The Strain, Season 2, Episode 6, “Identity”
Written by Justin Britt-Gibson
Directed by Howard Deutsch
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on FX
There is a frustrating trend in the treatment of a recently introduced character in The Strain, and “Identity” warrants a more detailed analysis of her. She is the daughter of the Tandoori restaurant owners and a key character in the intersection of Gus and Angel’s character arcs: Aanya. The relationship of Gus and Angel is still rocky, between Angel’s distrust of a young man who grew up in Harlem and Gus’s insistence on getting Angel to admit to a past that he wants to deny. The series has established the pasts of both of these characters, and although Aanya is a participant in the story, she has not received equal treatment; she is less a character and more a device. It is only through Gus’s questions about her studies that the audience learns what motivated her to go into the medical field.
The audience is aware of Angel’s background because it was introduced on an individual level, that is to say, his history was the cold opening a couple of episodes back. Ever since his introduction, Angel’s depth-of-character has been explored. We know he had a successful career in movies, which was ended by a knee injury, and that he refuses to acknowledge his past to others while his free time is occupied by fast-forwarding the VHS of his last movie to the moment his injury occurred. Aanya serves the purpose of a romantic interest to Gus (with an abundance of flirtatious looks exchanged) and a means to create an alliance between two male characters who are not getting along (choosing to bring both along on the food delivery rather than choosing one chaperone). It’s through the two men fighting over who gets to accompany her on the potentially dangerous delivery that they finally have a unified goal, which is to monitor Aanya’s safety on the job.
The character Leigh Thomas is introduced here, but her lifespan within the series begins and ends with this episode. Before her death, however, she as able to make use of her resources to push for the mass-production of Eph and Nora’s strigoi-fighting virus. To be fair, Eph’s old partner-in-crime Rob is also both introduced and murdered, and he is also used as a means to an end: lacking the resources for medical production, he is still able to introduce Eph to people who will help his cause. Although her time with us is short, Leigh exhibits far more agency in one episode than Aanya has in two episodes.
She wants Ephraim’s company in bed and she initiates it, yet her primary drive lies with her career and she introduces herself in contrast to being asked. After their first night together, Leigh personally points out to Eph that he would not resist signing the waiver to the exclusive rights to the virus if they hadn’t slept together. So although their tryst seems to be lacking in storytelling purpose, it is an act motivated by carnal desire that does not take precedent over character identity (as the pairing of Dutch and Fet seems to do consistently). Nor is it used to create an imbalance of power by mixing business with pleasure. Pointless sex aside, Leigh has (had) a much stronger sense of purpose within the storyline: a Princeton-educated capitalistic biochemist, her drive is how best to help her company profit from saving humanity. This contrasts with Eph’s selflessness in saving humanity, providing not only great chemistry, but also an entertaining dynamic. Too bad she’s treated as a disposable character. It’s disappointing that her death, the death of Rob, the death of the bounty hunter, and the murder of his former boss will likely push Eph to disappear from D.C. fast. The circumstances in this episode allow Corey Stoll to make by far the most he has of Eph’s character and it is a pleasure to watch.
Circling back to the topic of character disposability: In this episode, Fitzwilliam provides a shining example that the usage of characters of plot devices is not exclusive to the women. After helping to rescue Nora and Zach from Kelly and the feelers (which sounds like a band name), the prehensile tongue strikes him and he becomes infected, leaving no other option but to kill him before he turns. The effort that Abraham and Dutch put into recruiting Fitzwilliam does not go unrewarded; prior to the chapel rescue mission, he provides the team with valuable information pertaining to several industrial properties purchased by Palmer. Although he had just barely become an active ally for humanity, the loss of Fitzwilliam is effectively sad, as the series took time to let the audience get to know him just enough to feel for his death. However, it is disrespectful to his character to kill him minutes after he divulges information that will help the team immensely. It’s as if the writers feel he’s not capable of contributing more than plot-convenient info and drama.
Other episode highlights include The Master’s transition into his new host-body, Bolivar, in a ceremony with shades of Catholic theology that’s fun to examine. In response to The Master’s priestly question of, “Do you seek union with The Lord, my son?”, Bolivar responds “All my life, I’ve waited to hear the voice of God inside of me; to receive him in me,” and finally, The Master’s response: “This is my body.” This final line is a quote from Matthew 26:26 (to those who were not raised Christian: during The Last Supper, Jesus broke bread and drank wine with the Apostles and asked them to eat in memory of him) that inspired Eucharistic practices within the church. While several denominations partake in Eucharist as an act of symbolic devotion to Christ, the Catholic Church takes The Last Supper rites quite literally and the Eucharist becomes Holy Communion—bread and wine that transcend their earthly form and become the body and blood of Christ. So, the torrential worm-vomit can be seen as a symbolic form of Eucharist, and through that, The Master’s immanence transcends into a new host.