THE STRAIN Series Premiere Recap: “Night Zero”

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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’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!)

the-strain-corey-stoll-sean-astin“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-evil tale would be complete without them?  And what better way to fight them and their evil plans than behind an Armenian badass with a sword-cane, who suffered under their reign in a concentration camp?

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.

the-strain-airplane-imageAs 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:

the-strain-david-bradley– Lots of recognizable faces in this series: Cory Stoll (House of Cards), David Bradley (Game of Thrones), Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings).

– 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!




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  • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

    “The CDC is in command here and we must take every precaution.”

    “Is it cool if I don’t wear gloves and touch this creepy, gigantic, intricately hand-carved coffin?”

    “Go for it.”

    • Grayden

      Had the same nitpick. I know for entertainment purposes they have to dumb things down to tell the story, but seriously, it would be more terrifying if they DID take every precaution and shit still managed to go South real fast.

      • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

        It’s just weird where they chose to be serious and where they chose to be lax. This is clearly a unique emergency, and even though there are hundreds of dead bodies, there’s only one coroner.

        The cargo could be just as contaminated as anything else, but it doesn’t warrant hazmat suits, and anyone can go near it. Also, hours after his death, no one seemed particularly concerned about the guy who got his head smashed in.

        Additionally, the shadowy organization is clearly rich and powerful, but they’re entrusting their most valuable possession to a low-level street thug. Even if you want to say that’s because he’s expendable, an organization such as this could easily have its own flunkies rather than taking their business to a two-bit hood.

        Also, it’s a good thing they made that little girl French because lines like “I’m so cold,” in English would have been unintentionally hilarious.

        Judging by the premiere, the show seems like a really serious version of Blade II, and it’s not working at all.

      • Carl

        Hey. You can’t tell me that the whole head-smashing thing wasn’t cool as hell. And an old ass man who knows pressure points. Cmon this is the dopest show behind the walking dead.

      • Grendal Sven

        It also seemed strange to me that they quarantined the still living victims yet brought the dead ones out in simple body bags, and that the coroner wore no has-mat gear at all.

      • Btbcc12859

        They did mention the bodies were in tripple sealed bags, but I agree with the coroner. One man and no contagion protocol? Also a heart starts to beat and you pick it up?

      • Grayden

        it is a shame that to make television suspenseful and compelling, the characters tend to act really stupidly.

      • edshrinker

        Between the employees here and the one in Helix – if the CDC is in control we are truly fucked.

  • http://collider.com Matt Goldberg

    “The CDC is in command here and we must take every precaution.”

    “Is it cool if I don’t wear gloves and touch this creepy, gigantic, intricately hand-carved coffin?”

    “Go for it.”

  • Grendal Sven

    It has it’s little issues, but is better than 90% of what passes for T.V. nowadays. It’s on my watch-list for now.

  • bigfrog

    As bad as Prometheus.

  • Redjester

    Apparently, I’m the only one who loved the hell out of the show’s premiere. Sure, you can nitpick this or that, but the show’s overall quality and sheer awesomeness overrides any minor complaints I might have.

    My grade: A strong ‘A’ verging on an A+.

    • Faptain America

      Spoiler Alert.
      Make that two of us. It was paced well, with high production values, and offered some quality scares and creature effects. Sure, some of it was predictable. It might’ve been fun if GdT himself had played the portly coroner who meets the very obvious fate.
      My only quibble was that nobody went looking for the air traffic control guy. Did no one take out the trash and notice what was left of him on the floor?
      Looking forward to more head smashings!

    • Bhammer100

      Hell yeah. Loved it.

    • Bhammer100

      Hell yeah. Loved it.

  • Solvi Elisabetarson

    Horror-shows are often very mixed, for me, especially some-form-of-media involving vampires. But this show, The Strain, is super fun, stylish, has awesome vampire-mythology and just all the things I want from Del Toro. Plus, I’ve always thought that the books would fit more on the small screen with a limited-run and I’m not only happy because that has happen. I’m happy because the show’s premier is doing all the right things.

  • JD7

    I hope they can continue with the series and actually have the budget to follow the books, because for me personally, things didn’t get awesome till book 2. A lot of what is descibed particularly The Train scene (for those who read it) is gonna cost quite a bit I’d imagine. To those who are unsure, if it follows the books, it gets way way better, in fact book 1 was my least favorite of the trilogy.

  • RockNRollerER

    I don’t see a lot of TV, but this getting an A- means there must be some utter garbage out there. I thought this pilot was ASININE!!! Terrible dialogue, bland acting, and it already feels padded and milked with 12 hours left to go. I did like the Lance Henriksen in-joke involving the Bishop character.

  • RockNRollerER

    I don’t see a lot of TV, but this getting an A- means there must be some utter garbage out there. I thought this pilot was ASININE!!! Terrible dialogue, bland acting, and it already feels padded and milked with 12 hours left to go. I did like the Lance Henriksen in-joke involving the Bishop character.

  • randommale7

    I actually thought that Corey Stoll was pulling that hair off (pun intended), but yeah his hair didn’t bother me at all. Also David Bradley was just badass!!!

  • randommale7

    I actually thought that Corey Stoll was pulling that hair off (pun intended), but yeah his hair didn’t bother me at all. Also David Bradley was just badass!!!

    • Btbcc12859

      At least the wig has a receding hair line

    • Btbcc12859

      At least the wig has a receding hair line

  • agent777

    Vampires with Cthulhu features?

    A villain named Eldritch Palmer? Eldritch being one of H.P. Lovecraft’s uniquely favorite words.

    Where do you get you ideas from Mr. Del Toro?

    • John

      What do you mean by “Cthulhu features”? If you’re referring to the stinger that emerges from the mouth, it’s taken from Eastern European vampire mythology.

      Eldritch Palmer is named after The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, a science fiction novel by Philip K Dick.

      Del Toro speaks openly about his admiration of HP Lovecraft, but the two examples you cite have nothing to do with it.

  • agent777

    Vampires with Cthulhu features?

    A villain named Eldritch Palmer? Eldritch being one of H.P. Lovecraft’s uniquely favorite words.

    Where do you get you ideas from Mr. Del Toro?

  • Guest

    Are all shows now required to show at least scene of ass?

    • Daniel O’Reilly

      Practically.

  • Guest

    Are all shows now required to show at least scene of ass?

  • Daniel O’Reilly

    It felt like a decent premier. Essentially everything I expected (great set pieces like the dead plane, less than great characters like Ephraim). I kept falling asleep though, so maybe that’s a bad sign. (Or maybe I just need to watch it again when I’m more awake.)

    • Redjester

      Perhaps it is due to me being a fan of his character in HOUSE OF CARDS, but Ephraim is actually my favorite part of the show, thus far. Him and the old man, of course.

      • Daniel O’Reilly

        I like Stoll. He was great in House of Cards. He does look completely wrong with hair/a wig, but I imagine I’ll get used to that. I’ve read about a third of the way through the first book, and Ephraim is pretty much exactly the same on screen as he is on the page. Which is to say, not particularly interesting. There are enough interesting things happening around him to make up for it somewhat, but when you get right down to it, he’s just another absent father played by a good actor.

  • Cedhollywood

    Very cliche across the board that its laughable and boring for a first episode. I’m not from the school who “gives a show time to find its feet.” I will with a comedy series but not a drama series. A Sci-Fi/drama show like this is suppose to bring it with the very first episode. Not a first episode where I can say with just about every scene ok I saw this same type of situation before and I seen that situation played out before. Point is if a series boasts that this show is something new and different then that’s what I want to see from beginning to end. And not just some new type of vampire either that has a new way of sucking blood.

    • JD7

      I had the same problem with horrible dialogue and honestly if I haven’t read the books I think I would have bailed because of cringe-worthy lines and spotty acting. But I will say, if they are following the books, this has the potential to be as good as the walking dead. The trilogy becomes very epic by book 2, so I’d say hang in there, because it will get a lot better in terms of story and these vampires become something very different by the first 48 hours of infection. I just hope the acting and dialogue improves, also I hope they can actually make the sewer scary.

  • erasmus654

    I liked it quite a bit – it was VERY faithful to the first novel. One character that I can;t wait to see is a certain grudge holding, human sympathetic, accidental and unwanted progeny. Also, I don’t know if anyone noticed, but the german vampire guy who facilitated the coffin cargo escape is the same actor who played the Nazi officer who gets his head bashed in with a bat after he refuses to give up the position of his men who are waiting to ambush the Basterds in the film “Inglorious Basterds”….

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  • Colin Christian

    I thought it was great fun,but the script was terrible,much like Pacific Rim,awful dialog. But,I wasn’t bored for a second,loved the mix of vampires and Nazis,you can kill them in all kind of horrible ways and everyone goes yay!

  • seattlejohn449

    and this is obviously a different kind of vampire

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