The Strain, Season 1, Episode 8, “Creatures of the Night”
Written by Chuck Hogan
Directed by Guy Ferland
Airs Sundays at 10pm EST on FX
Often in serialized television, some of the best episodes come when the action is narrowed down and focused on a specific character (as in “Two Boats and a Helicopter” and “Guest”, in the ongoing first season of The Leftovers) or location (as in “Fight”, the recent hotel room-set episode of Masters of Sex). “Creatures of the Night” is a rather effective combination of the two, resulting in a quasi-bottle episode largely taking place in a gas station as Eph, Nora, Jim, Setrakian and Fet(!!!) star in their own mini horror story, an hour of fun TV.
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It is often reminiscent of some of the better action-oriented episodes of The Walking Dead, which makes sense because the episode is directed by Guy Ferland, who has been behind the camera for many Dead episodes. It has that show’s kinetic energy and sense of urgency, not to mention a well-directed final getaway scene with everyone working together, back-to-back, while fighting off the vampires (standing in for zombies). The borrowing of that show’s style works in The Strain‘s favour in this case.
Unfortunately, it also continues to carry on Dead‘s legacy of dumb dialogue. As Eph takes the initiative to break into a building with medical supplies and UV lights, Nora takes issue with breaking and entering, so Eph replies, “Burglars, vigilantes, vampire killers…add it to the list!” Later, and more insulting to the audience, Fet goes up to Setrakian and demands, “I need the rules,” so he can know how to kill the vampires. This is the eighth episode of this vampire outbreak television series and main characters are still asking to have the rules explained to them, so the audience must sit through them for the umpteenth time. Lazy, guys.
Luckily, the majority of the episode is a contained and tense horror scenario with our protagonists being put to the test under less than ideal circumstances, and it inevitably boils over in the end with the argument over Jim. Earlier, he is nicked by a vampire and in a particularly intense scene, Eph has to take a knife and tweezers to Jim’s face in order to remove a parasitic worm before it has a chance to reproduce. Phew, we sigh, they did it. Only later, the group is horrified to discover Jim’s body now crawling in the worms, so Eph and Nora panic and demand that they attempt to save him at a hospital while Setrakian and Fet think practically and know what must be done. In a significant character moment, Fet is the one who quickly takes action and shoots Jim twice in the head, with Eph and Nora inflamed, yelling he had no right and it wasn’t his decision. We know, as seasoned horror watchers, that it was necessary.
Eph appears to understand that, too. During their getaway, he finds the truck driver still alive (he had run out of the gas station earlier and was quickly bitten) and, after thinking for a moment, shoots him in the head without remorse. Granted, he was further past saving than Jim had been and he was a relatively random character and not Eph’s friend, but his lack of remorse and focus on efficiency suggests that Eph is now fully committed to Setrakian’s cause.
In terms of the episode as a piece of serialization, the most promising development is Fet joining forces with our core group. It’s a coincidence, as he just happens to be in the same medical building, but this is forgivable because of how exciting it is for his storyline to finally converge with the main plot. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he finds a kindred spirit in Setrakian, as they share a no-nonsense attitude to the crisis, as well as the episode’s funniest exchange: Fet asks whether Setrakian’s nail gun is standard beyond the silver bullets, and Setrakian replies, “From Home Depot.” The hacker girl hired by the Stoneheart Group to knock out all communications in the city is back and with the team now too, and she is even given more characterization this time beyond the simple hacker girl trope she previously embodied. This is a character to keep an eye on; hopefully the show will treat her well.
Again, despite the show’s consistent weaknesses (chiefly, the dialogue), this is an impressive display of The Strain‘s obvious capability of telling an effective horror story. With a narrowed focus, the threat seems more serious and overwhelming, and it forces everyone to be on the top of their game. More like this, please.