I’m not sure what’s going on anymore. I understand that Guillermo Del Toro is a special effects master. So what the hell, if I may so crudely ask, happened with The Master?
There are a couple of classic stories in film regarding special effects characters: Jaws and Yoda. While filming Jaws, Bruce the shark was a ridiculous tank of a prop and kind of a hunk of junk, and was the bane of Steven Spielberg’s early career. But instead of showing off the honking sized beast, he used the classic “less is more” mentality. You show as little of our antagonistic beast as possible, shroud it with darkness or water or whatever, and the audience fills in the rest, and that paved the way for suspense and creature features for decades to come. In regards to Yoda, George Lucas wouldn’t settle for a puppet any less than perfect because this special effect was a main character. Thanks to the talented “muppeteering” by Frank Oz, and construction by Stuart Freeborn, Yoda felt real to both kids and adults.
So, if Guillermo Del Toro, a special effects wizard, is building up to this big encounter with The Master, why does he look so damn goofy!? This is the man who created the Fawn from Pan’s Labyrinth, who made Hellboy believable, and whatever the hell this thing is. He could have recycled almost any background character from that scene in Hellboy II and it would have been scarier than this guy. This guy belongs on Sesame Street, counting numbers. So, now we’re at a double-edged sword. When Eichorst was running things, the Master was in the shadows, wearing his mulch-doused hood, and he had a creepy aura about him– you didn’t see him. Now he’s been revealed twice and I burst out laughing each time. Is he going to be a true character now? Because if he is, someone needs to scar him up or something, because I’m not going to buy it, and neither are the people who waited 11 episodes for this encounter.
Let’s cover the rest of the episode, I suppose. Vasili builds an Ultraviolet light bomb in Setrakian’s basement, and basically says “Eh, we’ll wing it.” Abraham coyly replies that he’s basically been “winging it” for 60 years, which makes more sense than it should, really.
Ephiram, Nora, Vasili and Abraham saddle up for a trip into the subway tunnels in a vague attempt to “end all of this” and they leave Zach behind at The Shop with Nora’s forgetful mother. Take a guess at what we’re shown first?
Due to budgeting limitations, it’s understandable that the whole episode can’t be set in the colorfully lit subway tunnels, but having Zach deal with Nora’s mother is more painful to watch than Vassili almost getting bit crawling through a hole in the wall. So, this plot thread of “The Third Rail” turns into Vampire Goonies, as Nora’s mother complains about needing cigarettes. I understand that this is a serious, real world condition that Nora’s mother has, and it’s a tragic thing to have to watch a loved one go through, constantly forgetting everything in the world around them. The problem is that this woman is endlessly needy. She would have been a pain in the ass even without this dementia or alzheimer’s, and yelling at a little boy about needing cigarettes isn’t really excusable for anyone. Thus, Zach decides to be a big boy and go out to a convenience store against his dad’s wishes, which is mostly empty until some looters show up, and, additionally, Gus, for a moment in our “It’s All Connected” scene for the week.
Before encountering Zach, Gus makes it back to his mom’s apartment to discover his addict brother has turned vampire too, yet, even in his mindless zombie state, is watching soccer. Two questions: how does a vampire have consciousness to pay attention to anything on television, and what the hell is going on with the suddenly working TV signal? Is it the World Cup? I guess Brazil’s satellite network is going just fine. So, Gus kills him and the landlord, but can’t endure the pain of putting his mother out of her misery, leaving her to wander the city until the decision comes back to bite someone later.
The hero squad heading to the subway tunnels is our primary plot for the episode, and while I was worried that the only thing interesting about it would be the colorful lighting, it was actually quite thrilling apart from the un-scary encounter. Ephiram and Fet butt heads over leadership in an entertaining bout of quips, and Ephiram reveals how much he actually cares about his ex-wife by letting The Master ring her voice through his head. Anyone with claustrophobia must have had a hard time watching this episode, because the sequence where each of the main four crawl in the tunnel is gut-churning, and I was almost positive Vassili was going to bite it then and there, but I guess we’re at the point where too many characters have died.
After the encounter with the mulch-dwelling Muppet, we at least get to see Abraham’s last straw break as he takes an ax to the evil box he’d built so long ago, and it feels that this was the true payoff for this week’s episode now that the audience is aware of the history between Setrakian and the vampires.
“The Third Rail” concludes with the discovery of maybe thousands of photoshopped nesting vampires, and Abraham ready to thrust himself head on into the horde, being pulled back by the other three since Vassili idiotically wasted his UV disco ball to shoo The Master away. I’m just throwing it out there, but maybe give Buffy Summers a call? She handled this exact situation pretty damn well.
Overall a decent episode, but major points off for an annoying subplot and The Muppet encounter.
The Strain episode I – xi “The Third Rail” (7/10)