The first season of The Strain was a splattery slow-burn affair, chronicling the demise of Manhattan as the city fell to a virulent vampire plague. With season two, the series continues the blood-spattered mayhem, but the slow-burn approach is long gone and the characters are fully embroiled in the daily warfare of the vampire apocalypse. Earlier this year, I visited the set up in Toronto, where I got to see some of that mayhem first-hand and chat with the cast about what’s coming up in season two.
While on set I had the chance to speak with Guillermo Del Toro and Carlton Cuse, and a huge portion of the cast cast including Corey Stoll (Eph), Mia Maestro (Nora), Kevin Durand (Vasily Fet), Jonathan Hyde (Eldrich Palmer), Richard Sammel (Thomas Eichhorst), Ruta Gedmintas (Dutch), Jack Kesy (Bolivar), and Natalie Brown (Kelly). Find out what they had to say and get the deets about what lies ahead for the vampire-slaying gang, below.
Eph is back on the booze in a big way, but he’s a very functional drunk. Stoll has appreciated having some variety in the character, “It’s hard not to fall into a very sort of somber mode with, where the stakes are and all the awful things that happen to my character, and it’s actually sort of nice to have a device that enables me to have some distance a little bit, and to have a little bit more of a sense of humor in the midst of all this craziness.”
- This is The Strain, so things are going to get gross. One term that was thrown around a lot – worm transfer. Yikes.
- Eph and Nora are on a mission to fight the vampires through pathology by infecting the infected. This is their major goal throughout the season. Cause explains, “At the start of this season Eff decides that he’s going to take his knowledge of epidemiology and sort of flip it on its ear and that he’s going to go from being a guy whose mission in life has been to stop disease– To actually creating disease. He decides Nora, you and I are going to take our knowledge of epidemiology and were going to create something to kill these vampires.
- Eph is willing to cross some serious ethical boundaries to achieve his goal. How far will he go? Well, you’ll have to tune in to find that out, but it’s worth noting that Eph was never designed to be a likeable guy. Del Toro explained, “Even in the books we made the decision, and this has grown into the series, to not make Eff likable at all. I mean, when we did the first book and we did the press tour, we said you’re going to see the hero do things you don’t like and you’re going to hopefully see the bad guys do things that you like. And I think in the series Eff takes a really questionable ethical path in the second season and it’s going to continue and to show him to be, not only to be fallible, but actually, you understand the complaints that [Kelly] articulated about him in the first season”
Setrakian is seeking his own weapon against the strigoi, a legendary text called the Occido Lumen, which is said to contain the secrets to killing The Master.
- With post-production on Crimson Peak and pre-production on Pacific Rim 2, Guillermo was was too busy to spend to direct much The Strain this season, but he did direct the prologue that kicks off the first episode and a black and white luchador film featuring Angel. “I wanted to make the movie that he shot when he was young, one of these black and white Mexican wrestler versus vampire movies. They gave me one day, and I shot the part of the movie that shows up, which is about five or six minutes. They fast-forward, so there’s a lot of fast forwarding through it because it’s somebody watching it on VHS, but we shot the whole little piece,” said Del Toro.
- Despite falling off the map a bit towards the end of the first season, Fan Favorite character, Bolivar, will have a significant role to play this season.
- Because of her connection to Eph, Kelly is chosen by the master to rise above the status of a drone vampire and regain part of her own consciousness. Natalie brown describes the new vampire Kelly as “A little more upright…Some of the twitchiness has slipped away, and I don’t want to say she’s a bit more regal, but she’s more highly functioning. And The Master has plans for her, so there are certain skills that are bestowed upon her in the second season,” said Brown.
- She’s hell bent on finding and turning her son Zach. “Kelly is very singular in her focus. Although she has certain abilities bestowed upon her, her mission is simple: To find her son, and connect with him. That is what The Master is looking to exploit. So, although she is given a higher ranking and special abilities, it’s really all about Zach. She is purely focused on Zach. I don’t think she has any illusions of exploiting new abilities and talents unless it’s going to help her with her ultimate goal,” Brown explained.
The Master and Eichhorst provide her with some helpers on that quest called the “feelers”, a set of agile vampires with heightened senses. They are creepy as hell.
- Eichhorst takes on the roll of Kelly’s instructor, Sammell described the relationship between them as Bonnie and Clyde.
- Eldrich Palmer is turning towards politics and building himself up as a hero of New York.
- He’s also embracing his new found health in an unexpected way – indulging in a good old fashioned crush.
- Lizzie Brochere (American Horror Story) plays Coco Marchant, the lovely lady who charms her way into Palmer’s heart and offices as his personal assistant. Cuse describes their relationship as a “reverse Pygmalion story because Palmer is a guy who has been sick his whole life, has actually never had a relationship with a woman” Del Toro added, “Imagine the 60-year old virgin”.
- Samatha Mathis (Under the Dome) plays a new character Justine Feraldo, a councilwoman in Staten Island who enacts strict measures to take back her borough from the vampire invasion. “If you look at the rise of national socialism in Germany or fascism in Italy, it arose out of social trauma and discontent. And in that way we felt like in New York City someone would rise who would be kind of counter-veiling force to the spread of vampirism and in this case it’s this woman Justine Feraldo,” said Cuse
Gus won’t be joining the main group anytime soon, but he is about to get a love interest and a couple new allies. Said Cuse, “What’s kind of wonderful is we’ve been following Gus’ story parallel to our main characters. He hasn’t really — I mean he’s intersected briefly with Setrakian, but not with our other characters. But that will be the same for most of this season.”
- Fans of the books will be excited to meet his new ally, Angel, a retired Luchador wrestler. Del Toro spoke openly about his affection for Angel, “It’s a character that I love very much. It’s a character that I’ve been wanting to do audio-visually for a long time…What I like is the idea that a real Mexican wrestler is fighting real vampires. It’s not post-modern. It’s not tongue-in-cheek. It’s not wink-wink. These are real monsters and a guy that used to be a wrestler, but now works as a waiter in an Indian restaurant in New York. So it’s really a down to earth reality to the Mexican wrestler genre, and it’s a character I’ve been thinking about for ages.
- Joaquin Cosio plays Angel. Del Toro described him, “[he’s] the actor that I chose personally because I think he’s a fantastic presence, and hopefully he’ll grow. He appears enough in this season, but in the next season, third season, I think he comes into his own.”
- The rivalry between Setrakian and Eichhorst will exist for as long as Setrakian maintains his faith. Sammell explains, “I think it’s not about killing immediately; it’s a war of religion. It’s ‘Does God exist or not?’ And the only human who’s not afraid of Eichorst is fucking Zetrakian. So why is he not afraid? Because he believes in this fucking God, and he has this piece of hope that what I have given up. So it’s, ‘Say that I’m right!’ And he won’t say that. That’s basically his best life insurance. Zetrakian’s best life insurance against Eichorst is that he opposes himself to him. Once Zetrakian gives up, I think he’s of no worth to Eichorst.”
While season one made some notable divergences from the book series, season two is carving its own path in a big way. Cuse estimates that the second season is 20% loyal to the book narrative, 80% original content. “It follows the spine of the book but what I think is great there’s two very different experiences,” said Cuse. Del Toro agreed, “ We agreed from the beginning that we would try to hit the big notes. But if you do a change that you think is good that ripples through, then you ripple it through.”
- One Major change? Vasily Fet was originally written for Ron Perlman. Del Toro explains, “Fet was written in the books for Ron Perlman, but Ron was on Sons of Anarchy when we started, and I think that Kevin has now, for me, become Vasili. I cannot imagine Ron in that role now. It’s surprising and great.”
- Del Toro has also enjoyed watching how the series brings new elements to his novels, “There are new characters, like Dutch. I like that character very much, because it makes Vasili find a foil that is not just Ephraim. He really has repartee with her that is very strong. She really has interesting angles. I like that character. But the other actors, I couldn’t be happier to see them exactly or variations that are more interesting than I thought. David Bradley, I think the way Carlton writes Setrakian is more interesting for me than the Setrakian in the books, because this is more sociopathic. Setrakian is more gruff in the series and less likable in a way. You love him, you love watching him, but to the other characters he is like sandpaper. He doesn’t have this fragile – he’s not vulnerable and I like that. I like that change in him. The rest are great.”
- After losing their home base at Setrakian’s Pawn shop, the gang has relocated to Fet’s loft in Red Hook, Brooklyn. “It’s sort of like that first season on The Real World…everybody’s on top of each other and there isn’t much privacy,” said Stoll.
Fet, in particular, is having a bit of trouble adjusting to his suddenly full house, “It’s that whole lone wolf thing, and all of a sudden, there’s all these people up in his face, and he’s trying to be kind, but some people overstep boundaries, and yeah, so this season is basically like Friends. No. We definitely get into each other’s space, and definitely conflict arises,” said Durand.
- While Eph and Nora are seeking a form of viral warfare and Setrakian is on the hunt for the Occido Lumen, the gang still has to engage in hand to hand combat on the regular and will have a few new weapons to help them on that front.
- However, whatever fancy weaponry they may discover, Fet likes his tried and true crowbar. “You know, it’s funny. He has such a strange allegiance to the rebar. It’s not made of silver. It’s close-quarter combat stuff. He still loves the rebar. He’ll pick the rebar over anything. Rebar and the handgun mostly, and if no handgun, he’ll pick the rebar above the handgun. He enjoys killing these things. It’s therapeutic for him. It’s almost like, as he’s killing these things, he hears angels singing and stuff. I don’t know. There’s something really awesomely perverse about it, which is probably why he chooses the rebar.”
- The sparks between Fet and Dutch will continue to fly with a potential forecast of feelings. Said Durand, “ Feelings, gosh. That’s the danger with feelings. Feelings. He doesn’t turn into a pile of mashed potatoes or anything like that, but yeah, I mean, we’re getting under his skin a little bit more and seeing what’s there. A couple things poke him and make him uncomfortable. So, yeah, feelings.”
- Fet and Eph have reached a new level of mutual respect over the ways they’re coping with their circumstances, “Eph is cracking down, but he’s also toughening up too. So there’s a new level of respect between them, and we’re sharing a lot of similar…I don’t want to say arcs, but situations with our loved ones, and we’re getting to a place where we can talk about things. You know, not have a good cry or anything, but just give each other a pat on the back, and there’s still tension, but I think the respect for each other has definitely grown.”
Setrakian is still the man with the plan. Durand explains, “In terms of leadership, I think everybody’s stepping up in their own way, but at the end of the day, we’re still following the old man because he knows a lot more about this than any of us. But there’s definitely a power struggle from time to time.”
- We’re going to see how the infection is spreading outside of New York this season. In particular, the series will pay a visit to D.C. “We have a real cool Three Days of the Condor story that takes place in DC and it’s also a good opportunity for us to see that Washington is a functioning city and that the resources have been deployed to protect DC, which, in our imagination, seemed entirely likely, so while New York is the epicenter of this epidemic and is really fallen, in a sense, other places are holding on, so we get some sense of perspective,” said Cuse.
- The apocalypse is eventually going to go global. As Stoll recently said, “As goes New York, so goes the world”. Cuse explained, “I think what’s interesting about the show is that we’re actually showing the demise of the city as a result of this apocalyptic event. A lot of times in this genre storytelling you jump ahead to the state of apocalypse. If you think of World War Z or The Walking Dead or 28 Days Later, you kind of skip the process of demise and that’s what we’re actually illustrating in the show which is really interesting and the second and third season are about that demise.”
So, there you have 30 things to know about The Strain season 2. The cast and crew were surprisingly free-flowing with spoilery details, so check back in my weekly recaps for more quotes and details from the set.