Review: The Strain: ‘BK, NY’

and we’re back.

Yes, I realize the Hannibal reviews are behind. Between work and prepping for ConnectiCon (report to come shortly) it had been a busy few weeks. Those will resume soon.

In the meantime, this Sunday marked the kickoff for the sophomore season of Guillermo del Toro’s attempt to bring back the monstrous side of vampires. What we got from the opener was a showcase of the show’s best and worst sides that gave me an overall feeling of ‘It’s good to be back’.

TheStrainLogoThe season’s 90 minute opener (relatively, they padded out quite a bit on ads) does a fairly good job at recapping and building on where everything left off with last season, but not before giving us another piece of one of the things this show has done well so far – built up its own interesting vampire lore.

In this case, one of the highlights of this episode comes care of a prologue guest directed by del Toro himself exploring a part of the Master’s origins. Using a somewhat cliched, but well executed framing device of a young Abraham being told the tale by his grandmother (which, as fun facts go, is actually how the first book starts), we’re told the tale of Sardu (Robert Maillet, with decidedly much less makeup than he usually sports on this show). It’s a fun little old world monster story but also provides an interesting look at the nature of the Master and the Ancients as we see that even these higher vampires are little more than colonies of blood worms. It’s a sequence that’s a touch disgusting while also being fascinating to watch play out.

"So if this story being told to an old world European child isn't a fairy tale, then that means... ...Oh..."

“So if this story being told to an old world European child isn’t a fairy tale, then that means…
…Oh…”

In the present, we pick up roughly in the wake of the failed attempt to kill the Master last season. In pursuit of his foe, Abe is approached by the Ancients, leaving the rest of the team wondering what their next move will be without their de facto commander. Meanwhile, the Master is advancing his own plans, care of Eichorst and a much pushier Palmer.

There’s a decent amount going on, and the success or failure of it depends on the story you focus on.

Abe’s plot in the present is largely one of the pluses of the episode – it advances and delivers some interesting revelations (most notably introducing audiences to the Occido Lumen, an ancient text that may hold the key to destroying the entire vampire race) while also finding time for a nice bit of horror care of a well shot feeding frenzy.

There is a little bit of an odd discrepancy to come out of this arc that some have already commented on – despite earlier crediting of Stephen McHattie as being the book character Quinlan, he introduces himself with another name in this episode. Whether this means he’s a whole other character, the show has renamed him, or this was a slip in production remains to be seen, but it’s something I will be keeping an eye on from here.

"She works in public relations, and you're a sociopathic old man who steals organs to sustain his own life. I don't know about you two, but I'm feeling the chemistry!"

“She works in public relations, and you’re a sociopathic old man who steals organs to sustain his own life.
I don’t know about you two, but I’m feeling the chemistry!”

The one other arc that really measures up here is the Stoneheart group storyline. While Palmer still doesn’t quite realize his checkbook won’t save him forever, it’s interesting to watch the back and forth he has with Eichorst as the Master’s go-between (to this end, I will again commend Richard Sammel for being one of the high points of this cast as a wonderfully slimy villain). On top of this, the Master’s upgrading of Kelly and the introduction of the Feelers make for some great bits of horror – which continues to be one of this show’s strongest points and it’s nice to see them embrace that more.

The rest of the episode, focusing on the group trying to reorganize after what happened, makes for some of the weaker parts of this episode. Again, par for the course, this show hasn’t exactly been great with the characters to this point, but then it’s a big, pulpy vampire hunter show – I wasn’t expecting huge payout here. It just makes it awkward when it devotes this much time to something they know isn’t a forte.

Once again, the two big sufferers here are the weak links from last season. I’ll actually cut Ruta Gedmintas a little slack at this point – while Dutch still feels like something of a redundant character, and the fact this episode all but literally admits they don’t know what she’s doing – she’s at least making the most of the screentime and getting in some good exchanges with other characters. If nothing else, she’s making a decent role for herself as a sounding board for the others. By comparison, Zach Goodweather has been recast (now played by Max Charles) and the show’s track record for child actors remains…less than stellar. That’s about the nicest way I can put this. He’s trying at least, but it doesn’t land.

Well...sounding board and sometime enabler of Eph's alcoholism. Hey, everyone needs something.

Well…sounding board and sometime enabler of Eph’s alcoholism.
Hey, everyone needs something.

There is one interesting thing to come from this arc, however. Still reeling from his failures last season, Ephraim is trying to approach this problem from his own skill set. As a result, we’re getting a largely show only plotline involving him and Nora attempting to develop a virus designed to target vampires. It’s slow getting to the point this week, but the payoff has a lot of potential – particularly when the episode has Ephraim make the surprising call to keep two infected people for use as test subjects. It’s a risky move for a character that’s been getting a lot of lukewarm reception from audiences since the series started, but personally, I like the idea of giving him something more to work on here.

In a weird way, it’s kind of encouraging to see the show is back to business as usual. We’re seeing signs of escalation brewing on the horizon, and in the meantime, we still get some forward movement here as well. The show continues to be weak overall on characters (though I admit I loved seeing Abe going more ‘crotchety old man’ this time out) but more than makes up for it on the horror front. For a book I was very up and down on, this episode has me looking forward to seeing what the series can do with it.

And building on the vows made by both Abe and Ephraim this week, it will be interesting to see what By Any Means brings to events next week.

Till then.

Pros:

-Between the prologue, the Ancients, and the introduction of the Feelers, some great monster moments this week

-Abe’s meeting with the Ancients and Eph’s new plan setting up promising storylines

Cons:

-A lot of the cast spend the bulk of this episode in “Where’s Abe?” mode

-Even with a new actor, Zach is still a disappointment

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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