There are two horrifying aspects to this week’s aptly titled episode of The Strain, and they both stem from members of the Goodweather household, and the lengths they’re willing to go to achieve their goals.
First up are Kelly and The Feelers — the creepy-crawly school children hand-picked by Eichhorst to assist Kelly in her hunt for Zack. They’re horrifying in every way, from the click-clacking insectile communication, to the side-winding way they scuttle around (props to the child actors here and their tremendous physical performances), as well as their ghastly creature design. Their horrific nature is only bolstered by Natalie Brown‘s exceptionally visceral performance as the recently-vampirized Kelly. The Feelers merit A-grades in creepiness, and if they’re used correctly, the hideous little bastards could be the show’s crowning achievement.
Then there’s the patriarch of the splintered Goodweather household, our antihero Eph, who’s so damaged by what he’s lost, and so hell-bent on wiping out the vampire scourge, that his humanity is rapidly disappearing. Eph is no longer a good man, if he ever truly was, and more and more we’re beginning to understand Kelly’s complaints against her ex-husband in the first season.
Eph and Nora are mired in their ethically questionable quest for a plague that will “infect the infected”, and while Nora reveals how this torments her during a tense moment with Setrakian, Eph is swallowing any remorse between gulps of vodka. While their methods of obtaining this goal are dubious, or “distasteful and cruel” as Setrakian calls it, they’re doing it for a “noble purpose”. But that ends-justify-the-means mentality only carries so far when you’re watching Eph brutally manipulate the infected middle-aged couple found in last week’s storage raid. First he hides the nature of their condition under the precept that they would never believe it until they saw it, callously revealing their fatal condition in the most horrifying way possible; turning a blacklight on them so they can see the profusion of worms wriggling inside them. (It’s worth noting the difference in how he tried to conceal that fact from Sean Astin‘s Jim last season, sheltering his friend from the horrific knowledge of his own doom.) Then he manipulates the couple into volunteering as test subjects with the cold-blooded calculation of a serial killer. Finally, when the husband has had enough and begs for the end — a quick, merciful death — Eph calms him with his deceptive bedside manner before strapping him to a table, and denying a dying man’s final wish by removing the last trace of his freedom of will.
I’ve perhaps spent too much time talking about this scene and Eph’s bleak morality, but there are a lot of fascinating questions and implications here. Beyond the basic right-to-death quandary, it raises the question of how we define humanity. When one is doomed to become a monster, does that mean it’s ok to treat them as one? Eph clearly believes so, and his utter lack of sympathy and redeeming qualities is emerging as one of this season’s most fascinating elements.
Turning to the show’s more lovable characters, Setrakian continues on his quest for the Occido Lumen, the ancient text believed to contain the secrets to destroying The Master. A flashback takes us to Setrakian’s years as an untenured professor, sometime between his incarceration in the concentration camp and the slaughter of his family, and it’s revealed that Setrakian and Palmer were once acquaintances, and indeed, collaborators. Once upon a time, the two worked together on the search for the Occido Lumen after Palmer hired Setrakian to hunt down the book and Sardu’s cane on the promise of a secure professorship. This quest leads Setrakian to a small antique shop in Vienna where the owner refuses to sell Setrakian Sardu’s cane, having already sold it to Eichhorst, and tries to sell him a copy of Mein Kampf, personally signed by Adolf Hitler (learn to read a room, dude.) Before long, Setrakian calls him out as a Nazi doctor who once experimented on his fellow prisoners, and a bizarrely paced chase sequence ensues. Setrakian retrieves the cane, but the mad Nazi doctor escapes on the back of a passing truck.
In the present day, Palmer gives speech announcing his new food distribution centers throughout the Burroughs, continuing the charade that he’s on some quest to save the city (I’m not sure what his game is yet, but I’m damn certain it’s not good). If there’s anyone that’s buying his ruse hook, line and sinker, it’s Coco Marchant, his new personal assistant and eye candy (homeboy isn’t even trying to hide his lecherous crush on her). Marchant drafted his speech, complete with a very un-Palmer sense self-deprecation that wins over the crowd. If there’s anyone who’s not buying it at all, it’s Setrakian, who brashly confronts Palmer in enemy territory, barely making it out alive, and only because of Fet’s protection. Vasily hopes that was worth it, and Setrakian says it was, not because of the thrill of smack-talking an old foe — though I’m sure he enjoyed that plenty — but because he learned the vital information that Palmer never discovered the Occido Lumen. Setrakian has hope yet.
The dynamic between Fet and Setrakian continues to be an absolute joy. Vasily Fet, rat killer, fearless vampire hunter, and all-around brutish badass has a soft, gushy center when it comes to the fragile old man, and he wears that heart on his sleeve like it’s the summer’s hottest accessory. He’s worried when Setrakian stays out too long. He’s worried when Setrakian doesn’t eat enough. He wants to know if Setrakian needs anything while he’s out vamp hunting. It’s all so endearing, and gives the show a much needed tenderness.
Fet is on a mission of his own to clear out Brooklyn “one block at a time”, and recruits Dutch to help him on his Strigoi hunting mission. They head to what appears to be the local YMCA and discover a nest of sleeping vampires, and we get a chance to see those silver grenades in action. This is the episodes only real action scene, and it’s serviceable, if brief. Heads fly, and so do the sparks between Dutch and Fet, who stop by the pool on the way out the clean off the silver — that is, if “cleaning off the silver” is a euphemism for getting down in a pool. Dutch ratchets up the seduction to maximum overdrive, stripping down and slipping into the pool, and is surprised when Vasily timidly declines to join her. He’s not abashed by a little skinny dip, as it turns out, but doesn’t know how to swim. Dutch offers to teach him, and teach him she does in one of the only sexy scenes I can recall in The Strain‘s history. Basically everything with Fet is gold and he’s the MVP of Season 2.
Finally, there’s a new player in the game and she’s a hardass bitch — a real sister doin’ it for herself. A council woman from Long Island, Miss Faralda (Samantha Mathis) is not buying any of the government’s shit. There is no help coming, she says, and it’s time to take matters into her own hands. She’s on a similar quest to Fet, taking back her borough bit by bit, vamp by vamp. See, while the U.S. government is “warehousing” the strigoi in what’s clearly the worst quarantine idea of all time, Faralda understands that these are vicious, evil creatures that need to be “put down”. In the immortal words of Tina Fey, bitches get shit done. She’s likable for her toughness, but she’s also fiery, imposing, and uncompromising in a way that stirs worry. I could easily see her and Fet’s stories playing out as foils to each other, one with an eye for justice and one for power.
Episode Rating: ★★★ Good
For all the grief Corey Stoll’s hairpiece gets on the show, the wig and beard work on young Setrakian is far worse. For a show that does such a wonderful job with blood, guts and creature effects, they sure have some trouble making normal people look believable.
- The episodes that split up the gang always suffer for it, but episodes like last season’s series-high “Creatures of the Night” wouldn’t pop the way they do if we never longed to see them United. You can’t have Christmas all year.
- My reaction every time Zack appears: “Oh great, here’s Zack, sauntering into the room like he just left his after-school club for budding sociopaths. Coming in hot with side-eye, a bunch of questions, and a bad attitude.” I don’t get what they’re doing with his character this season, he’s just the worst.
- Palmer telling Setrakian that one day he’ll display his heart alongside his dead wife’s? Cold as ice.
- Fet: “You shouldn’t knock a man’s water pressure. It hits him where it hurts”
Dutch to Eph: “Good evening Dr. Frankenstein, how’s the mad scientist business?”
- Fet: “Don’t forget to eat something, alright?” Setrakian: “You want to remind me to go to the toilet too?”
- Personal Note: I had a bit of a travel snafu that prevented me from posting this last night. Thanks for your patience!
From the Set
I had the opportunity to visit the set of The Strain in Toronto earlier this year, so as a bonus I’ll be providing some pertinent quotes from the cast and crew as the season goes on.
- Kevin Durand on Fet: “At this point, he loves Setrakian. He understands fully how much he can benefit from his years of compiling knowledge and experimenting with ways to kill them with ways to find them, and so we haven’t gone in that direction yet because I think he just wants to keep learning. He’s so incredibly meticulous with detail, and he wants to know everything, and Fet is set. Setrakian still has a lot to teach him.”
Natalie Brown on Kelly and The Feelers: “I heard about the Feelers, I know them from the books. They were one of the most creepy and interesting elements of the second book. I was thrilled I was going to get to work with them, but when you see these children and the things that Kelly does? Elements of Lord of the Flies, survival of the fittest; there are some cruel things a mother has to do sometimes.”
- Carlton Cuse on Eph: “He grows darker and it’s very much a result of what’s happened to him. He’s lost his wife, first through divorce and then to vampirism. He’s struggling to forge a relationship to his kid, his relationship with Nora is kind of on the rocks; there’s a lot of stress and I think [his alcoholism] is both a way to show him being both functional but to also show the cost and consequences of everything that’s going on on a character level.”