The Strain, Season 1, Episode 2, “The Box”
Written by David Weddle and Bradley Thompson
Directed by David Semel
Airs Sundays at 10pm EST on FX
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.
“The Box” is an episode of our protagonists moving far slower than the audience, dulling the momentum almost entirely. We spend a little more time with our ensemble, including Gus and his stereotypical Hispanic family, in a scene full of clunky dialogue establishing backstory and characterization for people that are either unimportant or uninteresting. Gabriel, the rock star, hangs out with some naked women because he’s a rock star, and becomes the first of the plane’s survivors to find a taste for blood.
The Strain (hopefully) is still clearing its throat, going through it’s long and expository introduction. The thing about exposition is that there’s a clever way to do it so that the audience doesn’t even realize it, but The Strain’s writers do not possess this ability. Instead, it’s all vague and mysterious, with threats and statements that don’t make very much sense to us when they lack context. And for what? To establish that there is a deep mythology we can look forward to getting tired of?
This isn’t to say that the show doesn’t have its redeeming qualities, or the potential to improve. Even though the majority of the show is simply shot, like an episode of CSI, there are a few scenes that work extremely well. I’m thinking mostly of the scene at the prison between Abraham and Eichorst, with Abraham fully lit and emoting, and Eichorst half hidden in shadows with a massively creepy grin on his face. Sure, it’s a little tacky to hide a shady character in shadows, but director David Semel pulls it off with what is easily the standout scene in an otherwise lacklustre episode.
Another quality the show has is its talented cast, led by Corey Stoll. The writers are lucky because I would gladly listen to Stoll even if he was ranting about how maybe the Nazis had a point, but they somehow manage to greatly disservice his character in this episode, reducing him to little more than one big cliché. Two of the notes I took while watching “The Box” read: “work vs. family SIGH” and “alcoholics anonymous UGH”. He’s even given a speech heard many times before, wherein our hero is told to go home for a few days to cool off even though the audience knows HE MUST FIGURE IT OUT ANYWAY.
The Strain is having trouble finding its footing two episodes in. It’s not scary enough to be a horror show and it’s not ridiculous enough to be a campy and fun hour, so it’s stuck. In giving all this time to these secondary characters like Gus and Gabriel, the show is reaching to make us care about them or at least be interested in what they’re doing, but little of it is particularly compelling. This episode introduces us to Kevin Durand, who played Keamy on Lost, and who appears here as a rat exterminator. It’s absolutely unclear what role he will play, and thus the whole thing feels like a waste of time.
Perhaps I’ll eat my words in a week’s time, and I sincerely hope so. But with an episode that spends very little time being concerned with the monsters or the mystery and a lot of time concerned with custody battles and when you’ll be going to mass with your mother, The Strain is straining (that’s the one and only time I’ll do that I promise) to make these people interesting, and is failing. A creepy scene to end the episode (which uses the same innocent music tactic as the pilot) is not enough to keep people coming back. We need more.
– Jake Pitre