The second episode of The Strain did a select number of fascinating things, while achieving equal amounts of cliches that put a strain on my brain.
Speaking of which, I forgot to mention that last week’s premiere episode, “Night Zero,” had a significantly boisterous brain smashing in the parking garage of the airport. The smashing was the handy work of our most distinctively evil antagonist in The Strain, referred to in the show as “Him,” and referred to by me as “Mulch Dwelling Vamp.”
I also had so many things to say about last week’s episode that I didn’t bother mentioning that Sean Astin’s character, Jim, seems to be involved in the cult that allowed the Mulch Vamp’s box to leave the airport in the first place.
I mention these two aspects of “Night Zero” because our first meeting with Doctor Ephiram Good-wig, er, Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and his merry crew is the sudden call about this brain smashing incident. Jim’s first reaction to the sight of the mashed brain-tatoes, with scrumptious neck still attached to the completely intact body, is to barf. Goodweather’s explanation for Jim’s barfing is that “He’s not a doctor.” Goodweather and the CDC Mystery Machine may not know he’s a mole of some sort, but the audience and the writers do. If he’s involved in Mulch Vamp’s activities, he ought to be used to disturbing images like this, which tells me that he is such a good doobie that he’s practiced being bulimic, or he’s being blackmailed. We’ll see as the show goes along.
Before we even get to this point, the first five minutes of the episode introduce a new character, Russian pest exterminator Vasiliy Fet, played by Kevin Durand, whose only other appearance in the episode is when he inspects a restaurant on the West side of Manhattan for rats. What’s his deal? Is he going to be important? Guess we’ll find out later.
We also get to see a return of the Mulch Vamp’s escort away from the airport, Gus, performing his task for the un-breathing Erichost. Later on in the episode, we see Gus with his brother Chris, who had stolen a clock after his unsuccessful run-in with Abraham Strakian (David Bradley) at the pawn shop, and tries to pass off the stolen good as a gift for their mother. Once she leaves for church, Gus makes it really clear that he draws a line at involving his mother in his life of thieving, and that his brother should do the same. This scene is outstandingly performed by Miguel Gomez as Gus as he lectures his brother, and I hope that the character survives long enough to see him grow. The trouble with horror is that any supporting character could be expendable at any minute, but the raw emotion from Gomez in this scene leads me to believe there is something more to be had out of his last deed for the vampire cult.
The most exposition, the most answers, and the most enthralling moments of the episode are a reunion of Abraham Strakin and Erichost in the prison. At the end of the last episode, it was revealed that Strakin was a holocaust survivor when he was asked by another inmate what the numbers on his arms were.
Erichost refers to him by those numbers, “8230385.” He also calls him by his first name in a friendly manner, as well as “Old Friend” and “Jew” for dramatic effect. This scene oozes with the insinuation that Erichost, whether it was before or after becoming a vampire, was a Nazi, and that he and Abraham had a history within that period of time. A few mysterious trinkets are given backstory in this conversation as well, as Strakin says he’ll return “His,” which I presume is the Mulch Vamp’s, sword to him very soon. In an attempt to pry at Strakin’s emotions in return, Erichost inquires about “Her” heart, which leads me to believe that the tumorous heart that Strakin had kept in a jar belonged to a wife of a former lover. This is Strakin’s only appearance in the episode, but still proves to be the most compelling aspect, as this is the most building of lore we’ve seen in The Strain thus far.
On the other hand, this episode’s painful cliches, as well as the growth of Goodweather’s own backstory, are the detractors of fully enjoying The Strain. Once again, Stoll’s acting is compelling when he’s driving the plot and discovering the mystery of the contagion, albeit he and his casual lover / partner, Doctor Martinez, don’t react to these unusual phenomena in their study as drastically as one would expect. For experts in their field, one would find their disinterested reactions concerning, especially when a small French girl declared dead and kept at the morgue was claimed to have woken up and returned home by herself.
The most cliched dialogue of the episode was featured in getting Goodweather’s character irritated, such as his boss telling him “You’re not involved anymore.”
Or his ex-wife’s boyfriend saying “I hope we’ll be good friends.”
His son tells him “You always say something but it isn’t true.”
When he arrives at his Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, because his family troubles needed to be justified as his fault, he is told “I thought you wouldn’t show.”
When he stands and tells his story, it feels very much like we’re being told how Goodweather is supposed to be as a character, rather than simply being shown how he is. Just because a character says he’s sarcastic as a defense mechanism, doesn’t mean I believe it.
In the final moments of the episode, we’re given our truly creepy vampiric moments, where one of the four survivors released from the airport incident, the one who looks like a Marilyn Manson rip off, is trying to have some quiet time with his harem of groupies, when he’s suddenly attracted to nothing but her neck. He bites the poor girl, and as they run off screaming, he licks the blood methodically off the floor.
The closing scene of the show is far more interesting, as the undead French girl who walked back home from the morgue is discovered lying still in the bathtub by her father. Since he finally notices something is wrong, especially considering her skin is more grey than the bath water, he tries to get her out of the tub, suddenly realizing her hair is falling out. She kills him then and there when the episode ends. The important part of this is that her hair is falling out, which is a new symptom of characters on this show turning into vampires. Perhaps the key to getting Corey Stoll’s hairline into a more comfortable state for the audience is to turn Doctor Goodweather into a vampire! Then the hair will just need to fall off, anyway.
Episode I – ii “The Box” (6.5/10)