Eph and Nora have a working lab now. Setrakian is diving into his ancient research in hopes of finding a new way to kill the Master. Fet and Dutch are taking back their city one building at a time.

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“By Any Means,” perhaps even more the than last week’s premiere, establishes that the characters of The Strain are all in a new place. The threats and evils of last season are hardly gone, but right now, Eph and his merry band of vampire killers have moved on (somewhat) from the Master and are focused on different things. After all, a fully functional lab and silver grenades is a long way from the raids and failure that dominated the last few episodes of the first season. There’s almost something resembling hope in their camp.

It’s a change of pace that does work well for the show in some ways, signaling that The Strain is perhaps ready to move in a new direction. With the Master on the loose and looking for a new host body while Eldritch Palmer and Thomas Eichhorst continue the work of the Stoneheart Group , it’s time for Eph and the gang to regroup and find a new way to fight off the disease. For Eph and Nora, that means using their newly infected test subjects to work on a pathogen that could kill off the vampiric cells in a host body.

It’s a solution that doesn’t come to them easily though, and for what it’s worth, The Strain finds a great deal of tension and emotion in Eph and Nora’s continued ”mad scientist experiments,” as Fet puts it. While watching Eph take a swig of alcohol before going into the operating room to work on his infected patients is old news at this point, the actual tests he runs make for some of the show’s most poignant and stirring moments. The husband and wife who are infected know that it’s the right thing to do to agree to be lab rats, but there’s still great pain in that decision. That pain is exacerbated when the wife starts convulsing, the disease inside her turning violent, leading her husband to beg Eph to kill them both. Eph won’t do it though, and his reluctance leads to the episode’s best bit of direction. As Eph straps the husband to the table (against his will), the camera zooms out, creating distance between the camera and Eph’s experiments. The shot embodies coldness, a sense of distance, implicating the audience in Eph’s perhaps drastic and immoral actions. It’s as if we’re backing out of the room. We’re turning a blind eye to Eph’s decision because we know it needs to be done, no matter how horrible it is. It’s the kind of stunning but simple visual that The Strain pulls out from time to time, adding weight to the thematic work on display.

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While Eph and Nora’s storyline is pretty heavy, the rest of the episode is lighter. Sure, there’s still all that impending doom, but there’s also the kind of goofy, ridiculous fun that The Strain stumbles upon from time to time. That means that we spend a lot of time on The Adventures of Fet and Dutch, which is always a good thing. Fet’s decided that he and Dutch are going to start taking back the city one building at a time, which in terms of storytelling is a great excuse to get these two kicking ass on screen together. They break into a fitness center (well, Fet breaks in while Dutch uses the door) and find a bunch of munchers sleeping in the showers. After they use some silver grenades to dispose of the vampires they decide to go for a skinny dip, their romance continuing to blossom. The scene as written isn’t especially inventive or exciting, but Kevin Durand and Ruda Gedmintas have wonderful chemistry, and their pitch-perfect banter boasts a levity that The Strain could use more of.

I’m not sure the flashback to Setrakian’s past count as levity, but they do involve Nazi doctors and ancient books, so how could they not be fun? “By Any Means” takes us back to Vienna in 1965, where a young Setrakian is angling for a tenure track position and lecturing on vampire mythology. That’s when he meets Eldritch Palmer, who also shares his interest in such research. Palmer is looking for a cane used by Jusef Sardu, also known as The Master. Palmer enlists Setrakian to find it, along with the Occido Lumen, an ancient book that Palmer states explains the nature and origin of the strigoi. There’s a ton of exposition in this storyline, and while it does tend to bog down the flashbacks, it also serves to nicely flesh out the mythology of The Strain. Giving not only the strigoi, but also Setrakian and Palmer an interconnecting backstory is promising, but only if it truly influences or ties in with what’s currently happening in New York. Here, the mythology is a little jumbled, a case of too much information all at once, but it shows that The Strain does have an interest in crafting a story that extends beyond the contemporary world. That leaves open a lot of storytelling possibilities, and could potentially deepen the often-flat characters that stumbled through season one without a shred of personality.

“By Any Means” is a solid follow-up to the premiere, an episode that’s at times fun and promising, but also reliant on exposition. Palmer opening up his Freedom Center for (presumably) nefarious purposes, and the Stoneheart Group essentially back in control of how the city responds to the disease, may not feel new or exciting, but there’s a focus on expanding and deepening the show’s mythology that gives “By Any Means”’ some substance.

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Stray observations

  • So, Zach is still angry and ruining everything. How about that hissy fit at the end of the episode? Great job, Zach.
  • If it involves Dutch and Fet, I can excuse the show’s horrendous writing. Dutch: “Why do I always end up as bait?” Fet: “Because you look so appetizing.” Fet: “That’s right, I do.”
  • Those silver grenades provided a pretty cool visual, the contrast of light and dark as Fet and Dutch chopped off some vampire heads.
  • Zach just appears out of nowhere to pass judgment and be an asshole. “What’s your plan?” he says accusingly to his Dad before giving him a haunting death stare and walking away.
  • Eph grumpily throwing all his tests into the garbage is a good indication of where Zach gets his attitude from.
  • I have no idea what the pathogen they stumble upon is supposed to be. They mumble something about amino acids, so I guess we have to trust that Eph and Nora know what they’re doing.
  • The Vienna backstory here works to nicely set up the confrontation between Palmer and Setrakian at the end of the episode.
  • Vampire Kelly has a sweater of Zach’s and a pack of ravenous blind vampire children, which is probably something to keep an eye on throughout the season.

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