The Strain, Season 2, Episode 5, “Quick and Painless”
Written by Liz Phang
Directed by J. Miles Dale
Airs Sundays at 10pm EST on FX
Here’s a recap of what happens this week: 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. Flashbacks of Abraham’s past have been consistently entertaining, yet there are none here. With so little progress worth expanding on, this week’s review is dedicated to a character whose spotlight is far too bright in this episode: Ephraim Goodweather.
There’s a feeling of dread that comes with the realization that a majority of screentime will involve Ephraim’s journey to Washington DC to share the findings that could help the humans wipe out all strigoi. The sequence of events on the Amtrak to DC is underwhelming; the soundtrack can only do so much to create an aura of suspense while we watch Ephraim walk briskly between train cars to avoid an encounter with his former boss, Dr. Everett Barnes. There is a failure to properly communicate to the viewer how bad the entire situation is. When a character straight-up murders a government official by throwing him out of a moving train, yet there’s no sense of excitement on the part of the viewer, there may be a few issues with the way the characters are being handled.
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Ephraim has seen too little growth for a protagonist five episodes into season two. His relapse into alcoholism is shown via the ever-present drinks in his hand, yet it has not led to any dramatic confrontation from Nora or Zach. This feels like an issue of adaptation. In the book, first person narration makes it easy for readers to comprehend what is going through Ephraim’s mind in every situation, including how his drinking affects his behavior. But demonstrating characters’ internal thought processes in a visual medium is not as easily done. As a result of this, Ephraim comes across as having few distinct characteristics. All that he seems to have is his son, his alcoholism (which is barely getting any attention, other than the presence of a beverage), and an occupation that’s convenient to the storyline of humans vs strigoi.
“The Silver Angel” introduced an ex-luchador whose career-fatal injury has him resigned to a fate of watching his old movies and washing dishes. Angel’s impending redemption arc—at long last, he’s able to once again find a sense of self-worth by taking the strigoi to Suplex City to protect his community—is woefully absent. Realistically, the narrative of the washed-up wrestler is not an exact fit for The Strain’s metropolitan setting, but NYC’s five boroughs contain several independent wrestling promotions—one of which features lucha libre style—that would hire a wrestler like Angel, whose success was cut short by injury. If the series is not yet prepared to transition Angel into teaming up with Gus, why not prepare his character for this life-changing decision by dedicating more screentime to his past, in the way that Abraham’s past has been expanded on? Why introduce such an interesting character so briefly in one episode only to abandon him? Even Fitzwilliam’s decision to ally himself with Abraham and company is given a brief moment of screentime, providing an effective reminder to the audience that his storyline is not only still present, but is also important to the greater series. But Gus, a character who decided in the previous episode that he would no longer be a pawn, has his storyline left untouched for an entire episode. Again, if the series is not yet ready to team him up with his childhood hero Angel, then the ending of the previous episode left room for the two characters to at least learn to understand each other, which could then lead to their unification as a team in the following episode.
One of the benefits of these characters is that they provide a look at how the human population is being affected by the virus in a specific part of the city. Going an entire episode without them results in a weaker overall picture of the crisis than what has been shown in previous episodes. Abraham’s team allows the audience to see parts of Brooklyn and Queens. Councilwoman Feraldo is not only a strong ally to their cause, but also a window into how Staten Island is turning itself into a fiercely protected safe haven for the uninfected. Palmer is the key to seeing how upper class residents of Manhattan remain worry-free, while waves of less privileged humans attempt to flee to Staten Island. But without Harlem, where both Gus and Angel reside, this week’s episode is missing an important piece of the story.