This week’s fifth episode of The Strain suffers from the exact thing I detailed in last week’s recap of “It’s Not For Everyone,” specifically about its attempts to balance so many characters that the episode feels like it is wandering.
I made a harsh criticism of Nora Ramirez in last week’s episode, stating that if she, as a major CDC agent, was going to actively play no role in this plague-like epidemic, that she might as well be in a sitcom, because characters remain stagnant in sitcoms. That’s not a criticism of the format itself, more that it is just something that occurs within comedic serialized entertainment. One other thing that sitcoms do is have nicely wrapped up stories per each installment, and while this is a discussion about an ongoing “drama” series, a word that The Strain disconnects itself from a bit more as each episode passes, an ongoing series needs an appeal in its individual 42 minute runtime (sans commercials), not just more setting up for next week. I should be able to watch The Strain and feel as though the story has made clear progress within the weekly installment, that there was a self contained story that helps deepen or develop the characters, and whether that thread picks up later is up to the creators. Instead, The Strain feels as though I’m reading two to three page chapters about seven or so characters, and are sent to me weekly via airwaves. My biggest beef with this week’s episode was the introduction of telling Abraham Setrakian’s (David Bradley) origin, or his christening into the vampire hunting world, which I had sensed would come sooner or later and found the idea intriguing. I did not expect two things regarding Setrakian’s story from this episode: the first being comical, in that his exposition sequence we should have received two weeks ago was dished out to Ephiram in an abandoned house over scrambled eggs and toast, which were made and eaten quite sloppily, nearly making me choke on my own breakfast from laughter at the time. Abraham was even nice enough to wash the dishes for the dead folk, and Goodweather drops the term “vampire” in a way that digs a hole deeper into the corniness that was already cemented before.
My other issue regarding Setrakian’s exposition is the introduction to his origin story. However, even though I’m not bothered by it being given to us in flashback sequences, I’d like a bit more opportunity to see such a worn- down character learning in his prime in alignment with Goodweather learning currently. My issue is in regards to the fact that it began so late, here at episode five, with already too many characters occupying the screen space, and the intercutting between scenes is not thematically chosen, triggered by dialogue, or anything of the sort. It just plays clips of the next part of the story when the editors think we are ready for it. The struggle I had, and perhaps it was because I was munching on a banana at the time, was that after our first flashback to 1944 Poland, there was no indication to let the audience know that’s what we were watching, instead of one of the every-other plot threads currently happening in the present. This could easily have been fixed with a stylistic choice. They could have gone for a Schindler’s List look and made those scenes black and white. The only indication, because each cut to young Setrakian begins with him laying in a dark cabin, is to think “Oh, right, this is not in Manhattan.” The reason that the flashback sequences work so consistently in CW’s Arrow is that they are triggered by the character’s interactions and reactions to the world around him, and those flashbacks have everything to do with what we just saw in present day. That, and those scenes have a distinctively desaturated, maybe even greener, look to them, marking a clear indication for the audience. This is a lot of griping for only a select few scenes in this episode, but it speaks greatly about the effort made by the editors of The Strain, and I would argue that that effort amounts to “Not A Lot.”
The effects sequences in the episode, however, were good. The scene were Goodweather kills his first vampire was well done. I’m glad Nora’s concern was quickly rendered moot when she had to clear her ailing mother out of the nursing home that was being raided by vampires. I’m glad the vampires are beginning to take action and get the ball rolling. I was especially feeling a sense of redemption for Jim’s (Sean Astin) mistakes in a great sequence of getting Eph out of the CDC before he could be arrested, and, for God’s sake, giving him a winter cap so he couldn’t be recognized by that godforsaken hairpiece. I really hope he leaves that hat on.
The problem is, this show should be doing more by now, and the fact that I’m still feeling the need to talk about Corey Stoll’s wig says a lot about me, but I like to think it says more about the show. There are so many things up in the air about it, and it’s in swapping a silly and grim tone that could have been its saving grace, but it just doesn’t feel like it clicks the way other show like this have done well before. I don’t have a lot else to latch on to other than the wig. I enjoy the creature design, but I get excited more when the vampires begin to show up because the only thing on my mind is “Thank God, something’s actually happening.” I’m going to start being much harder on this show in the way I should have been from the start, and until The Strain starts providing evidence of something better within it, it just might stay that way. If you’re still watching after this episode, you’re probably getting exactly what you’re looking for, because the other folks would have dropped off by now.
Episode I – v “Runaways” (6.5/10)