The Strain, Season 1, Episode 4, “It’s Not For Everyone”
Written by Regina Corrado
Directed by Keith Gordon
Airs Sundays at 10pm EST on FX
From July 30 to August 23 of 1903, the 2nd Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was held in Brussels and London. Vladimir Lenin and Juliy Martov were at odds through much of it due to disagreements over the major points in the party’s Programme. It eventually reached the point where the party split into the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, and the Mensheviks, led by Martov. Nearly a year after the lively sessions, Lenin wrote a paper on the experience, explaining his side of the story, and he called it “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back”.
That could also be The Strain‘s motto. 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.
Lenin and Martov are Eph and Nora. The Russians couldn’t agree on who they wanted to be as a party, what defined them, what they were about and who could be a part of it. As Setrakian says, this particular mode of action – killing the infected by cutting off their heads – isn’t for everyone. Eph is on board, but Nora doesn’t think this is who they are. “We don’t exterminate our patients when there’s an outbreak! I am not doing this. I’d rather die from this epidemic than kill people…There has to be another way.” Then, she’s gone.
What’s disappointing about this is that Eph and Nora seemed to have switched roles here, breaking character in a significant way. Until now, Nora has been the only one willing to take Setrakian seriously. Now that it’s become “real”, her reaction is to back away and Eph (who has come around awfully fast) takes her place next to Setrakian. And why, because he’s the actual hero of the story? I presume that Nora will come around, or be forced to, but this is still a striking break in who we’ve come to understand these people to be after four episodes, which is especially upsetting for Nora’s character.
Jim’s reveal goes off a little better, mostly because it’s a relief to have it out in the open so early rather than dragging it out over the season. A lesser show would have done so, and it’s encouraging to see The Strain avoid going down that path (at least in this case). And while Eph and Nora are understandably upset about Jim’s deceit, Eph’s reaction makes me laugh more than anything by spitting, “You’re dead to me.” At least he’s showing some actual emotion? The sequence preceding this, with Eph and Nora performing an informal autopsy on Captain Redfern’s corpse, is the best of the episode, combining grotesque gross-out with real horror at what this virus does.
Faith is another theme that runs through the episode, as Eph and Nora lose theirs in Jim and Eph regains it by realizing what’s really going on and what needs to be done, while Nora loses hers further for the same reason. We also learn that Ann-Marie, Ansel’s wife, is very religious. I think the purpose of this (as I saw someone suggest on Twitter) is to suggest that the reason she hasn’t called a doctor or done anything about Ansel’s terrible condition is because of her faith, in both her God and her husband, and her inner, all-consuming fear about everything else.
At any rate, it doesn’t explain how we’re supposed to feel when she feeds the annoying neighbour to her bloodthirsty husband. The way the scene is played, emphasizing the neighbour’s irritability and playing off the sadness of Ansel chaining himself to save his family from himself, it seems we’re supposed to cheer, or at least chuckle. Maybe I’m a buzzkill, but instinctively murdering an innocent man for being a jerk does not make me cheer, and it feels out of character for Ann-Marie. Admittedly, we know little about her beyond her dual faiths, but it seems shocking for the sake of it (and as this episode shows, the writers aren’t afraid to play with their own characterization).
Which brings me to Gus, who I nearly forgot about. He has almost as much screen time as Eph, and yet absolutely none of it has anything to do with the other characters or even the overall plot. His isolated storyline essentially continues his struggle with being a criminal, while dealing with his increasingly stereotypical family. Every time he comes on the screen, he slows the show and drags it down. This is a serious problem, but it’s such an insignificant storyline that I’m bored of talking about it.
With our core protagonists split up, I’m not sure where we’ll go from here. Let’s just hope everyone gets back to acting like themselves.
– Jake Pitre