The reason why The Strain was largely off to a good start in its second season was because of its backstory. The show was taking the time to flesh out its mythology, to draw a connection between the contemporary New York where Eph and his merry band are hunting vampires to Setrakian’s past and further back. It’s a simple, but mostly effective way to make the current timeline more meaningful. That’s especially true when your modern-day storylines are generally undercooked and loaded with ham-fisted dialogue.
“Fort Defiance” does away with all the mythology-building and instead settles into that more familiar groove of season one, where Eph argues with Zach, Setrakian does things that seem crazy, and Nora tries to be rational around all these idiots. Without those flashbacks, the episode drags, many of the storylines stagnating and failing to offer up anything new or interesting.
We do learn early on though that Setrakian is boiling vampire worms and then dropping the remaining liquid into his eyes. Apparently he’s been doing this for some time, but no one noticed until now, when Nora finds his body on the floor with blood coming from his eyes. After a ridiculous exchange where Setrakian tries to tell an actual doctor that he just bleeds from his eyes sometimes, he lambasts Nora for never figuring it out. Didn’t she ever wonder about his age? My guess is no, because she’s busy trying to rid the world of a vampiric disease, but hey, you be you, Setrakian. Setrakian’s self-medicating procedure is gross and all, but it’s mostly just a narrative bomb waiting to explode. The true consequences of his worm soup eyedrops will surely come later.
With that morning fun out of the way, Fet and Dutch set out to hammer out the details of blowing up the subway. It’s Fet’s way of making sure more of the vampires can’t get into the city, and it may just work. That mission takes a back seat to Dutch’s love life though, as she sees a “Missing” poster with Nikki’s face on it. She realizes that the only person who could have put up those signs is Nikki’s mother, so her and Fet head to her brownstone to see if she has any information about Dutch’s ex-lover. Once there, Dutch doesn’t exactly get the closure she needs. Nikki’s mother berates her for killing her daughter, for bringing her into a disgusting lifestyle (it’s not the gay stuff, she swears!) and then breaking her heart.
It’s a frustrating scene, especially when followed by Dutch putting the moves on Fet when she’s back in the truck. It’s frustrating because it’s the show painting Dutch as this broken woman, and while that might be true to some extent, it’s a narrative move that doesn’t feel earned. Sure, it furthers the blossoming romance between her and Fet, but at the expense of her losing some of her more confident, badass qualities. It’s a shame, because the Fet-Dutch relationship up until now has been one of the show’s strong points, a fun, charming look at two people who just get each other and have found a place in this broken world. Having Dutch get cut down by her ex-lover’s mother, and then having her seek solace in sex with Fet, feels too easy, too familiar, and not influenced by each character’s actions up until this episode.
At least Zach is still the same old Zach! Eph, as promised, brings him into the lab to try and explain just what it is they’re doing to stop the virus. After explaining part of it, Zach does what he does best: he tilts his head, squints his eyes, and condescendingly mutters, “uh huh.” Translation: “is that all you got, you pathetic excuse for a father?” Zach isn’t a fan of Eph and Nora doing these experiments because he thinks the subjects are, to some extent, still people (or something like that–the show never really takes the time to explain). Eph and Nora know this and yet, moments later, they leave him in the lab alone. To absolutely nobody’s surprise, he begins destroying everything. That’s the last straw for Eph. He grabs Zach and pulls him into the isolation chamber with the vampire they’re experimenting on. He pushes his son up against the case and tells him how the vampire would kill him if he weren’t locked up, and how his mother is one of them now. (Sorry, commenters, but Eph didn’t feed Zach to the vampire. Maybe next week.) If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say this lesson isn’t going to get through to Zach. The kid is seriously stubborn.
As dreadful and ham-fisted as everything else in this episode is, there is a lone bright spot. With Gus now officially trained by the Strigoi SWAT, he’s ready to be included in their mission to kidnap Eldritch Palmer. The attempted (but ultimately fatal) kidnapping is a legitimately exciting scene, mostly because it subverts expectations and offers up some cool visuals. When Gus sneaks in under the guise of being an elevator repairman, the Strigoi SWAT catching a ride on the bottom of the elevator, the assumption is that a big shootout is about to take place. Instead, Palmer is notified of the intruders and calmly makes his way into a secured room. From there, he watches the monitors with his new assistant Marchand and sees Gus and the vampires storm his office. That’s when Palmer activates a set of UV lights that drive all the strigoi to the center of the room, where the floor falls out and leaves the strigoi laying in a pit of UV rays. It’s a scene that’s so ridiculous (isn’t Palmer, who’s part vampire and mainly deals with the strigoi in his office, worried about something malfunctioning?) that it works. The rest of “Fort Defiance” is dull and contrived but this scene is fun and inventive. That’s when The Strain is at its best.
By the end of the episode, Staten Island has been declared free of the virus, thanks to the hard work and rather dark imagery (beheaded vampires strung up on a fence!) of Councilwoman Justine Feraldo, while Eph and Nora are ready to let their infected vampire loose to see if it’ll spread their pathogen. It’s a hopeful place to be in, which means things are about to get messy.
- So, before the whole Strigoi SWAT vaping incident, does Marchand know about the vampires? Because she seems pretty chill around Bolivar despite how, you know, undead he looks. She doesn’t seem to have a clue, which is ridiculous.
- “Is this foreplay for you two?” Eph isn’t as stoked about the Fet-Dutch romance as I am.
- Dammit, Eph, just let Zach leave on the bus!!
- Gus pulling out the vampire’s stinger during his hand-to-hand combat training was pretty great.
- It was nice to check in with Reggie Fitzwiliam, even if we really only got to see him come to Staten Island and deal with racist cops.
- I’m now a fan of Feraldo. I hope we see her kill some vampires before the season ends.
- Screw you, Dutch, I’d listen to Fet talk history and architecture all day, every day.
- How terrible was the writing in that scene between Dutch and Nikki’s mom? Her mother used a vampire metaphor to cut Dutch down. I almost lost my eyes from rolling them so hard.
- It turns out that Setrakian eats pasta like an absolute fiend. Being a 94-year-old vampire hunter gives you an appetite.