so I’m staying optimistic for next week.

Next Monday, coverage will continue with Creatures of the Night.

Till then.

Pros:

-Richard Sammel cranking up the ‘evil bastard’ this week

-Episode ends strong with promise for future events

Cons:

-Episode’s A Plot doesn’t accomplish much

-While this wasn’t a bad episode overall, it just wasn’t a good time for a slowdown ep.

Rating: 3/5

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This is what happens when a man takes a degree in English and the excessive analytic skills therein and chooses to use them for... ...is this evil? I'm not sure. But there are monsters and potentially robots, so there's potential for evil. ...we'll get back to you on that.

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Guyinthe3rdrow

This is what happens when a man takes a degree in English and the excessive analytic skills therein and chooses to use them for... ...is this evil? I'm not sure. But there are monsters and potentially robots, so there's potential for evil. ...we'll get back to you on that.

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  1. Pingback: Review: The Strain: 'Creatures of the Night' | Moar Powah!

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