It looks like The Strain is finally pulling out the big guns, with Carlton Cuse on board to co-write the last two episodes of the season. So let’s break it down, piece by piece.
This week, there’s honestly not a lot going on with The Set and Fet CDC Hacker Girl Connection (Dutch is back, you see), except for one major moment and one supposedly major moment. Unlike last week’s belly of the beast plot, this is mostly recuperation time, which is even more evident from the newest batch of Setrakian flashbacks. Dutch arrives with a gamechanger for the crew (“I brought you a win.”), and what follows is a lot of talk about the logistics of the Emergency Broadcast System and cool computer lingo that goes with the territory of being Cool Hacker Girl. On paper (or browser), it may fall flat but not in practice. Even with the problems that plague the CDC part of this team, their plots do remain some of the most compelling parts of the show for a reason.
The moment Dutch arrives in the episode is the moment that episode becomes something worth looking forward to. Say what you will about the character’s intelligence based on actions in “Creatures Of The Night” and the more recent “Loved Ones,” but: a) very few of the characters on this show are intelligent, no matter what their resume says, and b) she’s fun. That’s what sets certain characters on this show apart from the pack. Fet and Dutch are fun. Setrakian is super dark, but even he has his moments of “fun.” No one else on this show is fun, except for maybe when it’s Gabriel Bolivar losing his penis. The vampire apocalypse may not be fun to live through, but it should be fun—or at least genuinely entertaining—to watch. These should be the type of people you root for, and a character with a joy for life is much more worthy of that award than those who spend the whole time complaining and then wondering why no one is listening to them. Maybe because the latter is more akin to every other person on Facebook who just read a shocking news story from The Onion.
Speaking of the good Doctor Goodweather (aka Dr. Serious, not to be confused with his other nickname, “SRS GUY”), this episode is the one that finally chooses to have Eph be somewhat aware of the things that are going around him, still lacking the type of self-awareness that the character deeply needs.
“Okay, is nobody gonna bring this up but me? You guys saw what happened with Setrakian back there…He wanted the four of us to take on maybe a thousand vampires. That did happen, you saw that, right?…Is nobody questioning this but me?!”
It still reeks of Eph’s textbook need to be right about and in control of everything, but just the glimmer of Eph being in on the joke of how ridiculous everything here is is something the show could use more of. This even continues with Eph’s nerves going into his broadcast, as well as during the broadcast itself. Corey Stoll playing nervous, unsure of himself Eph is honestly the best Eph has ever been, and it’s the first time the show has really played up how ridiculous Eph’s know-it-all attitude actually looks (as opposed to how they want it to look). As a bumbling man who is clearly unsure of himself—even though, by all appearances, he should be the leading man, hero type—Eph is a character the audience can get on board with. Whether or not his message works remains to be seen, but no one can take that moment of vulnerability away from the show.
Then there’s Gus, a leading man, hero type in his own very well-toned way.
However, every single Gus problem can be wrapped up with one single line:
“Yo yo yo yo, yo yo.”
If Gus is supposed to be an example of a Latino character who is much more than a gang banging thug, then the writers’ room did not get Guillermo Del Toro’s memo. After going home to get his clothing and crossing paths with Zack, Gus’ next stop is to weapon up, courtesy of one of the characters he met during his car stealing plot back in the still appropriately titled “It’s Not For Everyone,” Alonso Creem (Jamie Hector). Gus, getting what he came for, gets too big for his britches and decides to take Alonso’s money, as well as have Alonso take him to the docks for whatever is in the crate he just got paid for. Keep in mind that Gus also got paid to drive a box over a bridge, so he of all people should know that not everything someone gets paid for is of universal value.
Like Icarus, Gus flies too close to the sun, and he and Alonso only end up finding vampires in said crate. Alonso clearly has no idea what they are, and in an act of character stupidity, decides to shoot at a trusting Gus when vampires are coming to kill them. The vampire hit squad from “For Services Rendered” saves the day, however, and grabs Gus, building up a little intrigue for next week’s finale.
There was a comment last week addressing the fact that I mentioned I still couldn’t see the point of Gus this far into the series, aside from as eye candy, even though it was obvious: He was the one who drove the coffin over the bridge. Now, while that is what makes Gus a prop and a slave to the plot at hand, that does not make him a character with actual motivations or a legitimate purpose for being a part of the story. Jim played an even bigger hand in all of this, and he’s dead now. Giving Gus moments where his character’s existence can be justified—facing off with his vampire mother, knowing that he needs to get weapons and supplies to fight—and then instead have him go with the wrong option—leaving his mother “alive” and getting greedy and distracted by shiny things—only furthers the argument that this character’s existence has no other justification than “he was in the books.”
Gus’ headstrong (at best) attitude looks even more ridiculous compared to the flashbacks of a young Setrakian in Albania in 1967. We finally meet Miriam (Adina Verson), Setrakian’s wife and the owner of that heart in the jar. These flashbacks—which are less ham-fisted than those concentration camp flashbacks—are an example of the show getting that “emotional moment” right. Even though the writing’s on the wall from the moment Setrakian’s wife shows up onscreen and they’re talking about having children (a boy and a girl), it still hurts when Setrakian realizes what has happened. And the image of Miriam and the two children she turns into “their” children is one of the more haunting of the season. It’s all a very simple, even telegraphed plot, and yet it works. The Strain doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel to be a good, solid show, and it’s things like that make it clear that it can be in the future.
Speaking of the future, the Palmer/Master plot has made some headway, continuing its twisted commentary on religion and faith in a show that honestly does have some interesting things to say about the subject, even if those things are muddled under everything else.
“He is The Master. He does. Or he does not.”
What exactly does The Master giving Palmer what he wants mean for Palmer? Palmer has battling death this whole season, and while it looks like he’s finally getting what he wants, nothing about Eichorst or The Master’s treatment of him makes it appear like he’s going to be “happy” in the end. Will Palmer be the Renfield of this team? The Palmer plot in the episode is the one that forces the audience to really think about what’s going on, in a way that isn’t just mocking the characters’ intelligence; these characters bring up some excellent questions about the show’s world, and if the show can make the audience think, that’s honestly a point in the plus column.
Then the episode literally ends with Palmer’s maniacal laughter, none of it directed at The Master’s appearance, and even though that takes a bit away from the gravitas of all of this, it just feels so good to laugh. The Master’s camp is basically filled with mustache-twirling villains, so why not just accept it?
Going into the season finale, that episode might have to be nothing short of amazing in order to right the wrongs of every other episode. Even in a season as uneven as this, the show has somehow managed to be consistently mediocre. A good season finale won’t necessarily forgive the past, but it could create a sense of trust in the series moving forward. At the beginning of the second half of the season, the show started to show a larger amount of potential and appeared to finally be clicking. Unfortunately, it’s plateaued since then, with flashes of quality peppered in around an otherwise subpar show.
But if the show’s worse in season two, then we can all have a laugh over it breaking me during those reviews.
- Billy Zane Hair Update: I took no offense to it this week, but we’re still in a fight over that crab situation two weeks ago.
- The News Is The Only Show On TV Update: Apparently all of the chaos in New York—”the current crime spree,” they call it—is leading to more conversations about guns. Someone thinks there should be more guns, another one thinks that more guns will only make the situation worse. I mean, only if instead of using the guns on vampires charging on them, they use the guns on other people trying to fight off the vampires…
- Next Week On The Strain Reviews: Be on the lookout for my haikus about Diane’s (R.I.P.) everything. Much like Reba, she was a survivor. Until Kelly killed her. And then Eph killed her as well.
- Dutch: “I specialize in passionate, destructive relationships.” Oh, so the real reason I relate to Dutch is because she has the same terrible taste in men (and women as well, for her) as me.
- Nora: “Mother is the daughter, and the daughter is the mother.” Eph: “That’s how life goes,” Do you think Eph learned his consolation skills from AA?
- Eph gives Dutch a hard time for possibly stealing the hijacking stuff, because Missing The Point is his default resting place. By the way, for someone who is apparently all about herself, the first thing Dutch does when she gets to the pawn shop is ask them all if they’re okay.
- Fet: “With your charm, the sky’s the limit.” Fet would fit in perfectly the comments section when it comes to talking about Eph.
- Nora’s mother dies, and the only positive (outside of that) is that Nora does the deed instead of let Eph doing it for her.
- Was that Bolivar who killed Nora’s mother? If so: Where is Regina King?