With the Twilight movie series over, and HBO’s True Blood coming to a close, perhaps audiences are ready to set aside pretty, sparkly vampires, and instead embrace a different kind of bloodsucker. It began in Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, where vampires were either horrible shrieking harpies, or disgusting ancient muck-beasts. The Strain, FX’s new series based onGuillermo del Toro‘s novel trilogy (Del Toro also co-wrote and directed “Night Zero,” and co-produced the series with Lost’s Carlton Cuse) also realigns the idea of vampires, and vampirism, into something horribly evil and total grotesque. BRING IT. Hit the jump if you fear Corey Stoll‘s wig (it’s full of secrets!)
“Night Zero” proved The Strain is not lacking in mythology. Here’s what we know so far: there is an ancient vampire-esque demon beast who sleeps in a big-ass coffin with skeletons on it (the worldwide sign for “do not open,” which Stoll’s character Ephraim clearly did not understand). This creature is so horrific, we haven’t even been able to gaze as its visage yet, except that we know it sucks the blood out of people through a neat little incision, deposits some worms, and the bodies later re-animates into parasitic, blood-sucking vehicles of their own.
This makes the vampirism both an ancient ailment and a modern contagion, a very neat trick in marrying old horror with new. Adding to this of course is something to do with the Nazis, because what kind of modern ressurection-of-historical-
That would be Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley), of course, this production’s Van Helsing, who has fought this evil before (more than once, in different forms), and muses on it to a worm-filled heart in a jar. The man knows what he’s doing, but his warnings about severing heads and burning bodies fall on deaf ears to Ephraim, who is too busy trying to control that hair of his.
As a first episode, “Night Zero” wasn’t bad, but it had mixed offerings. The low points were the stock characters and the boilerplate dialogue, and the pacing (with the many false endings, each showcasing a new kind of fright) was all over the place. But it also gave viewers what Del Toro does best: creating monsters. “Night Zero’s” best moments were the twisty frights: the initial emergence of the monster from the cargo hold, the plane of the dead, the worms and bloodsucking, and the resurrection of the zombies as a hungry hoard. These were exceptional fun, and a clear sign that the series should not be paired with meal time.
While the show clearly revolves around Ephraim and his control issues and custody battles (sorry but … there’s a vampire zombie crisis happening), the best character so far is definitely Abraham. The man has a sword-cane, and shuts down punks at his pawn shop (where he collects silver …). Ephraim simply cannot compete at this point. But he also doesn’t need to — Ephraim and Abraham (things are feeling Biblical up in here) are the two sides of this beast’s capabilities: the origin/mythology and the spreading/contagion aspects. That makes the show a horror, sci-fi and fantasy series all in one.
As long as The Strain embraces the crazy moving forward (and the creepy and grotesque), instead of custody battles, things will be just fine.
Episode Rating: A-
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Stoll’s wig, though. There were better wigs on The Americans!
— So if it was unclear, the old guy Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) with the evil henchman Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel) is seeking immortality at any cost. Vampirism never looked so unsexy.
— Eichorst, of course, had the same sideways lid-closing situation going on as reanimated French zombie girl Emma, when she came home to Papa. He also controls Gus (Miguel Gomez) and formerly, or still, Jim Kent (Astin) under the “Stoneheart” company (Lady Stoneheart?)
— The hot scientist with glasses, Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro), doesn’t seem to have a clear purpose yet other than looking kind of longingly at Ephraim, but I hope she’s able to do something badass and isn’t just vampire bait.
— As an Atlantan, it kinda annoys me a little that the story didn’t take place in ATL (CDC HQ!) and home to the world’s busiest airport. Alas!