The Strain’s second season has largely been an improvement over the first. With the characters, stakes and settings established, the series has been free to dive into the action, a welcome change from Season 1’s creeping pace. However, with episodes like “Identity” it seems more and more like the series is unsure what to do when freed from the burden of exposition.
This uncertain, meandering quality manifests itself in a few ways throughout the episode — Eph’s side tangent, Gus and Angel’s repetitious interaction, Fitzwilliam and the Feelers coalescing in an arc free action sequence that does nothing but cancel them both out. While at TCA last week, showrunner Carlton Cuse said the plan is for subsequent seasons to run 10-episodes. Hopefully by tightening the episode run (Season 1 and 2 have 13 episodes), the series can drop the treading-water quality that defines the weakest entries.
And “Identity” is by far the weakest of Season 2’s offerings to date. It’s an episode that should be firing on all cylinders — A new location! The Master’s Transformation! Fitzwilliam joined the gang! The Feelers found Zach! Quinlan! But instead of a highlight-packed hour, we got a series of events that range from infuriatingly disappointing to “meh”.
Let’s start with the “meh”. On his mission to spread his Strigoi-killing virus, Eph is hitting up his old connections in D.C. to find a company that can produce and distribute the virus on a mass scale. This leads him to his old colleague and drinking buddy Rob, one of those sort of charming, mostly sleazy political lobbyist types who sell hard and party harder. He’s a bit dickish, but he’s likable, and actually manages to make Eph likable for the hour. Rob introduces Eph to Lee, a employee of “Chemerol,” exactly the kind of pharmaceutical corporation that can mass produce Eph’s virus. Lee is similarly a bit dodgy, but ultimately likable.
Eph sure likes her — so much that he instantly takes her to bed. It’s kind of shady, given that Nora’s back at home being best-mom-ever to Eph’s little shit son, but Eph and Lee have good chemistry. Or had, that is, because before you can say “this show needs to stop killing off its most promising characters,” a Stoneheart assassin takes out Rob and Lee, leaving Eph with a trail of bodies, a bullet of his own, and a sudden lack of allies.
Along those lines, RIP Fitzwilliam, we barely knew ye. This was almost a breakup-level offense between me and The Strain. Truth be told, if I wasn’t watching this show for work, we’d definitely be on a break right now. The series has hyped up Fitzwilliam’s entry to the main gang for the last 3 episodes, and it was one of the storylines I was most excited to see play out. So imagine my rage when he’s casually bitten and beheaded like it ain’t no thing. They already did that this season with Vaun and his vamp hunters — and I understood that, because it pumped us up for Quinlan — but Fitzwilliam’s death is nothing but an infuriating disappointment. Why bring him back at all? What did he do of any impact before he was so hastily dispatched? Literally, he pointed some stuff out on a map and received a bit of Zach’s abundant side-eye, but narratively his return contributed nothing, and his death contributed even less. It’s a major waste of a good characters, and a prime example of that meandering storytelling that keeps the The Strain from ever reaching its full potential.
Another example would be The Feelers, those creepy little bastards who cost Fitzwilliam his life … but seemingly cost nothing more. After a half-season of build up, Kelly and The Feelers finally found Zach, pinning him and Nora down in a church, for a mildly thrilling, but ultimately unsatisfactory confrontation. The little spider kids were built up to be such a dangerous, terrifying force, but ultimately they were staved off by Nora – an absolutely atrocious marksman – long enough to let the gang show up in full force and save the day. The sequence had some good moments, like the image of their spindly shadows over the stained glass window, but could have been a lot creepier.
Worst of all, it seems that is that with the Feelers, and the whole story, the whole build up is all for nothing. Unless Kelly has some more backup Feelers in reserve and the show wants to repeat this beat entirely (which, honestly, wouldn’t surprise me given Gus and Angel’s nearly identical interaction in the Tandoori Palace kitchen), the Feelers ultimately amounted to nothing more than some fine makeup effects and excellent physical performances from the young actors. However, I am curious to see Kelly’s next move on Zach now that The Feelers were such a resounding failure.
“Identity” did land a couple marks. Nora, who’s been sidelined all season as confidant and eternal voice-of-reason, finally had a moment in the heart of the action. It was well-deserved, and Mia Maestro is a fantastic, sympathetic actress, but seriously someone please take Nora to the shooting range. She’s proven herself a badass in a number other ways, but there’s no time for aim this poor in a vampire apocalypse.
It’s good that The Master finally completed his transition. Perhaps Kelly and The Feelers ultimately felt so unsatisfying because it was only a side-game, a temporary antagonist while the big picture stuff with The Master was holding off in the sidelines. It’s time for the big bad to reenter the picture. It was also hilarious. The ever-smug Eicchorst got burned…hard. “My lord, my liege, I stand ready to receive your infinite power,” and The Master’s just like, “LOL I bet you do, but nah, you’re my special child and we’re BFF. Kiss the ring, henchman.” I do hope we get some explanation as to why The Master chose Bolivar’s body. Sardu was a prince and a giant. Boilvar has the power of his celebrity status — though we’ve seen none of that this season — but otherwise is entirely unremarkable. Without Bolivar’s trademark wig, The Master looks like any other Strigoi. All the same, it’s good to see him back in business. There’s an apocalypse to be run, after all.
Finally, the long-awaited arrival for Quinlan (I haven’t read the books, but book-readers love this guy) was another satisfying turn in the episode. First off the guy helps out a starving homeless man, how’s that for a save-the-cat moment? Then he goes and gives the ancients what for. Plus, his sword seemingly has a femur for a handle, and you just can’t argue with that. I look forward to seeing what this guy brings to the table. Hopefully they’re not planning to kill him next week.
Episode Rating: ★★
Councilwoman Feraldo is clearly shaken up by the prospect of instituting her anti-strigoi measures in Manhattan. It’s an impossible feat and she knows it. “We need something winnable”
Eph: “The city is eating itself”
The vampire apocalypse is bleeding more and more into the daylight. The remains of a scorched car, the strigoi wandering through a sunlight-free apartment building. The depiction is still a bit inconsistent, but we’re seeing it take hold in a more believable way.
Big picture stuff is happening. The president is being impeached and fist fights are breaking out between Senate leaders. I’d bet this all ties in with Palmer, Stoneheart and their Striogoi allegiance sabotaging from within.
Fet on Palmer: “Are you saying he started an apocalypse to become a muncher?”
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. This week we’ve got an entertaining anecdote from Producer/Director Miles Dale.
Jack Kesy on whether or not The Master’s new body changes him: “Oh, it does. Not to judge Bolivar, but as strong of a henchman as he is, a loyal kind of vampire he is, he still has that silly quality of him being a rock star, that’s eccentric. But the Master isn’t silly at all. All that ancient biology goes into him. I mean, he is in the vessel of a rock star, so there’s a hint of physicality to it; the essence is of a powerful figure. Very different, I think.”
Corey Stoll on how the virus is spreading throughout the country: “You definitely get the sense that this is affecting the rest of the country but everybody else had the lead time to sort of protect themselves. So D.C. is somewhat normal, but there are huge political ramifications, they’re trying to reach the president, and the government is definitely reeling from it, but it’s not this vector of disease like New York is.”