He SAID: The (mediocre) Strain

Christopher M. Enis

The FX series The Strain began with all the elements of a good idea, and all the potential of a great show. Contaminated plane lands at JFK… CDC comes in to investigate… then conspiracies, missteps, and betrayal… and  The Strain is now loose in New York City.  strain9

Sounds simple enough. So how did The Strain become The Hot Mess?

The Strain was created by by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and novelist Chuck Hogan. It’s based on the book, and their novel trilogy including ‘The Fall’ and ‘The Night Eternal.’ Del Toro was only really involved in the first episode. He produced and co-wrote it with Hogan. After that, the show regressed to the wretched mess that defines Season One.

strain10We’re lead through the investigation of The Strain by CDC Response Leader Dr. Ephraim ‘Eph’ Goodweather (Corey Stoll). He and his partner strain6Dr. Nora Martinez (Mía Maestro) are tasked with finding the source of The Strain, measuring its reach, and working to contain it. Eph is more than happy to dive right in.  This is what he lives for. More than his ex-wife, more than his kid (whom he loves… but just not as much as work). So he’s here for The Strain.

Nora… not so much. The deeper Eph goes down the rabbit hole, the more Nora pulls him back. Even when the initial batch of worms (discovered in the belly of the plane) turns into the coolest biological manifestation of a vampire we’ve ever seen… Nora is skeptical. What? Really? There are people being EATEN right in front of you, but you’re not sure?

{Flashback to the X-Files, when Scully always managed to pass out or look the other way or just be plain absent when the aliens showed up. Mulder was left blabbering about extra-terrestrials and Scully would stare at him like he had too much to drink.}

Eph is helped (and Nora is dragged) along by former history professorstrain4 and Holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley). He knows more about The Strain than anyone… including the fact that these flesh-penetrating worms have a ‘Master’ who arrived on that plane, and is squatting somewhere in New York (with the help of the aforementioned conspiracy and betrayal). For reference sake, lets just call The Master good old fashioned Dracula. He is the first, the beginning, the one from which all the rest of these gross worms turned flesh eating zombie vampires originate. Like any good Master, he needs minions. So the worms make quick work of spreading from one unsuspecting person to the next.

This (naturally) makes no sense to Eph. But in light of mounting evidence, he’s ready to believe. So he joins Setrakian, slaps Nora with enough evidence to make her compliant, and off they go to fight The Strain.

Along the way, we’re regaled with tales of Setrakian’s past (shown in flashback after flashback after time-dragging flashback). The history lesson is likely meanstrain7t to educate us strain5about The Master. It doesn’t. There’s also a strange side story involving the worst Latino Stereotype the writers could muster, who’s now hanging out with a vampire counter-terrorist group. Confused? You should be.

One of the best things about The Strain are the vampires themselves. Any human infected by the worms is injected with a virus, which alters the body strain2on a genetic level. The outer body eventually becomes a host for a 6-foot long “stinger” that shoots out of the mouth to seek a victim’s throat and drain their blood. The action also infects the victim with the worms… and so The Strain is spread. In a glorious f-you to Twilight and the like, these ain’t your sparkly, emotional, Abercrombie & Fitch catalog model looking vamps. They’re right up there with 30 Days Of Night. Gross, feral, and out for blood (literally).

strain8The performances of the some of the cast is noteworthy. Kevin Durand nails it as Ukrainian-born rat exterminator Vasiliy Fet. His skill set is perfect for exterminating vampires. Richard Sammel is exquisite as Eichhorst, former Nazi commander (where he met Setrakian) and current right hand of The Master.

But even the incredible performances aren’t enough to save The Strain. The pacing is not measured. It’s plodding. There are too many unrealistic reactions to imminent danger. Many decisions by the main characters are steeped in stupidity. There are real-life plot holes that defy logic. There’s a specific storyline that strain3includes slowing down internet access to a virtual crawl.  No one noticed? Really? There’s no communication with a vital link to the Financial Capital of the Free World, and everyone is acting like it’s just ‘one of those technology things.’ Are that many people that stupid? Maybe.

The writers insist on trying to merge the horror of The Strain, with the drama of marriage, divorce, child-rearing and the like. We came to a vampire show, and a relationship drama broke out. It’s frustrating and distracting. We don’t care if Eph gets back with his ex wife. We really don’t.

strain11These inane sidetracks, along with about a dozen plot-lines that were started but either abandoned or underdeveloped, is only a small part of what makes The Strain so unwatchable.

The first season of The Strain ended in early October, and was strangely renewed for Season Two. Maybe the network executives didn’t watch the same show as the rest of us. There’s no doubt the show has potential. Here’s hoping that in the coming season, the writers work a little harder to live up to it.

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