The Strain, Season 1, Episode 3, “Gone Smooth”
Written by Chuck Hogan
Directed by David Semel
Airs Sundays at 10pm EST on FX
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.
Abraham Setrakian, our resident old guy who knows everything, characteristically has no time for such BS, instead demanding of Nora, “You think being good is enough?” He clearly doesn’t, seeing as he has no use for her until she’s ready to do what has to be done. Outside of the thematic resonance, this scene is interesting because it places Nora in a position of having access to the truth in a way that our ostensible hero, Eph, hasn’t come close to. So far, Eph has done little beyond flail around wondering what’s going on, but Nora is the one actually pursuing their best lead. And after what happens at the end of tonight’s episode, it looks like Eph will have no choice but to take Abraham seriously.
Let’s talk about that last scene for a bit. This is likely the most exciting scene of the show yet, in terms of action and plot momentum. Thankfully, this feels like The Strain‘s final episode of throat clearing. This means that most of the episode is more of the slow piece-moving we’re accustomed to, but the final scene promises a jump in the show. Hopefully, this will be a better kept promise than the one Eph makes to Captain Redford.
The other episode highlight I’ve been kind of obsessing over is the full frontal shot we get of Gabriel, the rock star turned vampire. Now, this is after his penis has fallen off into the toilet, but it’s still a jarring (and surprising) sight. Like, seriously, what?!? (Thank you, journalism school.) It’s an image that will stay with you, and it’s treated with exactly the right amount of absurdity and goofiness, and it gives some hilarious significance to the episode title. It’s something like this that makes me believe in what this show can accomplish. Bravo, team.
That’s the good news. As mentioned, this is still a slow episode for the first three quarters of the hour. We get to watch the ongoing turning process for Gabriel, the captain, and Ansel, which is nowhere near interesting enough to devote another episode to (until Gabriel’s big moment). The scenes in Ansel’s home with his wife didn’t work for me, mostly thanks to their equally wooden acting, though when he drinks the meat juice and we just get to watch his wife’s horrified reaction, devoid of words, it works wonders.
Then, more custody battle. It’s cute that The Strain wants us to keep caring about this. Or it would be, if it wasn’t such a boring waste of time. The real issue with the storyline this episode is that, in a subplot presumably meant to get us to sympathize with Eph, why do the writers have him act like a selfish baby? Perhaps I was just reading it wrong, but all these scenes showed me was how immature and oblivious Eph is, and how good his son (and us) will be by seeing less of him.
The dialogue also continues to be consistently painful. People continue to blankly state exactly what they’re thinking or feeling, with an uninspired rise in their voice if they’re told they are supposed to be upset in this or that scene. I also laughed out loud after some pill-pusher recommends Gabriel go to the hospital for his genitalia issues and Gabriel responds with, “And what, have pictures up on Gawker an hour later?” Yikes. Also, what kind of self-respecting hacker computer whiz works for a PS4 and not cash?
I’m going to choose to focus on the positive. The (loose) thematic connective tissue of the episode, the struggle to be a good person and what that even means, is one that has been explored on many other shows, but at least the episode has a theme. Eph is failing at it, Nora is being accosted for it, and Jim is just feeling awful about being mistaken for being it. It’s not a lot, but it’s something. More than that, though, is the promise held in both the final scene and Gabriel’s penile dysfunction. After a rather grueling period, the survivors seem to have completed their process of transformation, and now we can move on to fighting them by bringing together the disparate elements (including Kevin Durand, whose exterminator I warmed to this episode). We’re finally getting somewhere.
– Jake Pitre