Ephraim 'Eph' Goodweather - Corey Stoll
Nora Martinez - Mia Maestro
Jim Kent - Sean Astin
Abraham Setrakian - David Bradley
Gus Elizalde - Miguel Gomez
Thomas Eichhorst - Richard Sammell
Vasily Fet - Kevin Durand
Dutch Velders - Ruta Gedmintas
OTHER VAMPIRE SHOWS
Being Human USA
Salem's Lot '79
Salem's Lot '04
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
A plane sits on the tarmac at JFK, newly arrived from Berlin and no longer making contact. The CDC go in to investigate and find all but four passengers dead. They also find a coffin full of dirt and some freaky worms. Forces unknown are at work and an elderly Jew might have some answers.
Guillermo del Toro has made some excellent films, full of visual flair and originality. The feature-length opening episode of THE STRAIN shows none of that. The hero puts his job so much ahead of his family that his marriage is breaking down. He has had an affair with his glamorous assistant who happens to love him. There is a coffin of dirt that is being smuggled into the country. The victims rise from the dead after a short while...
THE STRAIN is a mishmash of borrowed of ideas given a modern sheen, but nothing really new. The obvious touchstone is the Dracula story with its coffins of earth and vampiric 'master', not to mention the elderly Jew who is Van Helsing in all but name. There are the zombiefication results of the creature's feeding habits, successful vampires hiding in the shadows of civilisation, the traitor in the team's midst. It's all a bit too obvious and predictable to set the world alight.
The big, bad creature from the coffin is a little too out there when it is finally shown (but very del Toro), whilst the worms that accompany it are much creepier.
The main cast are fine, though a little low on star wattage, but the dialogue that they are given is pretty ropey to say the least. Some of the lines cause seriously unintentional amusement, which is not something you want in a horror-inflected show.
This is the pilot and things may improve. They need to, or this will be another big name director vanity project on TV that failed to fly.Top
The mysterious box full of soil goes missing and Eph seals off the airport whilst he tries to figure out what could move such a heavy load without machinery and how he is going to fix his marriage. Abraham is arrested and gets an interesting visitor in jail.
Oh dear. Only two episodes into the show and it seems to have no idea what it wants to be. There is a whole load of background to characters who seem incidental to the plot (the gang banger driving the getaway van, for example, or the four survivors on the plane) and even more background into why Eph's marriage failed and how he isn't going to be getting it back any time soon, but none of this moves the story forward at all.
There is an attempt to build up some tension as the box is smuggled out of the airport, but nothing to get excited about, and the eventual outcome is a surprise to nobody, including the identity of the turncoat. Also, how come nobody is concerned that a coroner and his whole department of corpses has just vanished?
There is a smart ending, but the last five minutes don't make up for the rest. Only Abraham facing his tormentor from the other side of a sheet of safety glass is worth tuning in for and that only puts the rest of the episode in stark relief.Top
The four survivors of the plane start to show dangerous symptoms. Eph, Norah and Jim try to save the plane's pilot, but their efforts go horribly wrong.
Episode three of the vampire sage picks up a lot from the forgettable second episode, but there is just as much silly dialogue and even sillier moments (one character loses a treasured organ into the toilet with barely a shrug) than previously. A scary vermin killer is introduced for no reason at all. Presumably, he will have some meaning later on. Abraham sources himself a copy of the plane’s passenger list, which promises some Van Helsing style vampire killing in the future. Oh, there is also some more boring stuff about Eph's family life that seems to have been tacked on purely to make this look more like a character drama. One of the bad guys shows what he really is before putting on his makeup for reasons that remain purely visual.
The tension is built up little by little through the changes being wrought on the survivors, but again only comes alive in the last few seconds as a full-on monster takes on the disease chasers in a hospital basement. After something like that, the pace can only pick up and that would be a very good thing.Top
It's Not For Everyone
Eph and Norah carry out an autopsy on the monster that used to be the airplane pilot and Jim reveals his role in the affair. Meanwhile, the wife of one of the survivors becomes suspicious about her husband’s behaviour.
There’s a lot more gore and spooky moments in the latest episode of this vampire story, but it still makes very little sense. The team have a complete corpse of the new creatures that the virus creates and can finally prove their concern about what is going on, so what do they do about it? They cut it up and then burn it and, crucially, don't tell anyone. After all, if the authorities knew what was going on then they might be able to mobilise reasonable resources and put an end to the outbreak in short order and that wouldn't serve the series at all. At least we don’t have to put up with any more of Eph’s boring divorce angst.
Instead, we get to watch a couple of criminals steal a car. I mean, what? This has absolutely nothing to do with the plot other than they have a character who has nothing to do now, so is shown doing other stuff that is of no interest.
What is of interest is the autopsy, which shows in disgusting detail what the inside of the new creatures look like. We're not sure we needed all of that, but it certainly helped define the show and give it a more unique identity. Even better than that was the section that dealt with the survivor and his wife. There was lots of tension as she wandered around the house where her infected husband was, got a surprise in the garden and another in the shed and then decided to take her frustrations out on the neighbour that admitted to hurting her dog. That is a story strand that is going somewhere other than where we expected.
And just when we thought that the good stuff was over, the elderly vampire killer shows up to strut his stuff. He really is the most interesting of the characters, even before Norah does a complete personality U-Turn and refuses to deal with the monsters for what they are. Considering that she has just witnessed what the inside of one looks like, it is impossible to believe that she could still think there might be a cure.
It's total nonsense, but entertaining total nonsense all the same.Top
Abraham tries to teach Eph the way that the fight has always been done, but he he makes one last attempt to get the CDC to step in. Meanwhile, the survivors continue to turn and the dead passengers are located.
Flashbacks. We got all the way to episode 5 without them, but this one makes up for those others in abundance. Abraham's first encounter with the Master creature in the concentration camps of World War II is handsomely mounted though a series of flashbacks, but they are information that we didn't need to have shown to us explicitly, they don't add anything to his character and they don't move the story along at all. More than anything else, they are padding.
The same can be said about the slow-turning survivors. The subplot with the goth rock star killing the doctor making a house call and the shady man sent to clean up the mess is pure padding and the lady lawyer at least gets to threaten her children in a tense little moment, but otherwise serves no purpose at all. The third survivor provides a little of the action, but the death of his wife, at her own hand, is the only moment of real emotion in the whole enterprise.
Nora's visit to see her mother is trite and tedious right up until an attacking creature takes it over the edge into completely unbelievable. Creepy pest control man finding the dead passengers in the sewers at least explains why they haven't been seen since, but then one shows up in the middle of the old folks' home that Nora just happens to be visiting? Forget that credibility, it's been stretched to invisible thickness.
Eph is outside the law now, so where is the show going to take us next? Somewhere a bit more interesting, we hope.Top
Eph is captured by the FBI, who interrogate him mercilessly, whilst out on the streets, the new vampires take advantage of a total eclipse of the sun to up the body count.
Everyone, it seems, is out of the game in this episode. The main hero is taken by the FBI (both of them), who use some seriously unethical measures considering that they have no proof of anything. Whilst he's languishing in jail, old pal Jim and street gangster Gus tip a body into a canal, which has nothing to do with anything very much except that it keeps both of them in the story. Nora spends some quality time with her deteriorating mother and Eph's wife wonders why she moved on so quickly to her new boyfriend after breaking up with her husband.
The only character who actually does anything is Vasily and even he spends some quality time with his father, bonding over their mutual dislike of each other.
Occultation is marking time, and whilst the walking dead are walking the streets, nobody seems to have noticed.Top
For Services Rendered
Abraham explains that killing the Master will destroy all the 'vampires' and Eph comes up with a plan to track him down, using Jim as bait for Eichhorst. The first time that Abraham and Eichhorst came together is remembered.
The flashbacks are here again, but this time they deepen the link between Abraham and Eichhorst. Or at least the first one does. After that, they quickly become repetitive and add very little to the mix at all.
The main storyline about the plan to trap Eichhorst is unexpectedly inept, even for these people, although it does at least lead to some action sequences, though not particularly original or exciting ones.
The side story of the lawyer from the plane unexpectedly provides the most fun part of the episode when it introduces some new players into the bigger picture, despite being utterly irrelevant up until the final few scenes.Top
Creatures Of The Night
Eph and Abraham's team go for supplies and find themselves in the same service station as Vasily, the exterminator guy, and the girl who brought down the internet. They are quickly surrounded by low-level vampire/zombies who seem to be on a mission to kill the little group. Not everyone's getting out of this one alive.
Siege storylines have built-in tension and this is a good old-fashioned survivors trapped by the evil outside siege storyline. If it was trucks instead of vampire/zombies then this would be MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE. Monsters from another dimension would make it THE MIST. Street punks would make it ASSAULT ON PRECINCT THIRTEEN. This is basically the standard Stephen King survivors against the evil things standoff. Which isn't to say that it isn't about the best episode of the show yet. There is lots of action and almost no plot. Since the plotting has been one of the show's weaker points, replacing it with Abraham chopping heads, Vasily caving them in with crowbars, Nora finally getting with the programme and killing a few herself is an improvement. In fact, the only real plot point is the unlikely fact that Vasily and the internet chick end up in the same place at the same time as Eph and his little gang.
Not that it matters. Forget the plot and watch the action. The show even has the courage to take an early twist to its only logical conclusion. Logical and predictable.Top
As the night progresses, the group of survivors worry about missing loved ones.
After last week's action-packed instalment, the show completely stalls in this episode that makes filler seem possibly desirable in comparison. Everyone sits around in a few rooms and mopes over what they have lost, what they never had and what they still have to defend. Nobody does anything at all. Talk is cheap and so they do an awful lot of it, but to very little effect.
This also brings into focus that the characters aren't particularly great. They are all pretty standard photofits and can't engage on any interpersonal level, requiring the excitement of decent story and some good action to keep them afloat. The former has been missing for some time, whilst the latter is sadly absent here as well.
And this is the episode when the Master is finally revealed from beneath his cowl... and proves to be horribly unfrightening.Top
Eph goes looking for his wife, who is slowly turning into one of the vampire zombies. Meanwhile Dutch persuades Vasily to help her sneak back into the company for whom she brought down the internet in the hope that she can undo her handiwork.
Switching the focus onto Eph's wife as she slowly becomes one of the infected is a nice idea, but it keeps the show in neutral. Instead of forging forward with the narrative, this episode idles away, doing nothing but blow smoke. Eph never really comes close to locating her, and Vasily and Dutch's mission is equally pointless, making the whole episode superfluous and the very definition of filler.
Even the irksome flashbacks to wartime Poland add nothing to the storyline.Top
The Third Rail
The gang of survivors take to the tunnels under the site of the World Trade Centre to take on the Master, leaving Eph's son looking after Nora's senile mother. Meanwhile, Gus returns home to find out what has happened to his mother.
After two episodes of vacillating, the show finally starts to move forward once again, ratcheting up some tension as the group sneak around in vampire zombie-filled tunnels whilst a child has to risk the vampire zombie-filled streets and the gangster takes on a vampire zombie-filled apartment block. This means that there is plenty of gloopy head lopping and limb slashing to be going on with.
There's also something personal going on between the master vampire and Eph. It's no random chance that the master chose Eph's wife to come to him and he seems to relish having an enemy to go up against him. That's the only explanation for why it takes him so long to kill a man whose neck he could snap in a second.Top
Dutch allows Eph to make a national warning on the emergency broadcast network. This prompts the master to send Eichborn to attack. Gus tries to escape the city, but finds himself in even more trouble.
Let's get the flashback out of the way. We finally know who the monster heart that Abraham has been keeping on his desk belonged to and it comes as no surprise. What does come as a surprise is just how stupid the man was when going up against the vamps in the 60s. He rides into a trap and despite being told that he needs to be back before sundown, he enters an underground lair just before, you guessed it, sundown. Nonsense and not really adding anything to the character or the plot.
In fact, what it's really there to do is to act as a counterpoint to Nora having to deal with her mother. Mia Maestro makes the most of the moment and thesps her socks off, but the mother's place in the plot was so unnecessary and it is so obvious what's going to happen that her Herculean efforts are undermined.
Moving on to Gus' story, he gets himself a car and a shedload of money by taking on a bigger gangster and then instead of riding off into the sunset, he gets greedy and gets himself into a corner. Fortunately, there's a deus ex machina moment to save him from all that. Actually, the saviours are one of the most interesting part of the whole show so far.
There were some entertaining moments in this episode, but we're nearing the end now and there should be a whole lot more than merely entertaining moments.Top
After a quick reconnoitre, Eph and Vasily lead the gang in a frontal assault against the Master's lair. Gus finds himself a prisoner of some bizarre captors.
THE STRAIN gets one last chance to show why it should come back for a second season and goes for an oddly-paced action storyline that keeps halting and even ends before the running time, requiring a coda that just adds to the strangeness of the construction.
Instead of building the whole episode around the climactic showdown with the Master, we get Vasily and Eph bitching at each in a recon mission that merely fills in some time before we get to the vampire zombie killing. When we finally do get there, there is plenty of action as the small group of survivors use their improvised weapons and their wits to take on and kill the superior number of superior strength monsters. This works all right, though the fact that there are so few when there were thousands only a couple of episode ago really doesn't work, despite being explained by an open manhole cover. Really? Nobody thought to use a coat or something to protect themselves from the light?
The showdown with the Master itself turns into a riff on the old Hammer DRACULA as Eph and his son break the windows in the building's loft to leave the Master helpless. Once they have him at their mercy, however, they decide to stand and watch him burn instead of sticking him full of silver swords to make sure, thus making everything that has gone before utterly pointless. In fact, not one single villain of the piece is dealt with, providing no climax or closure to the season.
But wait, we're not finished yet. Eph and his son have to face his wife (hang on, wasn't she with the Master?) and, well do nothing actually, which is pretty much what the outcome of this episode is. Nothing is achieved by anyone and it all concludes on a total downer. That's not exactly a great incentive to return for a second season.
That said, the arrival of the vampire paramilitaries does expand the mythology and sets up a new dynamic for the next season.
If THE STRAIN proved to be much and the show never came back, though, we would hardly mourn its passing.Top
If this page was useful to you please sign our