With the clearing out of Red Hook in full swing, and the response to the vampire infection in New York finally reaching martial-law levels of importance, The Strain is able to put a lot of its underwhelming character work to the side and focus on the epidemic and vampire hunting. While the first season of the show struggled to find its footing, there was at least a compelling version of the show strictly focused on the spreading of the vampires. Typically, when The Strain sticks to either its gothic or more traditional disaster/plague modes of storytelling, avoiding the trappings of “serious drama,” it finds a fun tone that benefits the episode.

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“Quick And Painless” continues this season’s relative upswing in quality by returning to the show’s most reliable source of dramatic tension, and its greatest excuse to throw together action-packed scenes: the spread and subsequent attempts to contain the vampires. At its core, the show is an epidemic narrative, and as much as such a method of storytelling requires a certain amount of character sympathy, the fact that the story is rooted in the tropes of the horror genre means The Strain can, every now and then, also get away with broad caricature. That’s especially true with tonight’s episode. There isn’t a whole lot of plot to burn through–most of the episode sees Eph trying to get the pathogen to Washington while Fet and Dutch help Feraldo’s task force clear out Red Hook–but “Quick and Painless” still contains some of the season’s best sequences.

I mean, any episode of television that sees Abraham Setrakian seek out an arms dealer played by Jamie Hector (a.k.a. Marlo Stanfield from The Wire) in order to track down an ancient book is going to be great, but tonight’s episode is more than just fun for antique hunters. The biggest driver of the plot this week is Eph, who’s heading to Washington in order to try and get his and Nora’s pathogen to the Pentagon so the military can start using it to fight the strigoi. Getting to Washington isn’t easy when you’re still a wanted man, though, so Eph does what he needs to do: He shaves his head, and the internet breathes a collective sigh of relief. All joking aside though, Eph has never been a better character than he is in “Quick And Painless.” He’s decisive and driven, the potential success of the pathogen injecting his character with a sense of purpose. For too long Eph has been merely a shell of a man, a doctor prone to outbursts who’s struggling to raise his son in this vampire-filled world. It’s a lazy characterization, and giving Eph a renewed sense of purpose works to fix that. Plus, he beats up Barnes when he’s recognized, then throws him off the train while it’s still moving; a determined, ruthless Eph is much better than sadsack, whiny Eph.

The focus on the epidemic also heightens the human drama. Because the vampires have mostly been under wraps (meaning the epidemic has been contained municipally), the true stakes have always felt relatively small. But with the introduction of Feraldo and her SWAT team clearing out city blocks, there’s a new urgency to the story. The threat of the strigoi feels more immediate, especially when Fet and Dutch, who join the team after Fet’s released from custody, learn of the spider kids. There are always variables when it comes to an epidemic and that’s what the SWAT team, Fet, and Dutch are learning. They’re bouncing ideas off one another and learning from past mistakes and triumphs. Fet introduces the team to silver grenades. The SWAT team shows them how shooting a vampire in the head works pretty damn well, too.

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The human stakes are amplified even further when Feraldo, after witnessing Nora’s infection detection technology, is forced to have her nephew killed. The worms are inside him and there’s no hope. For Feraldo, this is the first time the epidemic has really hit home. She’s been out there campaigning for action and slinging headless vampires up as warnings to any other strigoi. Now, she understands what’s truly going on, and while her character is still new to the show, The Strain finds emotional resonance in her devastation. It’s the most affecting character moment the show has pulled off in some time, largely because of how new this is to Feraldo. Everybody else is—to a certain extent—accustomed to death at this point. Feraldo isn’t, and the death of her nephew resonates because of that.

Part of the epidemic narrative that makes “Quick And Painless” so compelling is its thoughtful contrast of the various situations the people of the United States find themselves in. There’s a thematic throughline in the episode that focuses on the way crisis, be it economic, health, or weather related, predominantly impacts the lower class. Palmer and Coco wine and dine in a restaurant, totally removed from the chaos in New York. Eph, thanks to his CDC badge and despite being a wanted man, moves through the security checkpoints with ease and hops on a train out of the city, stealing a glance back at all the people left behind. Once in Washington, he emerges from the train onto the street, where everyone is going about their lives normally. These are striking images that underscore the fact that, as Palmer puts it, “denial is a special privilege of the rich.” “Quick And Painless” is mostly a thrilling episode of The Strain, but it’s the insightful thematic throughline that makes it impactful.

Stray observations

  • I know it’s hard to believe, but Zach wasn’t insufferable in this episode.
  • That cold open is pretty great and establishes just how fast and vicious the spider kids can be.
  • Just in case you didn’t get that Eph is transforming into a new man, the camera moves from focusing on his hair brush, to the removal of his wedding ring, to his freshly shaved head. Imagery, ladies and gentleman!!
  • I’m here for Fet driving a pole through the face of a vampire while it’s stuck inside a wall.
  • Looks like Fitzwilliam has taken Setrakian up on his offer to do some vampire hunting.
  • Palmer, upon witnessing a burning building from the comfy confines of his office: “Saves us having to bother with our fireplace.” He really knows how to seduce the ladies.
  • So, is Barnes dead? I guess you can survive being thrown out of a moving train. If he’s dead, is the show just going ahead with Eph being into murder now?
  • Eph heading to Washington doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in my mind. That shaved head only does so much. That’s their best plan?
  • How about that ending? Surely nothing bad will come of this arrival.

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