When the FX series The Strain returns for Season 3, New York City is a battleground, the people written off by the federal government and fighting for survival on their own. As betrayal, disappointment and paranoia tear people apart, The Master gets one step closer to transforming the human world into one full of strigoi.
While at the FX portion of the TCA Summer Press Tour, executive producers Carlton Cuse and Chuck Hogan spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about where things are headed for Season 3, why they wanted to go from 13 episodes to 10, having a very specific idea for how the show will end, delving into Quinlan’s backstory, character journeys, and why they’re so proud of this series. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: Where are things headed for Season 3, and what can viewers expect from the evolving battle between humans and strigoi?
CHUCK HOGAN: As we come into Season 3, we jump ahead in time a little bit. The interesting thing about our creatures is that, as they exist longer, they grow and they mature and they’re able to coordinate, so it steps up the threat to our heroes. So this season, you see that everything is a little more elevated. The threat is growing more dangerous, every day, so there’s a real impetus to try to do whatever they can do to try to stop this thing as soon as possible, before it overwhelms them. There’s an implied ticking clock. We’ve gone down from 13 episodes to 10, and I feel like everything is a little more elevated. It seems like, with every episode, something really dramatic and incredible happens, which is the way it’s supposed to go, but with this season, especially, it’s just racing headlong to the final episode of the season.
Some people might think going from 13 episodes to 10 episodes is a disadvantage, but you’ve talked about how you see it as an advantage. Why is that?
CARLTON CUSE: It’s something we asked for. It just felt like, to make the story telling really kinetic and fast-paced, it was a way to tell this season’s story. Everybody is on war footing. The season is about the battle for New York, so 10 episodes felt like the exact right length to tell that story. You know, working for FX is fantastic because they really put the creator first. John Landgraf is as enlightened as they come. He really has always embraced what’s best for the show, and I think he believes what’s best for the show is going to make the best show, which is what’s ultimately best for FX. It’s been a true joy to do the show with FX. They’ve been incredibly supportive. I think this season is the best of the three seasons, and I think that’s really due, in large part, to the fact that we were able to condense our storytelling into 10 hours.
Three seasons into the show now, have you started to have conversations about just how much longer it might go and when your endpoint might be?
HOGAN: Yeah, we have a fairly specific idea of where the show is going. We have an end. It’s just about what it’s going to take to get there and what the best way is to get there. Honestly, we had a very specific end in mind for this season, and that was great to write to. That was something, along with the fewer episodes, that really streamlined the storytelling. I think we’re going to keep that in our heads, as we go ahead and keep our eyes on the end, to make sure we get maximum impact going into it, however and whenever this series ends.
Chuck, having written the books with Guillermo del Toro, what has this experience been like for you? Did you always have the goal to be so involved, if the books were ever turned into a TV show?
HOGAN: No. When Guillermo and I wrote the books, there was no agreement to go beyond that.
CUSE: I really wanted Chuck to be involved. Honestly, I felt like it would be an enormous asset to have Chuck be a part of the writing team and help shape the show, and that absolutely has proven to be the case. Working with Chuck on this has been one of the greatest joys of doing the show. It’s really great to see how open Chuck is to the show going in directions that are different than the books. He’s contributed enormously to the reshaping of the show for television. It’s about coming at it with a certain aesthetic that helped generate the books, but then being malleable enough to take that aesthetic and apply it to telling the story in a different medium. It’s been fantastic.
HOGAN: I couldn’t imagine going back and doing it the same way we did it in the books. That really wouldn’t interest me so much. But returning to this world that we created and playing it out for a new medium, I’ve learned a ton from Carlton. Guillermo gave me a huge opportunity to do this, and it’s been fantastic. Going into it, I knew it was going to be collaborative and I knew we were going to be changing things. I’m sure some authors want to cling to what they’ve written, but the books are the books. Guillermo and I wanted to finish the books, have the done and have them come out, and then he was going to take them to television. The books are there. They’re not going to change. So, I wanted to have some fun with the TV show and see how different it can be while still keeping its roots in the origin story.
At the start of Season 3, it’s only been 23 days since all of this craziness started, which makes you realize just how much has happened in such a short amount of time. Are you surprised about how much story you’ve been able to get in, in such a short time frame?
CUSE: Yeah, I think so. The storytelling has been really dense, and I think it’s even denser this season. In a way, this season almost becomes a real-time playing out of this epidemic reaching a crisis point. A lot of genre shows jump past the transmogrification phase. You start The Walking Dead when zombies are already on the earth. In World War Z, it takes literally three scenes. Brad Pitt is in bed, he’s having breakfast, he’s in a car jam, and then suddenly, there are zombies. We wanted to do something that is quite a bit different, which is to show the world change and show how this apocalyptic event completely reshapes society and the world, but that’s a very real-time event. So, given that these things can generate anew and they can replicate themselves every couple of days, it’s not a long time frame for profound change to happen.
Viewers are going to get to see a lot more of Quinlan this season and learn about some of his backstory. What can you say to tease people who have been anxiously awaiting all of that?
HOGAN: We felt that and we kept that in mind, so we definitely get into a bit of his backstory. I wouldn’t say it’s totally his origin story, but we’re filling in some of the blank spaces in his life. He’s a one of a kind character for the show. It’s fantastic for us, as writers. The way he mixes with our heroes is just a lot of fun. He’s just a kick-ass character. That’s always fun. This guy can do things that no one else can do. And Rupert Penry-Jones, the actor, is fantastic. He puts up with a lot of make-up and a lot of action, and he’s down for all of it. He’s been great.
Was that a ridiculously crazy hard role to cast?
CUSE: It was ridiculously hard to cast. The character has to have so much presence and be able to be convincing in that zone between human and monster. I think people sometimes disregard genre shows on a degree of difficulty scale, but both in the writing and in the performance, there are some major challenges. Rupert was just this incredibly great find that we lucked into. He’s a trained Shakespearian actor who has a gravitas and a depth to him that we immediately fell in love with. Chuck and I were like, “We have to do a lot with this guy and really tell his story, and give the audience some of the chapters of his past life.” It’s been really fun to have him on the show. He has to sit in the make-up chair for over three hours, every time he transforms into Quinlan. He has long days, but always is completely on top of his game.
It seems like both The Master and Eichhorst are realizing that taking over humanity is not as easy as they thought it would be. Will they start to question their approach to all of this?
HOGAN: Yes, the humans are not cowering and falling in, as they expected, so they do have to adjust. The huge thorn in their side really is the character of Abraham Setrakian. He’s got a history with both of them. He’s really dedicated his life to this cause and he’s the pebble in their show. He’s holding back their attempts. It’s up to our characters to both learn from Setrakian and keep him safe because without him the fight would be a lot tougher.
There’s clearly a bigger plan for Ephraim and his family. What can you say about that?
CUSE: Eph is at a real low point, after the end of last season. He’s lost his girlfriend, he’s lost his wife and he’s lost his son, who’s now a prisoner of the strigoi. With every bone in his body, he wants revenge and he wants to get his kid back. He’s willing to do anything, in order to accomplish those goals, and we really see that play out across the entire season.
Dutch is probably the most fundamentally changed, with everything that she’s been through since this all started. What can we expect from her journey, this season?
HOGAN: When we find her, she’s actually separate from the group. It’s interesting to see how other people are trying to survive in this changing world, as she’s fallen in with another band. She’s learned a lot from the others, so there’s a lot of tension there because she thinks that she knows what they should do, and they’re not sure. So, she starts off on the periphery, and then comes back to connect with our group, probably not in the way that viewers might anticipate, in terms of who she teams up with.
CUSE: It’s a very astute observation. She has changed tremendously, across the course of the show. She’s become such an important character in the show, and she has a huge part this season. There’s a lot of really interesting developments for Dutch. It’s great. I just love Ruta [Gedmintas], as an actor, and her character is fantastic. I think the audience will really love what they see from Dutch this year.
Will there be some surprise team-ups and pairings with the characters, this season?
HOGAN: We are going to see a very surprising pair-up. It’s so hard to talk about the season because we have so many spoilers and revelations, but you’re absolutely on the right track. The last thing maybe anyone would expect happens, in terms of two characters finding a common ground and a common goal, even if they have very different reasons for it.
It seems that everyone is starting to question how they’re dealing with what’s happening. Will there be a lot of re-evaluation, in that regard?
CUSE: Yeah. Palmer, in particular, is a character who made a very clear and specific deal, and it’s not really working out the way he hoped. That character undergoes a really big transformation this season. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to give away everything, but the world, as we knew it, has been completely upended and all the characters, each in their own way, are trying to sort through that.
It also seems like this is really a season of evolution, for all of the characters.
CUSE: We’ve had a great time making this show. I really feel like The Strain occupies a unique place in the television landscape and particularly the genre landscape, and that’s a hard thing to do. But, I defy you to say that The Strain is like anything else. It’s its own show, and we’re very proud of that and that we were able to find a way to take this story and tell it and have it feel vastly different than any other vampire show, for sure, and significantly different than zombie shows and all of the other stuff that’s in the horror-thriller genre. It’s a tall order to accomplish that with so many shows on television, but I feel like The Strain is its own thing, and I’m really proud of that. And I think people will really love where the show goes this season. I think the last couple of episodes are surprising with eyes wide excitement. We’re really proud of the work that everybody did and it’s going to be great. It’s really fun.
The Strain airs on Sunday nights on FX.