The Strain, Ep. 1.13, “The Master” deflates before our eyes

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The Strain, Season 1, Episode 13, “The Master”
Written by Carlton Cuse & Chuck Hogan
Directed by Phil Abraham
Will return in 2015

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.

Let’s be clear: nothing happens in the season finale of The Strain. The confrontation with The Master, in an episode entitled “The Master”, amounts to no more than the last time they confronted him, in that he gets away again, relatively unharmed. Their plan isn’t much different than last time, and there’s zero momentum to it. The big revelation – he isn’t killed by sunlight – sits there like a damp potato. Who cares? Why did we ever care about any of this? What’s the point of anything?

Let’s talk about Zach, a perfect encapsulation of why The Strain leaves such a horrid taste in the mouth. Ben Hyland, who plays him, is standard child actor fare – harmless, nothing special. But Zach is written to be especially oblivious and exhaustingly precocious. He can’t piece together that his mom is dead, or that they won’t be going home? Why does Eph insist on hiding the truth from him, promising that his mom will find them, other than the small irony in that she does find them moments later, as a vampire? And holy hell, why are they arming him with a sword in order to bring him on this mission to kill The Master? This episode is unbelievable.

Another problem is that The Master getting away is a foregone conclusion. He is this series’ main bad guy, so to have him defeated at the end of the first season would be a move 100 times too bold for this show (maybe The Good Wife would do it). Placing The Master as the be-all, end-all from the beginning was a mistake. Stories like this need stepping stones, obstacles to distract the audience before the hero finally takes on Voldemort. Instead, we’re left with no stakes and dead action. “We’re lost,” Setrakian says near the end of the episode, after The Master has gotten away. You said it, old man.

Gus! You thought his kidnapping would lead to something interesting? Not really. There’re these “ancients”, who the hooded guy works for, and they’re opposed to The Master encroaching on their area and starting a war, or as Gus puts it, “Sounds like you got a vampire turf war going on.” There’s a bunch of great Gus quotes in this episode, though the best is probably, “You planning on eating Mexican tonight?” Gus has always been written as an unfortunate stereotype, and thirteen episodes later, it’s worse than ever.

This episode is one of the more disappointing hours of television in recent memory. The redeeming qualities are few and far between, though a great one is having Eldrich walking around, yelling at Fitzwilliam like, “What a load of horseshit! You self-righteous son of a bitch! How dare you defy me!” Jonathan Hyde chews the hell out this campy fare, leading to a great moment when he just throws a senator off a balcony. It’s hilarious and unexpected, two things The Strain could use much more of.

This is just grasping at straws, though. The Strain held promise in those moments when it was a fun vampire show, but too often it borrowed from The Walking Dead‘s wheelhouse when it’s far more suited to what American Horror Story does. If the writers can’t make us care about their characters, fine- at least have them do cool stuff. Don’t reach for emotional moments that invariably fall resoundingly flat. Don’t set up the same action scene we’ve seen time and time again and then film it as if a layperson picked up a camera and just did what they could. Don’t have your characters behave in frustrating and stupid ways and expect us to feel sympathy for the consequences. And don’t expect us to feel anything when Eph takes a swig of booze, other than maybe amusement. Because who cares?

Seriously, who cares?

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