After last week’s dull episode, season two of The Strain gets back on track with “The Silver Angel,” ditching the previous episode’s self-serious tone and instead shooting for a lot more humor and a solid dose of backstory. I mentioned in my reviews of the season’s first two episodes that the show had found great material in the interweaving origin story of the strigoi, Eldritch Palmer, and Abraham Setrakian. Tonight’s episode fleshes out more of that story and the episode is better off for it.
The Strain turns into a fun, loose show when it engages its mythology, perhaps because that’s the only way to make a story about the search for an ancient book entertaining. In all seriousness though, the story of how Palmer and Setrakian cross paths and then diverge from one another is some of the episode’s, and the season’s, most fascinating storytelling. The writers, and the cast of actors, seem at home in this other time. Where the contemporary version of New York necessitates some sort of reality and seriousness (there is, after all, a horrible plague spreading through the city), the flashbacks allow for a brand of storytelling more in line with traditional vampire fiction, and that means more fun with architecture, mythology, monsters, and history.
The appeal of the flashbacks is largely in the small details. It’s in the way the younger versions of Setrakian and Palmer carry themselves. Setrakian in particular is more charismatic and adventurous, not nearly as cynical and defeated as he is these days. It’s in the fact that Setrakian tracks the Occido Lumen to a nunnery, a wonderfully gothic narrative touch that just wouldn’t work in the setting of modern day New York. It’s in the fact that Eichorst crosses paths with Palmer, and that he looks exactly the same as he always has. These details are what The Strain too often pushes aside in favor of pensive, contrived musings on fatherhood and masculinity.
“The Silver Angel” does find plenty of intriguing material in its current-day storylines though. The episode’s cold open is a five-minute look at a B movie called Angel vs. The Vampires and introduces us to Angel de la Plata, aka. The Silver Angel, a revered Mexican actor and luchador who now works in a restaurant in New York. For anyone who’s read the books, you know how The Silver Angel plays into the story, but for now, it’s clear from the film that he’s always been intertwined with vampires. Considering that Gus, after visiting the restaurant a few times, recognizes the reclusive actor and approaches him with admiration, it probably won’t be long before he moves from his dishwashing job to something more vampire-centric.
The introduction of Angel de la Plata is more exciting in terms of future implications than it is in execution. The episode finds more exciting material in Eph and Nora releasing their infected vampire into the world. With their pathogen now inside their test vampire, they’re hoping to lead it back to a nest and see if it succeeds in infecting the other vampires. Considering how much this show can wallow in contrived angst, it’s a blast watching Eph and Nora, with some help from Fet, follow their vampire around and see the effect of their work. When they head to the nest at the psychiatric hospital where their infected vampire camped out–“a little late for therapy,” Eph quips–they don’t find any vampires. They’re worried the pathogen didn’t work, but when they go outside, they see vampires jumping off the roof and killing themselves. The Master is taking control of them and killing them before they have a chance to spread the disease further. The pathogen is working, and it’s nice to see Eph and Nora get a win for once and take some gratification in the work they’ve been doing.
That pathogen is going to need to work really well because Palmer is continuing his work with Bolivar to bring chaos to New York. He calls a meeting of all the leading investors and financial big wigs under the pretense of getting the markets back on track. It’s all a ruse though, a way for Palmer to draw them in so that they’re attacked by Bolivar and a host of vampires, causing the markets to crash and spreading panic. The scene that follows the meeting is one of the most thrilling The Strain has ever done. It’s typical “found footage” type of stuff, but it’s so removed from the show’s usual style that the contrast makes it feel fresh. A reporter stands in the foreground detailing the meeting while all the big wigs exit the Federal Reserve in the background. That’s when one, and then another, and then a whole group of vampires come out of nowhere and attack them all. Chaos and panic slowly takes over, the reporter running while the cameraman dashes away and the show seamlessly moves back to its typical perspective. It’s not exactly inventive, but it’s a directorial touch that adds some flair to the scene.
With “The Silver Angel,” The Strain does a good job of seriously moving away from last season’s proceedings and forging a new path. The narrative feels urgent, and the introduction of new variables like the Silver Angel and Eph and Nora’s successful pathogen mean that this episode manages to create some much needed momentum and mystery.
- It looks like Setrakian and Dutch have convinced Fitzwilliam to come work with them and share any insight he can into Palmer and the Stoneheart Group.
- Fet succeeds in blowing up the subway, but he’s arrested in the process. Here’s hoping this means Dutch gets to execute some sort of ridiculous rescue plan.
- Feraldo is in Red Hook now, hoping to work the same anti-vampire magic she did over on Staten Island.
- An example of that self-serious exploration of angst I mentioned above: Eph taking Zach to the batting cages, where Zach has no fun at all and is reminded of his dead mother. Family, am I right?!?!
- Kelly and her vampire children find their way to the same batting cage at the end of the episode. Commenters: you are that much closer to getting your wish.
- I’m glad we’ve got The Silver Angel on the show now, and that B-movie introduction was fun, but those restaurant scenes felt out of place in this episode. Not the most exciting or interesting way to bring in a new character.