Review: The Strain: ‘The Third Rail’

Okay, NOW we’re going places again.

I can’t rightly say this week has topped the series high point. I will say, though, that after the last two somewhat lackluster weeks, this was a welcome step back in the right direction. The fact it also ends us in a place that sets the stage for the final two episodes of this season to go off with a bang is just enough to have me looking forward to things from here on out. I have to admit, it’s a bit weird for me to say this was a step forward since not much is actually accomplished. But it makes up for it in that of the few things that ARE accomplished, they’re some fairly big steps, and also pretty well done.

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The bulk of this week’s episode is following up on what we saw from last time – Kelly is now one of the Master’s chosen, and more importantly, Eph now knows it. With this in mind, he’s finally starting to get on board with Abe’s plan. Still uneasy about the killing, he’s deferring to the classic rule of vampire logic: kill the Master, save the rest. He’s still trying to rationalize this through his world view, and honestly, I don’t actually mind it this week. The way he frames this actually makes sense, and he’s also starting to progress somewhat with the group. Somewhat.

With two episodes remaining, it’s safe to say that Operation: Kill the Master doesn’t work. At the same time, it also drives home a pretty big point for the team at this time – as amusing as some of the bickering has been to this point, everyone really needs to start getting on the same page, or the Master is going to make food out of all of them in short order. With the exception of Nora (who actually gets to show some VERY welcome agency this week) this mission brings out the weaknesses in the other three members of the team: Eph’s emotional attachments allow the Master to play him like a harp, Fet’s ‘kill first, ask questions later’ approach gives their prey an escape, and Abe’s determination to stop the Master nearly gets him killed in his refusal to yield. Each of these flaws is seen pretty openly by the group, so this stands to be a wake-up call for everyone. As much as I like them, I do have to commend the show for pointing out the downsides to Abe and Fet here. In prior weeks, the running joke was that the two really didn’t need everyone else, and could handle the show on their own. This week actually made a decent argument for why people like Eph and Nora could be necessary on the team. They have setbacks as well, but they also help in covering the almost self-destructive zeal Abe and Fet have for their mission.

Also, in a nice demonstration of simplicity, the tunnel full of discarded personal effects of the infected is good touch of foreshadowing.

Also, in a nice demonstration of simplicity, the tunnel full of discarded personal effects of the infected is good touch of foreshadowing.

Besides the character interaction, this plot was also a solid block of action-horror. Based on the clues from previous episodes, the bulk of this week’s action takes place in train tunnels and other underground areas. It gives the show’s production team some great opportunities to play around with the lighting in certain scenes, and it pays off as a result. One quite effective example is a scene with Fet maneuvering a tight tunnel as a strigoi enters behind him. It’s a claustrophobic shot done in green lighting that looks genuinely creepy on its own. Moreso than any sense of suspense, it’s just an unnerving sight, in or out of context.

and there you have it, the new winner for the worst sex tape in human history.

and there you have it, the new winner for the worst sex tape in human history.

At the height of this story, the team meets the Master proper. I won’t say too much here since it’s clearly a scene that exists more to set up future events, but I have to give credit where it’s due to Robert Maillet and Robin Atkin Downes. Between the latter’s voiceover and the former’s presence under an impressive makeup job, they’ve done very well in making the character a formidable opponent. The two work well together here as well – even surrounded by enemies, the Master still knows he has the upper hand, and revels in rubbings his foes’ noses in it. It’s a fairly short climax, but one of the episode’s highlights.

"Wait a minute. You're still level one, you ditch the rest of the party and try to take the main boss all by yourself?! I have met stupid adventurers before, but REALLY NOW..."

“Wait a minute. You’re still level one, you ditch the rest of the party and try to take the main boss all by yourself?!
I have met stupid adventurers before, but REALLY NOW…”

The rest of this episode is going back to trying to build up the supporting characters, and while I’m still not that big on them, this week they were actually watchable.

After weeks of a lot of trudging along, Gus’s story is finally starting to move forward. It even managed to actually hit a note where I could actually care about him as a character and not just an archetype. A lot of it was still his headstrong and abrasive side – which is actually pretty well suited to killing vampires – but there was also a decent emotional note on his coming home to find his mother among the infected. Miguel Gómez really hasn’t had the opportunity to do a whole lot with his role on the show so far, so this was a nice opportunity to show he has some range beyond just looking angry and killing things.

"I should have known there was a reason the show was letting me do things again..."

“I should have known there was a reason the show was letting me do things again…”

One other note I will say for the killing things before I move on – the old ‘kill your landlord/boss because they’re a monster’ bit is pretty played out, but damned if the bloodworm landing on the camera lens when Gus sends the guy’s head down the stairs wasn’t a nice touch.

Finally, this week gave Zach his own storyline with Nora’s mother. I’ll admit it, like Gus, this was actually the first time the show’s really gotten me to really care about what Zach’s doing, in part by putting him into a position where, despite Eph’s safety concerns, he has to step up and take some risks. Realizing Nora’s mother’s dementia risks revealing their location, he takes it on himself to leave the store to get supplies so she’ll calm down. Besides what this does for Zach, it also lets us see just how bad New York has gotten in the short time since the Master has arrived – looting, panic, and abandon are all common place now. Zach’s brief encounter with Gus does give some hint that the latter will finally join the team proper in the future, but it’s still not set to happen tonight.

"I don't like this either, son. But you've seen what they're saying on the web. It's better for the show this way."

“I don’t like this either, son. But you’ve seen what they’re saying on the web. It’s better for the show this way.”

This was a bridge episode for the most part. Given where we’re at in the season, though, it was a necessary one. With this, and based on next week’s preview, the stage is set for the season’s endgame to begin, which should take us to the end of the first book in the trilogy as well. While this isn’t a full knockout like the season has been at its best, it’s also done a lot of good work in building on the cast (and I’m not just saying this because Dutch was a no show this week) and the situation in the world at large. It’s an overall well put together episode that’s solidified a lot of what the show’s put together to this point and has now given us a good idea of how this is going to come in for a close.

With that role in mind, it’s done its job – I’m looking forward to the next two weeks.

I’ll be back next week for the penultimate episode – Last Rites.

Till then.

Pros:

-Good atmosphere in A plot leading to some great suspense bits

-Several characters now poised at turning points

Cons:

-In the overall story, kind of a lull events-wise

-As great as the horror in the A plot is, B and C aren’t as effective (though they each have some memorable moments.)

Rating: 3.5/5

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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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