Vincenzo Natali, who directed last week’s episode, returns as director for the finale and presents the best-looking episode of the series so far.
The season finale can’t come soon enough; interpret this as a very positive statement. Several episodes this season have fallen flat as a result of not making the most of their time slot.
Eichorst is a monster. This has been made very clear. He’s a former Nazi. He serves an ancient evil who wants to transform the world into his brood. He’s a strigoi, making him a literal monster.
“The Assassins” is an episode whose (practically) every moment is packed action, drama, and even melodrama. With the season drawing to a close in just a few episodes, it’s no wonder why.
Every year fans from all over the world flock to Toronto to celebrate Fan Expo Canada. Held inside of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Fan Expo Canada is Canada’s largest (North America’s third largest) annual celebration of comics, sci-fi, fantasy, horror and video games.
Vaun’s death at the beginning of the season solidified Gus’s determination to serve only himself. However, it seems as if fate says otherwise. When Quinlan tracks him down and gives him an ultimatum, it’s clear that Gus has a special calling.
While musing over how the story has progressed so far in the second season, something came to light: it’s no wonder that side characters in The Strain have a habit of not living very long once they come into contact with any one of our band of heroes. Sometimes the loss is effective—the deaths of Leigh and Fitzwilliam in last week’s episode are still worthy of lamenting because their characters had been defined.
There is a frustrating trend in the treatment of a recently introduced character in The Strain, and “Identity” warrants a more detailed analysis of her. She is the daughter of the Tandoori restaurant owners and a key character in the intersection of Gus and Angel’s character arcs: Aanya.
Here’s a recap of what happens in “Quick and Painless”: Ephraim goes undercover to take Nora’s and his findings to Washington DC, Nora and Dutch negotiate Fet’s release from police custody, Abe consorts with a rare item-finder who should have his own Discovery channel show, and Palmer and Coco get close. That’s it. This week’s episode is sadly underwhelming for a series with so many interesting plot points to expand upon.
The cold opening of episode four connects itself to The Strain in three different ways. The relevancy of the first two to the series are easily discernible. First, the narrative of the black-and-white lucha libre B-horror and the present day horror drama series share the same major conflict: human vs vampire.
Danger escalates within season two’s first three episodes as inter-state highways are closed off and travel becomes heavily regulated. The constant sound of sirens and gunfire mixed with panicked voices in the background serves as a relentless reminder of how quickly humans are succumbing to The Master’s plan.
Hold on. This episode was promoted as the season finale, and all research online confirms this to be true. But this is not a season finale episode of television. It would’ve been much more effective in the middle of the first season, and even then it would’ve been a rather middling hour. Was anyone really hoping to find out in the season’s last episode whether Eph would relapse and drink again? Was that a payoff someone was counting on? Truth be told, that could almost be considered one of the peaks of the episode. Strap in, guys, this is going to be depressing.
The penultimate episode of The Strain’s first season reminds us most of “Across the Sea”, the third-last episode of Lost’s final season. That episode came very near the end of Lost’s run, but left the present action to show the origins of Island inhabitants Jacob and the Man in Black. Choosing to halt the action and go back into the past to tell a story that only revealed a small amount and to do so that late in the season felt misguided and a little pointless. “Last Rites” is not quite as much of a side-step, but the return of Setrakian’s flashbacks was certainly a surprising development.
Let’s start this week by talking about Eph. No one particularly wants to, but he’s still our ostensible hero and that has become The Strain’s most consistent and scarring flaw. The first mistake the writers make this episode is to spend it pitting Eph against Fet in something that isn’t much more than a dick measuring contest, and everyone is undoubtedly on Fet’s side. And it’s a colossal hindrance to the show that we can’t tell whose side we’re supposed to be on. We can’t tell if we’re supposed to see Eph as our great hero, or if this is some subtle takedown of the arrogant straight white male leader trope.
The decision to devote a significant portion of an episode to Eph’s wife, whose name is Kelly (in case you understandably couldn’t remember), was pretty ballsy for The Strain at this stage of the game. This is a tangential character that we have literally no emotional connection with, but the crux of this storyline is the writers’ belief that we should care about her slow descent into vampirism. This is compounded by the fact that we can’t even connect to how this supposedly heartbreaking development will affect Eph since we don’t really care. If the intention of these scenes was to have them weigh heavy on us emotionally, they were an utter failure.
We have only four episodes left, so it’s not surprising that The Strain uses “The Disappeared” to slow things down (that picture above was used to promote the episode), do a little table-setting, and generally take a breather. It’s still disappointing. After the continuous momentum of the last few weeks, culminating in last week’s exciting pot-boiler episode, it’s a shame that the show chooses to fall into the same trap most 13-to-22 episode-per-season series fall into by slowing down before the final rush.
Often in serialized television, some of the best episodes come when the action is narrowed down and focused on a specific character (as in “Two Boats and a Helicopter” and “Guest”, in the ongoing first season of The Leftovers) or location (as in “Fight”, the recent hotel room-set episode of Masters of Sex). “Creatures of the Night” is a rather effective combination of the two, resulting in a quasi-bottle episode largely taking place in a gas station as Eph, Nora, Jim, Setrakian and Fet(!!!) star in their own mini horror story, an hour of fun TV.
This is Richard Sammel’s episode. As the Nazi vampire Eichorst, Sammel has been excellent up until now, but “For Services Rendered” gives him ample screen time to wow us, both in the present and in flashback. He is firing on all cylinders this week, to use a frustratingly apt cliché, to the point where it seemed certain they were going to kill him off after focusing so much on him. Luckily, he hitches a ride on the side of a passing train car, which is badass.
This is a flip-flop show. One week it’ll leave us questioning what went wrong, the next we’ll see the potential all over again. This week was more of the latter as, for lack of a better phrase, the shit hits the fan. Or rather, an eclipse hits New York City and the freaks come out to play. The threat of the coming eclipse adds further tension to the rest of the episode, as we start to wonder who will find safety before the darkness arrives. No one really does.
As Joseph Heller wrote in Catch-22, “Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them.” The Strain is difficult to categorize. The cynical part of me thinks it was born mediocre and I’ve just been expecting too much from it. Perhaps this was always where we would end up, with Holocaust flashbacks and a sense that this isn’t what we signed up for.
After the fantastic final few minutes of last week’s episode, with its genital loss and general sense of momentum, this episode thankfully brings us further than where we left off, while also throwing in a couple of incredibly misguided leaps of faith (more on that later). I bring up this random small piece of Russian history not only to introduce the idea that The Strain likes to give us a small moment of promise and then painfully disappoint. Our core group splits up this week after a couple of separate disputes, mostly because of crises of faith.
There’s a lot of talk this week about being good, as in a decent person, and what that means. The writers lay it on thick with the scene between Jim and his wife, who has just been accepted into a cancer trial because of Jim’s deal with the devil. “Good things happen to good people, right?” she asks him. “Right?” It’s like she’s just rubbing salt in the wound of his already festering guilt.
Last week, I said that The Strain would live or die based on how it balances the silliness with the seriousness. This week, it gave us no indication which direction it will be going in, instead giving us an incredibly boring episode of clichés, which is very disappointing.