After last week’s narratively impotent episode, The Strain made a fine return to form this week with “The Born”, an action-packed installment that propelled the story forward, played to the characters’ strengths (and weaknesses), and indulged in a little more of Vasily’s explosive antics as he tears through New York City like the Road Runner of Red Hook.
And we finally got to know Quinlan. Arguably the episode stand out, Quinlan is everything book readers have promised — stalwart, formidable, engaging — and he’s a winning addition to the series. Before this week we knew almost nothing about Quinlan except that he’s kind to the homeless, isn’t afraid to sass the ancients, and has an undeniable cool factor. And we still don’t know all that much about the new hunter, mysteriously referred to in legend as “The Born.”
We do know that during his life as a Strigoi he was an undefeated Roman gladiator who fell under the tutelage of a Dark Arts-inclined Roman senator. We know that he’s been hunting The Master his entire life, ever hot on his trail, but always a step behind. We also know why he has such prime beef with The Master — he killed Quinlan’s mother — though we don’t know any of the circumstances surrounding the event. We know for certain that he’s a fearsome warrior, whether in the colosseum or handily dispatching a pack of feelers (seriously, I did not know you could inflict such violence upon children on TV, even monster children).
Rupert Penry-Jones is doing a fabulous job as the beloved character, measuring up to Stephen McHattie‘s Vaun (who was essentially conceived as a fake-out “Quinlan” to build up the real deal), while bringing his own twist to the mysterious hunter character. Credit is also due to the makeup and effects guys, who consistently come up with singular character designs that fit within an overall aesthetic. Quinlan’s design is unsettling without being horrifying, striking the right note between man and monster.
We also got to see the new design for The Master in action. Now in Bolivar’s body, The Master has taken on an entirely different look, and seemingly, a different personality to match. While the former body of the master was peculiar, indeed a bit Muppet-y at moments, it was distinct and eerie for its unusual visage. The Master is a much more conventional villain now, both in appearance (he could easily pass as Bolivar’s former self, and I wonder if they’ll go down that road) and persona. Grinning, guffawing and chatty as hell, this is a new Master, divergent from his former gargantuan, almost lethargic incarnation, and one that will take some getting used to. I’m not to sure if I like this version yet, but it reinvigorated the conflict with Setrakian and opens up a lot of new avenues. The old Master could never creep through the streets of Manhattan unnoticed. In Bolivar’s form, he just might.
As for Setrakian, the old man’s impetuous nature got the better of him once again as he foiled Quinlan’s assault against The Master with a remarkably ill-devised plan. After Quinlan warded off The Feelers, proving himself a superior warrior in every way, Setrakian ordered Fet to blow up the building, thwarting Quinlan’s attack on The Master in the process. I want to be mad at Setrakian for this utter foolishness, and it is irksome, but I love the codgy old bastard, and destructive impulsiveness has always been a part of his character. It’s what cost him his family. It’s why Eph had to stop him from charging head-first into a vampire nest last season. With no one around to pump the brakes (Fet respects Setrakian perhaps a bit too blindly), he self-destructed yet another opportunity to bring down his sworn enemy. He also destroyed a potentially beneficial alliance with Quinlan, and I was really looking forward to watching them be grumpy at each other.
As a character move, it totally makes sense, but as a narrative device, it lead to a resounding anti-climax. Quinlan leaps into a sprint, charging at the master. Screaming, bellowing, the barbarian soldier runs headlong into…Fet’s bafflingly tiny, inefficient explosion (seriously, was he using dynamite-light?). Quinlan is unharmed, but understandably pissed. And so the hunt for The Master starts anew again, but without the benefit of his wounded body.
Off the battlefield, back at the loft, a newly returned character is throwing off the tenuous ecosystem our gang has built. Fet’s got it bad for Dutch (like, the I-love-watching-you-sleep kind of bad) so of course it turns out that Dutch’s ex-girlfriend Nikki (Nicola Correia Damude)— the very same who scampered off last season, leaving the rest of the gang behind at the Gas Station — is alive and mostly well. And Dutch is very, very happy to see her. Fet is … not, and her sudden reappearance threatens the semblance of life and family he’s built in the vampire apocalypse.
For her part, Dutch handles the issue horridly. You can’t blame her for being happy and effusively affectionate now that Nikki’s alive, even if Fet’s buckled posture and stricken face breaks your heart, but everything she does after the initial reunion is just bad form. She completely avoids any mature conversation about the matter with Nikki or Fet. She invites Nikki back to Fet’s place without asking. She flaunts her affection for Nikki in Fet’s face. She conceals her relationship with Fet from Nikki. She even drops out of an excursion with Fet and Setrakian that ultimately leads to the fruitless confrontation with The Master. In summation, Dutch is not awesome right now, and acting like the grade-A narcissist Nikki’s mother believes her to be. I will say, it was great fun to watch the gang take pot-shots at Nikki for abandoning them in the convenience store, though she seems strangely unperturbed about it.
As for Palmer and Coco, I’ll be brief. Gross. Really gross. Their unsettling romance took center stage this week as she pursued Palmer with great enthusiasm — right into the bedroom. She’s got to be playing him somehow. Age difference aside, and that’s a pretty huge age difference to put aside, he’s just creepy as hell, even if she doesn’t know he’s a vamp-loving apocalypse enabler. It’s entirely possible that Coco is your standard gold-digger with her eye on the prize, but I’m hoping to find out she’s in league with Quinlan, or a similar explanation, since she’s been built up as a much more nuanced, intriguing character so far.
And Palmer’s got another thing coming his way. Eph’s downward spiral this season, from ethically corrupt mad scientist to manslaughterer (there’s got to be a better word for that), seems to finally be bottoming out. Eph is a killer now, with the aim to become an assassin, and his target is Eldrich Palmer.
Episode Rating: ★★★★
- I’m not one to search out logical flaws in genre fiction since you’re rolling into implausible scenarios to begin with, but Eph’s sudden reappearance is pushing things a bit too far. How in sweet fuck did Eph, already a fugitive, who is now also accused of three murders, get back into New York City — a quarantined zone — without a hitch? Peculiar how they casually glossed over that.
- Calling all book readers — I clearly think Quinlan is great, but does he live up to what you had in mind?
- Senator Sertorious: “It took an entire army detachment to capture you at the cost of 20 soldiers.” Quinlan: “they wanted me so badly, I decided to see what for.”
- Dutch: “She’s got a bad ankle.” Fet: “She hurt herself running away.”
- Setrakian: “Mr. Fet, your romantic worries have no relevance at this moment. None at all.”
- Random guy accurately describing Fet: “We got a maniac with a bag of dynamite!”
- Zach: “Is that a legend or is it real?” Setrakian “The answer to both those questions is yes.”
- Fet repeating Dutch: “I specialize in passionate, destructive relationships.”
- Eph: “I’m going to kill Eldrich Palmer”
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.
Ruta Gedmintas on Dutch’s feelings towards Nikki: “Within this new world where everything is slowly dissolving, the things that you prioritize and find important within yourself change and you grow in different ways, and I think something from the past that has a great foundation is very attractive in those times. You want to feel safe, so I think that’s an attractive thing, but yes, there is still the element of ‘Bitch, you ran away from me!’ That is looked at.”