The multiple threads that The Strain set up in its earliest episodes are taking a long time to unravel. New and interesting variables introduced into the plot, like Setrakian’s search for the Lumen, and Eph and Nora’s developing pathogen, are either slowly moving along or being ignored all together. Season two started off with some promise, the focus on backstory and the move away from typical drama reinvigorating a series that staggered to the end of its first season. Now though, The Strain is barely moving, all of its storylines stagnating. That means there’s a ton of exposition from one episode to the next, with plenty of scenes where characters just walk around with each other and talk about what it’s like to live in a city of strigoi.

The main reason the plot is so stagnant right now is because there’s hardly any conflict. The first half of the season had Eph and Nora working towards creating a pathogen that would destroy the strigoi. Their work felt urgent and important, the threat of the virus very real. Ever since Eph’s trip to Washington though, he’s been moping around doing nothing, other than taking Zach on sad trips to abandoned batting cages. The whole Washington trip has been left behind, revealing that it was really just a plot contrivance to give Eph a reason to go after Palmer and the Stoneheart Group. That kind of lazy writing has plagued the last few episodes, where needless melodrama and empty dialogue bogs down any potential narrative momentum. How else to explain the fact that Nora’s gone from a badass scientist who keeps Eph in check to a glorified babysitter? The Strain put a lot of interesting pieces into play at the beginning of the season, but it’s ignoring every single one of them at this point.

In fact, much of the back half of this season, and “Intruders” specifically, is defined by meaningless storylines. The Merry Band of Vampires keep going their separate ways and having little side adventures, but it’s not amounting to anything meaningful. For instance, Eph decides that since he can’t get close to Palmer, he needs a sniper rifle in order to kill him. That leads him to Jimmy Wu, an “arms and everything else” dealer who just so happens to be a friend of Fet’s. When Eph and Zach arrive at Wu’s shop, they find him shot in the gut, his daughter wielding a gun in case the thieves who shot him come back. Zach tells the daughter that Eph is a doctor, so she pleads with him to save Wu’s life. Eph manages to do so with a little help from Zach. With Wu’s life saved, his daughter gives him the rifle at no cost, and that’s it. That’s the whole storyline, and it takes up most of the episode. Again, it’s a contrived way to accomplish two things: 1. to get Eph a weapon, and 2. to once again get Zach thinking that his mother can be saved. The Strain‘s logic suggests that if Zach sees Eph save Wu, then his dad can save Kelly too. It’s ridiculous, and indicative of how this show continues to take shortcuts when it comes to storytelling.

Contrived might not even begin to describe what’s going on with Palmer and Coco. Their whole storyline in “Intruders” involves Palmer hiding the details of his business from his new lover (ew) while Coco insists that she can handle whatever he’s hiding. It’s a story that’s been done a thousand times over, in superhero stories or cop dramas for example. That doesn’t meant the story can’t once again be told in a compelling way, but The Strain just peddles forced conflict. When Coco lambasts Palmer for keeping her in the dark about the true nature of his business, especially what he conducts with Eichorst, it doesn’t feel like it’s coming from an honest place. Rather, it feels like what Coco is supposed to say–essentially, giving Palmer an ultimatum–because that’s what the tropes of the narrative dictate. It’s predictable and dull, the type of labored conflict that The Strain too often settles for rather than flesh out true character motivation.

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Unfortunately, the consistently entertaining duo of Setrakian and Fet don’t fare much better throughout “Intruders.” They’re ready to put in a bid on the Occido Lumen, going to the Cardinal and accepting his price of $750,000. Palmer is bidding as well though, so the Cardinal can’t just hand the book over. Plus, as it turns out, he doesn’t even have it. When Eichorst comes to take it, the Cardinal admits that it’s elsewhere. Again, this is a stagnant and frustrating plot. I don’t expect Setrakian to just find the Lumen all of a sudden, but every week hits the same narrative beats: he checks out a new potential source of information with Fet, babbles on about the Lumen and his purpose of killing the Master, and then returns home disappointed. Just like the Coco-Palmer storyline, it’s predictable. We’ve seen the same structure, emotions, and themes almost every single week, with nothing changing.

The Strain is also completely misusing two of its more intriguing characters. Both Gus and the Silver Angel are stuck in holding patterns. They wander around the city running errands and talking, in the most strained way possible, about life in this new world. When Gus and the Silver Angel are heading to pick up a delivery for the restaurant, Gus, completely out of nowhere, says, “do you ever wonder about God?” The thought isn’t necessarily misguided–who wouldn’t be thinking about faith and religion during a time like this?–but the way Gus just jumps into the conversation, because the script dictates that this is when Gus talks to the Silver Angel about existential things, feels completely forced. One instance of such contrived dialogue and plot would be negligible, but when “Intruders” delivers one after another, it’s hard to forgive. It’s evidence of a frustrating groove the show has settled in to, where the writers consistently shrug off any sort of character development or believable motivation. Essentially, “Intruders” represents and amplifies all of this season’s flaws.

Stray observations

  • That opening scene, where Eichorst is dressing up Kelly and teaching her to be more “human,” is wonderfully creepy. More scenes like that, please!
  • These are the end times, so everyone wants to sell their ancient books in exchange for gold.
  • I was pretty excited for Quinlan to show up this season, but now he’s just being wasted like every other great character from the books. I’m sure he’ll have his moment before season’s end, especially since he’s recruiting Gus, but enough with the brooding and threatening.
  • The final scene is pretty exciting, but it’s only ppssible because, once again, the writers take a shortcut. Zach just opens the door for Kelly despite being told numerous times that his mom is dead. Oh, and she and some spider kids tried to kill him in a church. When will he learn?
  • Eph’s secret is finally out. Nora now knows that he murdered Barnes. I wish I could work up some enthusiasm about that mattering in the future, but I just can’t anymore.

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