The Strain premiered almost two months ago and since then it has had quite a bit of success. With the successful format of the “half-season” shows, The Strain has quickly become one of FX Productions’ successes and with Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan backing it up (they are also the creators of the story and characters etc through their The Strain novels), it looks set to become even bigger next year when the second season begins airing. For me, The Strain is currently one of the best horror shows on cable networks, easily the match for others like Sleepy Hollow and even, to a degree, Dracula.
The first two episodes of the show set the basis for what was to follow, establishing the series ground rules, mysteries, character relations etc. As introductions go, these two episodes were pretty good. Wonderful blend of horror, mystery and character drama. The next three episodes go even further, and the stakes are raised for every element that you can imagine. Whether it is Abraham van Setrakian finally getting around to killing vampires, or Ephraim and Nora learning the truth of Regis Air 753, or Vasiliy encountering the reason why the city’s rat problem has gotten so much worse. All the excellent stuff from the first two episodes continues here, and it is a blast to watch.
In keeping with the poster as above, The Strain is often a rather graphic show. Neither the writers nor the directors hold back on the blood and gore, making the show a very, very visceral experience. And even when there isn’t any actual blood and gore on the screen, certain characters act a certain way which really creeps you out. Not to mention that those who turn into vampires gain a secondary eye-covering that closes horizontally. Really damn creepy. The main action is always on Ephraim and Abraham, but we do get to slowly see more of the villains, Ichorst and Palmer, as well as the characters like Vasiliy, the four survivors of Regis 753, Nora, Jim and the others.
In “Gone Smooth“, “It’s Not for Everyone” and “Runaways“, we also get to see how desperate Ephraim gets regarding what he thinks is a viral contagion that hopscotched from Berlin to New York aboard Regis 753. He and his team, Jim and Nora among that team, think that this is a curable disease, something that can be eliminated or contained or treated once it is identified. But it is far more than just a disease. It is an infection of the body that rewrites genetic code, turning a normal human into a vampire that can shoot a seven-foot feeding tube out of its mouth. There are numerous instances in these three episodes when that happens and many a character fall prey to the vampires like this, and each time I couldn’t help but be grossed out. And yet, I was fascinated. I don’t usually get to watch such a graphic show, and I guess that is part of the appeal, certainly.
Where the opening two episodes gave us a lot about Ephraim and his family problems, these three episodes are largely devoid of that angle. They focus much more on his relationships with his CDC colleagues, though we do get to see the results of Ephraim’s custody battle with his wife, one which he loses and then dives into his work rather than get depressed over. And from there, we see how things begin to move into higher gear as the CDC trio carry out an autopsy of Regis 753’s Captain Redfern who was their patient during the incident and who ended up attacking them once his vampiric nature took hold of him. And from there on out, more follows as Jim admits his subterfuge and Nora and Ephraim finally meet up with Abraham and learn the exact truth.
The show clearly avoids any direct references to Dracula. Instead, the “patient zero” is simply called the Master, a mysterious and bloodthirsty figure out of Polish/Armenian legends. The writers build up a nice mythology surrounding him, particularly as it pertains to the vampire Thomas Ichorst and to Abraham himself. In fact, in episode 5 we finally get some flashbacks to when they were both young men, the former a Nazi officer operating an internment camp in occupied Poland during World War II and the other an Armenian Jew who is brought to said camp. This is where everything really takes off. In the previous episodes we’ve seen the slow and steady development of Abraham’s past life as a vampire hunter, and finally we are getting to see it.
And it is brutal and unremitting.
Where Eldritch Palmer is concerned, I confess that he is rather boring as he doesn’t really seem to do much and is a bit of a “working behind the scenes” and not that good either. The show continues to dance around the fact that Palmer wants to be turned into a vampire as reward for his services to Eichorst and the Vampire, and nothing is really happening. Considering how old Palmer is, time is running out for him, and I just wish that he was more of an active character, doing something real and game-changing instead of sitting in his office/apartment and telling (the excellent) Roger Cross’ Mr. Fitzwilliams what to do. And that’s something that gets me, that Roger Cross’ character is so damn wasted, considering how good an actor he is. I would love for him to do more as well.
And slowly but surely, Kevin Durand’s character is getting more to do as the story continues on. In episodes 4 and 5 he is a rather crucial character, I think, as his investigations into the increase in rat extermination calls continue. He even goes down to the source, in New York’s underground and comes face to face with something that shocks the hell out of him. That is probably the best part of episode 5 and it happens almost towards the end, setting up a great cliffhanger for his arc. What is he going to do next?
Because one thing is clear: the infection is spreading like crazy. Despite Abraham’s strong insistent calls to Ephraim and Nora, nothing was done about the corpses from Regis 753 and now those corpses-turned-vampires are loose in New York, infecting more and more people. For Abraham and Ephraim, united against the Master in order to stop the spread of the infection, time is running out and they don’t really have much in the way of good news for themselves.
More The Strain: Eps 1-2.