I’m so sorry, dear reader. I’ve been away for a bit and have just returned and caught up on three weeks of “The Strain.” I shall sum them up thusly:
— “Loved Ones”: Kelly’s very bad evening.
— “The Third Rail”: A tale of subway tunnels and a poor decision to leave Zach with Nora’s mother. Plus Gus!
— “Last Rites”: Dutch’s return, Setrakian’s mid-life crisis and the end of the good hiding place. Plus Gus!
I’m really being snarky here, but bear with me. The past three weeks have seen a considerable amount of ups and downs for our team of viral fighters. We find out in a series of flashbacks that Kelly (Natalie Brown) had a very bad day that culminated in a pretty horrible evening, not only for her but for Diane (Inga Cadranel) and Diane’s son.
Fet (Kevin Durand) has been working on a weapon, a light bomb of sorts, to fight the vamps in the subway tunnels. The Scooby Gang leaves the relative safety of the pawn shop to hunt for The Master (Robert Maillet/Robin Atkin Downes), leaving Zach (Ben Hyland) with Nora’s mother, Mariela (Anne Betancourt). This is not a wise decision given her mother’s condition and her extreme need for cigarettes.
Gus (Miguel Gómez) has re-entered the scene, getting back home safely but having to kill his fully turned brother. His mother didn’t fare too well either, and Gus has a decision to make before taking off to find weapons. He also has a final word with the landlord. Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) has also reappeared, being visited by Eichorst (Richard Sammel), who scares him into thinking that The Master shall not be granting his deepest wish.
Setrakian (David Bradley) loses his marbles in the tunnels when he comes within inches of The Master and he and Eph (Corey Stoll) almost get everyone killed with their antics. Fet and Nora (Mía Maestro) are the only two with their heads on straight. Zach goes to a local convenience store because Mariela just needs that nicotine fix or she’s going to really cause a problem.
Everyone makes it back to the pawn shop, and Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas) reappears with some good news for a change. Eph gets to deliver a message via the Emergency Broadcast System because Dutch is that darned good with the hacking and all.
Setrakian thinks back to the late ’60s and his time in Albania. We get to meet his wife, Miriam (Adina Verson), and see the horrible thing that happened that brought him to be the vengeful man he’s become. The Master kind of makes good on a promise to Eldritch Palmer. Gus has both a good night and a rough night, culminating in the vampire resistance taking him captive. The pawn shop is compromised when Eichorst and his lackeys show up for a congenial little visit to Setrakian and the gang.
One more episode remains.
Kelly’s episode, “Loved Ones,” had many highlights, particularly her late visit to Diane to look for Zach. Diane and her son don’t stand a chance given Kelly’s transformation. It’s a brutal scene, but necessary to tell the story properly. Eph has to make a terrible decision when he tries backtracking Kelly’s steps to Diane’s house. This scene is also brutal but highly effective.
“The Third Rail” was a little less pleasing, more on that later, but the tunnel scenes were well done. There was an appropriate amount of claustrophobia, particularly when the gang had to crawl through a very narrow passage. There are vamps everywhere, and there’s some genuine tension that is built during this excursion. Setrakian’s recklessness feels right. You’d be insane too if the thing you’d been hunting for most of your life were right in front of you and you couldn’t take action. There is a sense of futility here due to Setrakian’s weakened humanity and The Master’s utter control of his inhumanity. It’s a nice moment, and Bradley delivers (as usual).
“Last Rites” worked better than “The Third Rail.” Dutch’s return is very welcome as she is a complicated character that needs more screen time. The idea to use the EBS was a nice touch. Fet and Dutch have some nice chemistry working as well. A moment in Setrakian’s flashback is utterly heart wrenching as well. There’s something we didn’t know (I won’t spoil it here). Setrakian makes a needed apology to the gang for losing control in the tunnels. The pawn shop being compromised makes perfect sense given that The Master’s lair has been attacked, and Bolivar (Jack Kesy) makes a brief but welcome appearance. We also get a quick glimpse of the vampire resistance, a storyline I hope will be explored much more fully in Season 2.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
“The Third Rail” had some problems. Although the tunnel scenes were well done, the rest of the episode felt like an afterthought. Zach and Mariela’s interactions were strange. Also, leaving a young boy in charge of a woman with advancing Alzheimer’s is ridiculous and dangerous, even given the circumstances. This is a smart group, and a better solution could have been reached.
Gus’ scenes also felt tacked on. I like Gus’ character sometimes, especially when you understand how much he loves his mom and how loyal he can be to his friends, but he’s very broadly drawn. There’s more that needs to be explored with him instead of just “that thug guy who is very tough.” He does have a nice moment with Zach in a convenience store, but it seems it was all set up to get the two to meet (very briefly, it turns out).
“Last Rites” was better, but a few things stood out as problematic. Some of the flashback scenes didn’t work. Young Setrakian (Jim Watson) made a couple of dumb decisions that didn’t seem right given the length of time, even in the ’60s, that he’s been hunting The Master.
Gus makes a couple of dumb decisions as well. He’s after guns and money, which is understandable given the circumstances. He ends up doing a heist on Alonso Creem (Jamie Hector), who takes him to his wharf-side office to grant his request for both. We’ve seen Creem before since Gus and Felix sold him a boosted car. Turns out, he’s also in the business of shipping things internationally. Gus gets greedy and wants to know what Creem is sending out since it must be more valuable than anything else. I understand it was needed to bring Gus and the resistance together, but it seemed like a weak plot device, albeit with a nice vamp scene. Gus is written more smartly than this in general.
I’m still having problems with The Master’s appearance. In profile, he’s great. Head on he’s looking a little goofy. I know how much work goes into special effects, sculpting, molding, painting, shading, fabrication, etc., and the effects have been really top notch throughout, with the exception of this one thing. This is solely my opinion, but he still looks like an orc to me.
I’m looking forward to the season finale. “The Strain” has had more ups than downs and has proven a considerable amount of fun during the summer season. I’m in it for the long haul.
GIVING CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE
“The Strain” is based on the novel of the same name by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. “Loved Ones” was written by Gennifer Hutchison and directed by John Dahl. “The Third Rail” was written by Justin Britt-Gibson and Chuck Hogan and was directed by Deran Sarafian. “Last Rites” was written by Carlton Cuse, David Weddle and Bradley Thompson and directed by Peter Weller. “The Strain” stars Corey Stoll, Mía Maestro, David Bradley, Kevin Durand, Jonathan Hyde, Richard Sammel, Ben Hyland, Natalie Brown, Miguel Gómez, Robin Atkin Downes (voice), Robert Maillet, Ruta Gedmintas and Anne Betancourt.