The Strain, Season 2, Episode 8, “Intruders”
Written by David Weddle and Bradley Thompson
Directed by Kevin Dowling
Airs Sundays at 10pm EST on FX
Vaun’s death at the beginning of the season solidified Gus’s determination to serve only himself. However, it seems as if fate says otherwise. When Quinlan tracks him down and gives him an ultimatum, it’s clear that Gus has a special calling; Quinlan’s own protegee, Vaun, had chosen him to be trained to take down The Master. Though as of right now, what makes Gus something of a “chosen one” is unclear, it’s a real kicker that he had finally found some control over his own life, even if the romantic subplot that comes with it feels forced. There is nothing outside of heterosexual attraction and the feeling of impending doom that fosters chemistry between Gus and Aanya. So while it may be understandably upsetting that he can’t catch a break from always being under somebody’s control (try to empathize with that), the budding relationship put on halt due to a higher calling is just not effectively melodramatic enough to write home about. On the positive side of things, this means that Gus and Angel, assuming the ex-luchador doesn’t abandon the restaurant with the family, won’t be leaving the series for a safe haven.
There’s trouble in paradise already for Eldritch and Coco and that’s just fine. Palmer is adamant about keeping his new love in the dark about certain aspects of his business—aspects like his business partner, Thomas Eichorst, being a strigoi ex-Nazi who serves an even more powerful force of evil, or that the only reason he’s dealing with evil is to trick it into giving him immortality—and Coco is not happy about it. It’s tough to discern whether or not my own suspicion that she’s carrying out covert ops against the bad guys is valid or nothing more than a headcanon stemming from frustration over the roles of women in media as devices for male character growth. Clearly, Palmer is hurt when Coco, clad in a black satin shift nightgown, gathers her clothes and leaves his luxury bedroom because he still refuses to let her into his life. He’s stated before, he’s never had a companion by his side. But what, aside from obscene amounts of wealth, does he bring to the table that would entice a successful young woman like Coco? In short, what does she see in him? Romantic love between an older man and a (much) younger woman is not the most original of tropes, nor is it really accessible in terms of understanding what caused the attraction, because the woman is typically nothing more than a device to restore the man’s humanity, give closure to his midlife crisis, etc.
At the beginning of the season, Kelly was granted autonomy by The Master, but it isn’t until this episode that we see what gaining autonomy means for a strigoi. To look at Eichorst, it’s easy to forget that he is not human (the series reminds us this episode when he attempts to turn the Cardinal) because he acts the part so well. Kelly, on the other hand, has had the ability to behave less like a feral beast, yet her actions and communication skills have been less than human. As we watch Eichorst teach her how to disguise her strigoi features, we learn that it was not by choice that she acted distinctly inhuman: To act human is a learned ability. Emoting, speaking (and without those creature-esque trills), grasping a cosmetic sponge, all come as a struggle to specially selected strigoi like Kelly and Eichorst. Humanity is an act, yet we’ve seen moments of genuine emotion from Eichorst, such as the hurt in his eyes upon his realization that he was not meant to be the chosen vessel for The Master. Kelly, however, is still in the process of fighting against her new nature to relearn how to act human, and it’s creepy. There’s a very uncanny valley vibe in the way that actor Natalie Brown conducts herself, from the subtle doll-like way the corners of her mouth curve when she smiles to the broken way that she speaks, like a robot that’s trying to sound organic. Kudos to the makeup team as well, for choosing to cover her face with a matte-finish foundation, which gives her skin a flat, unnatural appearance.
Human or not, she still seems to love her son very much, from her very first spoken word as a non-human being his name to the way that she gazed at his picture while being made up by Palmer. Zach even shares a theory of my own: that it’s possible that the human isn’t entirely lost once one becomes a strigoi. However, the way that Kelly breaks into the Red Hook base with the feelers to attempt to capture him certainly backs the theory that it’s a child’s naive wish.