Monday, September 8, 2014

The Strain: series and episode review

by Melissa Parkin

Horror fans, rejoice! FX proves that vampires don’t need to sparkle in order to light up the screen. Right out of the gate, The Strain hits on all cylinders to forge a gripping, spine-tingling thriller. With its ensemble cast, strong production values, and compelling story-lines, each episode plays out in cinematic format. But can you honestly expect anything less from Guillermo del Toro? Yeah, didn’t think so.

An ancient creature made its way aboard Regis Flight 753, and the passengers won’t receive a pleasant experience in air travel. In classic horror fashion, this reaper-like being burst through the cargo hold and into the cabin of the plane. Everyone in air traffic control was left confounded as they lose contact with Flight 753, only to find it landed safely at J.F.K. Airport with the window shades drawn and doors sealed. To make matters worse, no one aboard made any attempt at communication, even by cell phone, to loved ones. It’s a dead plane.

Enter CDC Canary Project team leader Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll). Forced to leave his family therapy session, the man of the hour arrives at the airport, and doesn’t hesitate in taking command of the situation. Despite his failing efforts at his home life, it’s clear that Eph is a master at his trade. Accompanied by his colleagues, Dr. Nora Martinez (Mía Maestro) and Jim Kent (Sean Astin), he investigated the issue at hand. Going on-board the dead plane, Eph and Nora discovered every passenger dead, from what they can only assume is a deadly pathogen. Cue the jump-scares when four of the travelers awakened, seemingly in good health. 

Mysteries ensued as Holocaust survivor and pawn-shop owner Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) came to J.F.K. Airport to address Eph and his team. With his sword-cane in hand, Abraham pleaded for the CDC to kill the survivors and destroy all 200 bodies from the flight. The label of psychotic old-timer was slapped on him immediately, but what followed may change Eph’s mind later. A large, handcrafted wooden box was unloaded from the plane’s consignments despite no records indicating its initial loading.

The shady corporation, Stoneheart Group, arranged to have this mysterious box stolen from the airport. Here is where things hit the fan, in the best way. The creature from the plane, known as The Master, is an ancient vampire that planned to send his vampiric disease into New York City. To make matters worse, Stoneheart Group is actually under his full control. With the help of Eldritch Palmer, the billionaire behind the company, along with expert internet hacker, Dutch Velders, New York fell into communication silence. The survivors of Flight 753 spread the disease. The 200 reanimated corpses terrorized the city.

In the previous episode, “Creatures of the Night,” the show became a wonderfully creepy, adrenaline-filled thrill ride. The “vampirism” meets “infection” concept isn’t particularly new, given 2009’s Daybreakers starring Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe. But The Strain does it best. Blending contagion and bloodsucking, Del Toro creates a beautiful balance between 28 Days Later and 30 Days of Night. These vampires aren’t debonair like Dracula or the blood lustful sex symbols from True Blood. They’re like the zombies from 2004’s Dawn of the Dead meets the infected from Resident Evil.  They’re agile, vicious, and uncaring. They’re the things of nightmares.

Sunday’s episode, “The Disappeared,” may not have had the same ruthless impact as last week’s installment, but it wasn't a low point for the series. Eph’s son, Zach, came home to find a few unwelcome surprises. First, the house was a wreck. Second, his mother was missing. Third and most gravely, he found his mom’s boyfriend, Matt, infected and wanting to drink him like a human milkshake. Not a good way to start the night. Eph came to the rescue and went all-out Death Becomes Her on Matt with a shovel. After that, things slowed for the sake of character development. Unfortunately though, nothing illuminating came to pass. The Strain excels in relation to action and suspense, but the emotional conflict makes the plot slog a bit.

Even with this weaker episode, FX’s The Strain is still must-watch television.

Episode Rating: B -
Series Rating: A -


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