Welp, this series sure showed me.
Last week’s episode was good. So good, that I don’t mind saying it’s the best the show has done so far. Why is this relevant? Because (keeping with this show’s ability to track my thoughts and then respond) this week is the weakest the show has offered to date. It’s not unwatchable, but there are so many elements that are either tedious or outright frustrating.
To at least try and start this on a positive note, let’s get the good out there now before we get into the hurting, shall we? Once again, the high point of this episode is fan favorite Abraham Setrakian, both in the past and present. Admittedly, he doesn’t get to do much this week- at least not in 2014. In terms of the overall story, it’s mostly scenes of recovery and information consolidation after last week’s Assault on Convenience Store 13. In Abraham’s case, this means a mix of reminding Eph and Nora-once again-that the strigoi aren’t a disease you can cure, as well as now explaining the rules to Eph’s son, Zach. The latter point leads to one of the better light touches this week. After having had to (repeatedly) remind Eph that emotion is a hindrance when it comes to disposal of strigoi, we see him indirectly remind us that this doesn’t mean you become completely inhuman – in Abe’s scenes with Zach, Bradley is downright grandfatherly. Even when he has to explain some genuinely disturbing things to the child, he conveys a level of warmth that’s surprising in their current context – proving once again that David Bradley is the cast MVP this first season.
Meanwhile, Abe’s flashbacks give us this episode’s big turning point – after weeks of fearing him and receiving hints of his presence, Abe finally confronts the Master. The result is a great scare, and not just due to the general presence of the Master. More importantly, it lets Abe know what he’s truly up against, both in terms of the Master’s powers as well as his own physical limitations (further hindered by the Master smashing his hands.)
The other standout moment comes with the final scene of the episode. This episode marks the end of Abe’s time in the concentration camps, when he’s saved from the veritable jaws of death by liberation forces. This then leads to a scene of a now fugitive Eichorst in hiding appealing to the Master with regards to the promise he had alluded to Abe about in earlier episodes. We know what this scene will lead to, but the execution is stellar – we finally see the Master unhooded, and after weeks of buildup, it is a suitably nightmarish payoff and final note for this particular set of flashbacks. With the conclusion of this arc, I do have to again commend the series – when you’re utilizing concentration camps in your show, it risks being exploitative, depending how it’s done. The show actually presented the story in a respectful fashion, all things considered. The camps are still disturbing, but they aren’t played for pure shock value. The terrors are instead relegated to the efforts of the Master, rather than go for the exploitation angle. As another chapter in Abe’s life begins, I look forward to seeing more of his past unfold.
Okay, that about covers the good. Now then…
The rest of this episode is taken up by four major problems – which at least makes summing them up quick.
The first of these, and this has been a punchline and source of frustration in the fandom for weeks now, is (ONCE. AGAIN.) the question of empathy in the art of hunting vampires. I’m not going to say I expect everyone on this show to be an ice-cold sociopath. If anything, this episode shows that doesn’t have to be the way. At the same time, how many more times are Eph and Nora going to have to keep being reminded that there’s no way to save those who’ve been infected? It’s a dance we’ve been going through since the fourth episode, and to be perfectly honest, it isn’t getting old fast – it’s gotten old. We at least have other characters to keep watching for, but for two people who are being presented as our main protagonists, they’re really pushing their luck.
On top of which, that ethical debate really takes a hit this week thanks to a certain event. After disappearing three episodes ago to a pretty easily inferred fate, Kelly’s new boyfriend Matt/Kirk Van Houten comes back, predictably turned. This would be an interesting turn were he not bumped off off-screen before the episode’s opening titles. Now, before I go on, I want to stress that I’m not gonna miss Matt. His whole reason for existing is just to be a jerk, so his being written out isn’t a loss. At the same time, for all the agonizing Eph and Nora do this week over Jim, to see them casually wrap up and torch Matt’s body like last week’s garbage makes their entire stance feel a touch hypocritical. I’m not saying they shouldn’t feel bad over Jim, since he was a friend. At the same time, after all they’ve seen and done, his death feels like it should have been more of a galvanizing action than an excuse for more melodrama.
Speaking of melodrama, let’s go to point two here – what cosmic entity did Nora anger to get dealt the overall arc she’s had this season? I’m not going to claim she was a particularly amazing character in the books (again, not a strong suit for this series overall) but the show has been regularly giving her the short end of the stick. This week marked a low for that by deciding NOW was the time to really address the fact she and Eph have had an on-again, off-again relationship. This is something I had known about before – more from the books than the show – but for a while I thought the series was just going to drop it (which I was honestly fine with.) I wouldn’t have even minded it being in the show if they’d just found a better way to bring it to the table. Instead, we got an awkward scene of consolation sex after the two finish lighting Matt’s body ablaze. Jim appreciates the tribute, guys.
Then again, compared to the other women in the cast, Nora’s still got a bit more going for her. I know there’s been some criticism over the women in this show in general, and in the prior episodes, it’s been mostly a minor issue. This week, it was a problem that situated itself front and center. Between the above mentioned sex scene (with Nora demonstrating Superman-level undressing speed), Dutch’s continued use as a ‘tell, don’t show’ character, and the return of Kelly’s friend, Diane the human stereotype, this week dealt half the population a pretty damn raw deal. Again, I’ll concede the books weren’t that progressive on this front, but this week felt like a step back. I’m really hoping it’s a fluke and they’ll finally get things moving in a good direction in the future.
Finally, there’s Gus. I’m going to be honest, I was halfway into this review before I remembered Gus was in last night’s episode. That should already tell you something about how much of a non-entity he is in this story. After two weeks of building to it, Felix finally turned with minimal shock or fanfare, leaving Gus to put him down with equally minimal shock or fanfare (though again, Gus is getting this faster than Eph and Nora – STEP UP, GUYS!).
I want to be able to care about Gus here. I do. I know he has more of a role in the events to come, which is something to look forward to. As the series unfolds, however, I’m reminded just how much of his involvement in the first book after smuggling out the coffin is just spinning his figurative wheels until he’s in the right time and place to move the story forward. Even some of the changes from the books have undercut his role in the first arc. I’d have hoped this would give them incentive to do more with him. Who knows, maybe his involvement will increase in the next few weeks, but as it is, any time he’s on screen now, it’s like you can hear the screech as the show steps on the brakes.
Long story short, this was a disappointment after how last week balanced being a solid horror shot with advancing the story. This week feels like it’s trying to advance things, but Abe’s flashbacks aside, it’s mostly just a lot of brooding, going over things we already know, or addressing points that we didn’t really need right now. On the plus side, Abe’s flashbacks are good enough to be worth a watch, just be sure to grab a snack or a drink for the rest – because it’s a lot of treading water this week.
Based on the previews and information, next week marks the return of Kelly to the cast. After what happened to Matt this week, that should at least provide some interesting conflict from here. I’m hoping this was just a fluke and that next week steps things up again. I’m not even expecting another Creatures of the Night for next week – just something where I don’t feel like they’re playing for time for two-thirds of the episode will be enough.
So, see you all again next Monday for Loved Ones. Here’s hoping it’s an improvement on this week.
-Setrakian’s flashbacks provide some good tension and scares
-David Bradley, after weeks of being the hardened leader, shows a softer side here that stays in character
-Eph and Nora’s moral waffling has long since outstayed its welcome
-Speaking of, the show picked a REALLY bad time and way to bring their relationship into things
-Gus’s storyline struggles to stay relevant now that he’s delivered the coffin