When this episode began, I wished it featured the episode’s title in its credits as Ephraim Goodweather performed his autopsy of Del Toro’s biological hot mess of a vampire, because calling this episode of The Strain “It’s Not for Everyone” is undeniably a double entendre in reference to its audience. Grandma, I’m so sorry I told you about this show I’ve been reviewing, because you may have been rapidly breathing into a paper bag and feeling like throwing up after seeing Corey Stoll sloppily pulling out an elongated stinger from a man’s bashed-in head.
Despite this exact distinction that I declared upon the first episode’s airing, “It’s Not for Everyone” is certainly The Strain’s best episode so far, marking several levels of improvement over the course of two episodes. The troubles in this fourth chapter were a worry I had from the second episode, but have yet to address because I was hoping it wouldn’t go the way I feared. I now feel I was wrong, and am unafraid in saying that The Strain, as a horror series, just has too many characters. You can have a show take multiple main characters, or many supporting characters, and make it work, as Game of Thrones or The Wire have previously done. Or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, a show like this can suffer in the way NBC’s Heroes did, which had multiple characters from many walks of life somehow mysteriously connected by something grander.
For example, The Strain has had multiple survivors of the plane crash that we follow through subplots, two of which are officially dead. One is the lawyer who hasn’t appeared since episode two, another is Ansel the steak-drinker dad (who had some of the biggest scene-stealing moments this week with his transition to vampirism), and the other is the Marylin Manson ripoff who lost his junk last week, who does not appear in “It’s Not for Everyone” either. Additionally, we have Vassili Fet the exterminator who was also a no-show this week after two episodes of introductory work, only to give us more of Gus the ex-convict. I mentioned in my episode two review that I enjoyed Gus because of Miguel Gomez’s performance. It’s one thing taking a scene of our time to introduce his mother and his addict brother, but to take his arc for a whole other episode to reintroduce these aspects and have him go out on a new Grand Theft Auto adventure feels unnecessary and is a waste of his presence in one week’s worth of time on The Strain, especially considering it is a show that insists on its “countdown to outbreak” kind of story.
The struggle with the aforementioned Heroes was multiple plot threads being shoehorned together into a large coexisting world, which is an ambitious idea that didn’t turn out quite as epic as the insinuated “Save the cheerleader, save the world” mantra it boasted. I understand that this grand plot of the Mulch Vamp Occult has many moving parts, and it can be fun to see how they manipulate people into spreading their virus, but this works in regards to thrillers and political drama, whereas with horror, as I’ve mentioned before, the audience is aware of the expendability of the supporting cast.
The Strain’s blending of character plot lines feels much more realistic and attainable than Heroes, but the trouble is so many of these characters are turning into their vampiric forms, and are swiftly being killed off. Between those poor folks, and characters like Jim, Fet and Gus seeming expendable at any time, one has to wonder if getting to know the likes of Gabriel the Rock Star will become a waste of our time. Certainly, by the fourth episode, I was prepared for more pages from that treasured “Cliche: A Novel” but I was not expecting for them to introduce yet another character who filled the role of “magician hacker” for more setup of the grand scheme as hired by this series’ villains.
The trigger for my decision to focus on this number of character issues this week is Goodweather’s second encounter with Mr. Abraham Setrakian, when Eph and Nora go to investigate the awoken French girl in her father’s house. Goodweather found himself at a major crossroad this week, as he now undoubtedly believes Setrakian’s plan to hunt the bodies and burn these vessels, or vampires, will work and, committed to eradicating this horrific virus, he parts ways with Nora, who, as Abraham mentioned as she left the scene, is afraid of the change. Truthfully, it seems like a good idea for her to part ways with Eph as a character in that she may prove troublesome in his efforts later on (more so for our entertainment in drama rather than for Eph himself), but if she remains a character in her own arc apart from his, she’d better get used to this brave new world she lives in, because Agent Martinez is in a horror drama series, not a sitcom. Only in sitcoms can characters get away with being stagnant in their decisions and morality.
I do not believe that Guillermo Del Toro has any intention of wasting viewers’ time, as The Strain has moments of properly cutting to the chase. I greatly appreciated that Jim didn’t beat around the bush, and confessed to being blackmailed by the spooky German entrepreneur ten minutes into this episode. The time for setting up is over, and as the character veins begin to splice open, the blood slowly seeps into one puddle, but that blood is flowing as thick as molasses at this rate. Ephiram had no personal family drama in this episode, and I hope that he won’t until he’s gone through some Dagobah style training with Abraham Setrakian and his fanciful sword. And a haircut.
Episode I – iv “It’s Not for Everyone” (7/10)