Is this the year of horror shows or something? Are horror shows suddenly the next big thing? And are vampires really that hot a property right now? First we had the awesome Sleepy Hollow last year which got off to a great start, ended on a similarly grand note, and the second season of which is going to be on in a few short weeks. And then there was also Dracula, which fared somewhat badly but was rather interesting regardless, with a fresh take on the whole Dracula mythology. There are others, some that are on my radar, some that are not. And a part of all of them is this year’s The Strain, which started off just five weeks and seems to be doing well enough.
The Strain is an adaptation of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s novel trilogy The Strain which was originally concepted as a television show but later developed into a procedural-style horror novel trilogy. I’ve read a couple issues of the comics adaptation by Dark Horse and I was always struck by how unrestrained the entire feel of the story was and in the first two episodes of the new show, the writers and directors and showrunners have managed to capture exactly that. The Strain presents a very different vampiric mythology than viewers are undoubtedly familiar with and it packs in a lot of subtle action and tons of character development in just the right mix for a gritty, realistic show like this.
Events in The Strain kick-off when an international flight from Germany lands in New York’s JFK airport and all but four people on-board are dead, struck down by an unknown virus/contagion that CDC specialist Ephraim Goodweather has never seen before, and is working against the clock to identify and contain. As becomes apparent further on in the premier episode and in the follow-up, we see that the passengers were all victims of a very different type of vampiric attack from an ancient Vampire who is once again making his presence felt in the world. Ephraim and his colleagues Nora and Jim are caught up in a supernatural war of ascendancy, with little to no help and beyond their knowledge, a new breed of vampires is taking root in New York.
The one thing that I love about this show is that it is very realistic and unrestrained in its use of blood and gore and other graphic content. And the characters are all flawed, to a greater or lesser degree. Ephraim is caught up in a failed marriage where his only son’s custody is at stake, the unfortunate victim of Ephraim being far too devoted to his work. Jim has his own history which leads him to performing less-than-noble deeds. Abraham Setrakian is old and feeble, his glory days as a vampire hunter behind him, but unable to let go of who he was and his memories of those times. Vasiliy Fet lives a solitary life without any friends or close ones, acting like a jerk at all times in his role as a rat-exterminator.
With all these characters and more, creators Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan have done something really intriguing, for the darkness at the heart of the meta-story is very compelling in and of itself. The way that the various mysteries and character relationships are teased out is something that is doing a great job of building up the proper mood and atmosphere of the story. Del Toro and Hogan co-wrote the premier episode, which the former also directed, with David Weddle and Bradley Thompson writing the follow-up. The synergy between all the writers is pretty damn great and the story flows without any kind of pause that makes you wonder what the hell is going on.
It is still early days yet for I have only watched two of five episodes released so far, but I’m very hopeful for this, since the show has grabbed me from the get go and it really is a horror show worth watching. Very different from Dracula and Sleepy Hollow and True Blood and Vampire Diaries, etc, a definite original vision that is on-track to become one of my favourite shows of the year.
When it comes to acting, there is a bit of mix of good and bad both, but I would definitley single out Corey Stoll (Ephraim Goodweather), Sean Astin (Jim Kent), Kevin Durand (Vasiliy Fet), Natalie Brown (Kelly Goodweather), Mia Maestro (Nora Martinez) and David Bradley (Abraham Setrakian). There’s some pretty good talent here for sure, and it is fun to see Sean Astin do a show like this where he plays a character quite unlike his far more popular Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings franchise. As del Toro and Carlton Cuse have apparently said, Sean Astin playing a role reversed character is a pretty neat accomplishment, no matter how small it may seem.
The interactions between Ephraim and Nora, or Ephraim and Kelly, Abraham and the villains, Vasiliy and his… customers, etc, they all really add to the show’s overall feel. You can’t help but feel that the characters are all working at cross-purposes (in a good way) and that when they all eventually get together, it is going to be a massive epic sequence. The different story arcs are balanced well against the objective of advancing the meta narrative and perhaps that is one of the best things about the show. Nothing here feels like filler because everything has a purpose and all the characters relate to others in really neat and interesting ways, such as Durand’s Vasiliy Fet interacting with Jack Kesy’s Gabriel Bolivar, a philandering rock star who is also one of the survivors of the flight from Germany. These are all little things that are undoubtedly going to get bigger as the show progresses and that is indeed something that I want to see more of eventually.
I am actually going to watch the third episode in a few minutes, and I’m really hoping that the show’s consistency from the first couple episodes keeps up and that it proves to be as great as I expect it to be.