For a show that is all written, filmed, and in the can at this point, The Strain is getting eerily good at responding to my praises and criticisms.
In the past I’ve praised the show for dropping its family drama storylines, only for them to come back the next week with a vengeance. I praised the eclipse as foreshadowing a major turning point, only for the next week to be an alright, but somewhat underwhelming episode.
Now, the show goes from that “meh” feeling of last week to a contained episode that is arguably the show’s best to date.
…they sure showed me.
When discussing ‘For Services Rendered’ last week, I spoke pretty well for the flashback acting and the episode’s ending, while one of the big complaints was how much of the episode really didn’t amount to much. The bulk of the plot was devoted to a plot to trap Eichorst that had stakes so incredibly low that it was hard to maintain the interest (I will admit, it was the ending that really tipped the scale to a 3.0.)
This week we see another contained storyline, and has no other B or C plot to worry about. Once Eph and co. hook up with everyone’s favorite exterminator AKA Fet, the story holds on them for the entire time. Besides this tight focus, the episode also does the one thing the Eichorst plan didn’t really do – it conveys an actual sense of danger. Yes, it was clear certain characters would survive, but there was also a feeling that many of them wouldn’t make it out of this one alive, and several don’t. That the episode also had Setrakian providing more information on the nature of the strigoi was more the bloody icing on this cake.
Even more impressive in this case is the fact that, when you get down to it, the story this episode is running with is a pretty well worn horror concept: the small group of survivors trapped in a location being besieged by monsters. After an introduction bringing Eph’s team and Fet together in a convenience store with a few other soon-to-be survivors, the show wastes no time getting its storyline rolling. The team starts noticing several creatures skulking around outside the store. After Setrakian disposes of one, the proverbial shinola hits the fan, and the strigoi are descending on the store like locusts. It’s the kind of story one could watch without having seen the series before the point and still be able to get into – yeah, there’s parts that might be a bit perplexing at first, but overall, most of what you really need to know for the sake of this week’s story is either outlined within the episode or is relatively easy to infer as you go.
Besides bringing two new members to Team Setrakian this week- alongside Fet, fate has seen fit to bring hacker Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas) into the fold – this week marked the sendoff for Jim Kent. I can’t say it was a particularly tearful send-off, but one of the better handled parts of the episode on a few fronts. To start with, it’s a well-executed switcharound, both for the audience and the characters. After Jim is infected with the vampiric blood worms, Eph,despite his earlier anger towards him, desperately tries to save his friend, going so far as to perform a risky act of impromptu surgery to extract the worm. At first, the series even leads you to believe he succeeded, before revealing – with a great shot of a worm crawling under Jim’s cheek- that Jim’s infection is past the point of saving. It’s an understated bit of body horror, but it does its job well. It’s both visually disturbing while selling the point of Jim’s (and others’) fate: there is no magical medical cure for this – once it’s inside you, your only options are to let it take you or be killed before that point. This choice also leads to the first of what will likely be many conflicts of ethics between Eph and Fet. This marks one of the first times I’ve really cared that much for Eph as a character on the show. While I, as an audience member, am frustrated with him, I also have to concede his flaw here is one of his better touches – he’s still trying to view this as though it’s a virus that can be treated. By comparison, Fet sees this for what it truly is – an infestation that can’t be reversed, only wiped out. Despite how cold the latter assessment may sound, the show does still seek to present both sides as human here: as Eph argues that Fet just killed his friend, Fet responds by pointing out that it was what Jim wanted. As cold as his act may seem, it’s still an act of mercy, just one that doesn’t pretend there’s an easy outcome.
Suffice it to say, that death scene provides one of the stronger pieces of characterization the show has had so far. It was executed well enough to more than off-set my one big problem with the writing this week: Dutch continues to be something of a weak character. Prior to this, her main role on this show was to be hired by the Stoneheart Group to sabotage communications in New York. It’s an idea that’s novel on paper, but the in-show execution is big on telling, not on showing. This week, that continues to be her main card in the deck, but now with several awkward moments where she discusses the fact communications are slow, with lines that seem to say “I’m not saying I did it, but I’m also not saying I DIDN’T do it…” For a woman who’s sabotaged an entire city during the middle of a growing crisis to be okay with even remotely suggesting she had a hand in that, that’s a straight-up death-wish. I’d like to believe the show may improve on her character from here, but as it is now, she’s the weak link in the team.
That aside, I’m not kidding when I say this is a strong episode for the show. It’s not a heavily complicated episode, nor is it loaded up with deep character moments, but it doesn’t really need to be. It really only has one or two major points it needs to make, and it hits on them solidly amid an hour of television that feels like a spiritual descendant of classic George Romero. It looks like next week we’re getting back to moving the story forward again, and while I’m going to be glad for that, I’m also satisfied they made this sidestop. It helped bring the team together, gave us a sense of the dynamics, and also really helped remind the team of the stakes they were playing with after last week’s tame game of cat and mouse. They have now seen a taste of the Master’s true strength and been reminded just how outmatched they are. With the combined efforts of Fet and Dutch added to the team, it will be interesting to see what new plans the show has in store.
Sorry for the delay on this week’s write-up, guys. Had some family business over the weekend that had me a bit busy before this point.
We’re back on track now, and will be back next Monday with The Disappeared.
And P.S. as fun facts go, one of the more short-lived of the store occupants this week was none other than special
effects guru Rick Baker. He’s not in the series long before he winds up on the business end of a vampire stinger, but it’s
a fun little cameo for the show to sneak in.
-Solid hour of horror that can almost be viewed independent of the series
-Good building on the character dynamics and stakes of the storyline
-As of now, Dutch continues to be a poorly set up character
-Though thankfully few, the racial cracks at the check out clerk land with a thud