After last week’s action and payoff-packed episode, The Strain took a bit of a dive this week with “The Silver Angel”, an episode so focused on setting up new narratives that it forgot to contain an arc of its own.
The episode kicks off with Guillermo del Toro’s second and final directorial contribution to Season 2 — a condensed black-and-white Luchador vs Vampire film that serves as an introduction to a new character, the aging Luchador himself, Angel de la Plata (Joaquín Cosío). Long past his heyday, Angel now works as a bus boy in a family-owned Indian restaurant, a grizzled old man with rickety joints who relives his glory days during lunch break.
Wandering aimlessly after Palmer brutally executed his pack of half-breed strigoi hunters, Gus ambles into the restaurant in search of a little respite and “something that kinda tastes like spaghetti.” While the pretty young waitress is happy to oblige, seemingly enchanted by Gus’ quiet ruggedness, Angel spots Gus for the thug he is — or at least used to be — instantly distrusting him.
After the waitress cooks him up something special (no, that’s not a euphemism, though I’m certain that’s where this story is headed), Gus heads back to his home in Harlem to collect some belongings (eagle-eyed viewers may spot a bust of ‘The Silver Angel’ himself in the background). There, he comes face-to-face with what remains of his beloved mother, which isn’t much now that she’s fully transformed into one of the monsters — bald, repulsive, and dripping blood at the mouth — but Gus can’t bring himself to kill her, even still. The Master takes this opportunity to communicate with Gus, speaking through his departed mother, her eyes glowing red, as he lays down some emotional hurt, reminding Gus of his culpability in the apocalypse, “Cowardice, ignorance — I sensed both as you ferried my coffin into the city,” and telling Gus that he can still sense his mother’s disapproval and heartbreak, even in death. Even with The Master speaking through her, taunting him, Gus can’t bring himself to kill her, locking the door behind him as he leaves.
With nowhere else to go, he heads back to the Indian restaurant. Unfortunately for Gus, neither the waitress’ family nor their loyal bus boy Angel — who’s nailing the withering “we-don’t-serve-your-kind” gaze — want him there, and the limping ex-Luchador sends him packing, telling Gus not to embarrass himself. “She doesn’t need the hassle. Neither do I.” Gus leaves without argument, but not before he realizes he’s face-to-face with his childhood idol. He confronts Angel in the alleyway with genuine excitement, telling him “You were the baddest good guy there ever was.” But Angel is less-than-thrilled to be recognized and shuts Gus down pretty brutally, warning him to never come back. There’s a lot of potential in their dynamic, which sets the stage for Gus to prove himself and win the respect of his old hero. There’s also something delightful about the idea of a B-movie vampire hunter about to confront the real thing, a distinctly del Toro touch.
As for our primary gang of vamp-hunters, Nora, Eph and Fet set lose their infected Strigoi in the hopes of spreading their virus throughout the vamp community. Set to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” and interspersed with Fet’s pithy observations, we’re seeing a new, lighter side of The Strain where the heroes are allowed to indulge in a little humor and the occasional smile. Our ruthlessly efficient gang of vampire hunters are finally finding the fun in their new, gruesome lifestyle. “Better than breadcrumbs, huh?”, quips Vasily as they follow a blood trail to a nest of sleeping vamps where patient zero lays down to roost and spread their virus.
The team returns the next night to find their infection has spread just as well as they hoped, and finally, Eph “releases” the old man who served as their test patient, dispatching him with a single blow. Unfortunately for Eph, The Master is no fool, and realizing what Eph is up to, he forces the infected Strigoi to commit suicide. It’s a creepy scene, Strigoi plummeting from the rooftop, their wormy brains splattering on the sidewalk, made even creepier as Eph laughs with maniacal elation. The Master has stopped the spread of the virus for now, but Eph has plans to go large by bringing his and Nora’s research to D.C. for the higher-ups to dispense on a massive scale. Nora is reluctant for oddly vague reasons, but her disinclination adds just enough unease to make me think that Eph is embarking on a foolheardy mission.
As a side note, the writers really need to give Nora something to do this season. With her mother out of the way, and her and Eph’s relationship seemingly swept under the rug, Nora has been reduced to confidante and the “voice of reason.” Mia Maestro‘s talents are sadly being wasted.
Meanwhile, Dutch and Setrakian head out on a tangential side-mission to hunt down Fitzwilliam, Pamler’s recently-retired assistant who made a welcome reappearance last week when he trekked out to Council Feralda’s fortified Staten Island in search of his brother. Unfortunately for Dutch and Setrakian, Fitzwilliam isn’t keen on their recruitment attempts, understandably reluctant to put any trust into the hacker helped usher in the apocalypse. However, Setrakian gets under his skin a little bit, casually dropping that he used to know his father, and leaves him with an address to reach them when he changes his mind. “I’m not going to change my mind,” warns Fitzwilliams. “Yes you will. You already have,” replies Setrakian with a lack of his trademark curmudgeonliness. I very much want to see Fitzwilliam team up with the gang, and this is probably the most exciting new story point set into motion this episode.
In flashback land, we get to see more of the once-upon-a-time relationship between Setrakian and Palmer. More specifically, we see how it came to an end. On their shared hunt for the Occido Lumen, Setrakian bounds off to eliminate some shrieking Strigoi and in his absence Palmer meets Eichhorst for the first time. Aside from last season, when Palmer was literally on his deathbed, this is the sickest we’ve ever seen him – confined to a wheelchair, sallow-skinned, his sunken, bloated eyes lined with red. In strolls the ever-confident Eichhorst promising the secrets to immortality, offering him “everything” with a wide grin. It’s not hard to understand why a man who spent his entire life at death’s door would be charmed to the dark side, but the flashback does little to evoke empathy for the man who switches sides with the ease of flicking a switch. “Help me rid the evil from this world,” setrakian implores Pamler. “There will always be evil in this world,” he replies, and thus wee seemingly see the end of their brief, tenuous partnership.
Back at the loft, Nora and Fet spot Councilwoman Feraldo spouting her rhetoric on TV. Fet supports her mission, noting that Red Hook was a smart place for her to expand her extreme anti-Strigoi measures given that the city is surrounded by water on three sides. Nora, unconvinced (once again playing the voice of reason), notes the danger inherent in any ruler that ignores constitutional rights. “More dangerous than vampires?” asks Fet, and unfortunately he gets his answer by episode’s end when Feraldo’s goons (equipped with arm-bands that are wildly unsubtle in a show that frequently invokes the holocaust as allegory) attack and arrest him for blowing up a subway tunnel.
This is yet another intriguing plot point set up in this week’s episode. Will Feraldo be merciful toward Vasily, given that his aim to eliminate the Strigoi’s main point of entry falls so close in line with her mission? Or will she prove herself a true dictator, disposing of anyone who breaks the rules? The councilwoman has been likable so far, directing her ruthlessness towards the Strigoi, but how likable can she remain with the show’s most beloved character caught in her web? If the show is in fact leaning into the parallels between her totalitarianism and the Nazi regime, I’m thinking not so much.
On Nora’s recommendation Eph decides to spend quality time with his son, and they head off to the batting cages where Eph continues to be #1 worst dad, instantly undercutting any fun with his constant teasing and criticism of his son’s swing. “Just work on your timing there.” “You’re going to want to swing just a little bit sooner.” “Swing now!” “Step back on the box a little bit.” “Do you think maybe you need a lighter bat?” Bruh, let the kid have a little fun. But he cannot, and for once Zach’s perma-eyeroll is totally earned. For his part, Zach finally has a sympathetic moment — understandably in low-spirits as he remembers a time before the divorce, way before the apocalypse, when he and his parents visited the batting cages together. The two leave the cages behind with an air of disappointment — no blowout fights, but no father-son bonding either.
As the memory of his mother looms over Zach, so does her memory of him — though admittedly, in a much more pernicious way. The episode ends on Kelly and The Feelers, who were greatly missed last week, as their hunt for Zach leads them to the batting cages. They are hot, hot, hot on Zach’s trail. The Feelers are still The Strain‘s creepiest creations to date, and it’s been clever to keep them on the sidelines, because once they’re fully unleashed we’re in for a hell of a horror show.
- The Strigoi eliminated New York’s “key financial players” in a slaughter, Palmer — cold-blooded as ever — watches from the safety of his Sedan as Bolivar feasts on the blood of a stockbroker. The calculated attack has sent the open market into a free fall. I’m not yet sure how economy plays into The Master’s grand scheme, but it can’t be good.
- Of course Zach is the kind of kid who listens to Bolivar’s music.
- I don’t know what was up with the dialogue this episode, but it was painfully expository. Check out this gem — Eph: “The Master is forcing them to commit suicide.” Nora: “Rather than spread the fatal disease”
The Master: “The ancients are the past. I am the future.”
- Gus: “Taking someone’s soul isn’t enough for you? You got to put on their skin and dance around in their body?”
- Setrakian: “I think you think it’s too late, that evil has already won. I don’t believe that for a second.”
- Eph: “I thought you liked architecture.” Fet: “I do, Doc. It’s just I like killing vampires more.”
- Fet: “Wile E. Coyote, eat your heart out. Meep Meep!”
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.
- Carlton Cuse on the role of Councilwoman Feraldo: “One of the things that interests us is the sort of metaphor about how in turmoil and upheaval sometimes a form some totalitarianism [arises]. And if you look at the rise of national socialism in Germany or fascism in Italy, it arose out of social trauma and discontent…Over the course of the second season…we’re going to explore the consequences of putting your faith in someone like that.”
- Jonathan Hyde on Palmer’s lack of concern for Fitzwilliam: “I think that Palmer is psychopathic enough — is that the word? Sociopathic? I get all these “pathics” slightly mixed up. But I think that he’s one of those people, if he slams a door, that door is closed forever. I think that’s his will. And once Fitzwilliam walks out that door, he has gone, I mean, evaporated and had never existed. I think he would rule him out of his memory with total ruthlessness.”
- Kevin Durand on Fet’s love for killing vampires: “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.”