If there was any episode of this show so far to mark with a SPOILER ALERT, this would probably be it. That’s my indication of saying this week’s installment of The Strain was actually worth watching to preserve such a surprise.
“Creatures of the Night,” the eighth episode, is the first I have watched in the company of others since the premier, “Night Zero,” back in July, and that barely counts, because the company consisted of my father snoring louder than the stereo on his television, and then startling himself awake. Not from any jump scares or commercials, but from his own snoring.
On the other hand, that way of watching “Creatures of the Night” is a scenario in which the majority of Americans find themselves watching television, rather than methodically sitting in front of a computer screen studying scenery and dialogue. I had finished a long day traveling up to Boston and back home with my family, assisting my brother move in a pretty great apartment, despite being up three crookedly narrow flights of stairs. My point being, everyone was exhausted, and I sat on the couch with my bruised foot from the day propped up with an ice pack colder than Vladimir Putin’s heart. However, I consciously recorded this week’s The Strain on the DVR, and asked my family if it was cool if I could watch it to get my review done. This viewing consisted of me being exhausted, my mother who gave up at episode 4, my father who has never enjoyed horror at all, and my aunt who introduced me to mostly everything I’ve ever enjoyed in the genre.
I was shocked to find myself so lucky in that this episode of The Strain was constantly thrilling and consistently fun, and that its normal goofiness that it often stumbles over while trying to be scary came across as fun in a large action set piece.
So, what is going on in this episode? I am pleased to reveal that The Strain has achieved an episode where it does not waste time randomly splicing between plot threads, as it conjoins Vassili Fet with Ephraim and Abraham’s crew. This episode is the first indication that the world is beginning to fall to pieces, as even the likes of “Eph the Family Man” aren’t thinking twice about looting from a hardware store. It’s in this hardware store that they run into Fet, who is looting more shamelessly than they are, but has achieved the same brilliant idea: to specifically get rechargeable UltraViolet lamps to create an artificial sunlight, which is one of the three main weaknesses of the vampires. Nora puts how we’re supposed to feel about all the chaos out in the open, by questioning how Fet could slip into calling “every man for himself” before this plague has barely begin. This is a place in the show that I found myself actually enjoying, by putting characters who I already knew together who didn’t necessarily know each other, as I feel I learned a bit more about Fet from his interaction with the CDC squad.
“Creatures of the Night” does a lot of pushing the limits of what our characters are capable of, as Nora, subtly in one of the many firefights of the episode, is able to fire a gun at these creatures and recognize them for the empty shells that they truly are. I’ll get to the other main example in a moment.
Now, I won’t go ahead and call it genius, as I’m sure it has been done in other post-apocalyptic scenarios in, say, The Walking Dead, but I found it rather smart that this week’s episode achieved super convenient product placement in a convenience store, and racks up the dollars in effects budget this week by making it the location for, what is referred to in TV Land as, a “Bottle Episode,” much like the famous episode “The Fly” in Breaking Bad. I could see dollar signs light up over every item in the store any second they were on screen, and this episode uses that extra budget quite well. Thus, the majority of “Creatures of the Night” is spent trying to devise a plan to escape from the convenience store to a truck in the middle of the parking lot, surrounded by vampires. Baby steps, right?
In this episode we are reintroduced to the British girl who acted as our “Internet Hacker” plot device a few weeks ago, who just so happens to be in the very same convenience store, but we don’t really have the opportunity to learn much about her other than she’s kind of a coward, she doesn’t give a crap about anyone else, and she’s not beyond drinking straight malt vinegar. However, as mentioned before, I appreciate she was conveniently already where Eph and crew were going to be, rather than wasting screen time cutting away to see her somewhere else.
The poignant point of the episode is where I would place a marker for SPOILER ALERTS, because someone dies as a result of this attempt to escape, and it’s someone we’ve come to care about quite a lot. Well, I don’t know if I care for Jim, necessarily, as he made some stupid decisions, but he was once Samwise Gamgee… and I share a lot of brotherly feels for that guy.
Jim was nicked in the face in the first escape attempt in this episode, and I find it sad, yet exciting, that I knew he was going to die from that one exact second with my knowledge of last week’s conclusion. It’s kind of brutal to think how hopeless this effort against these vampires is if even the tiniest scratch on the cheek can get these disturbing cellophane worms inside you. Of course, Eph cares about his friend, and believes he can get the worm out (as we’re only shown one worm for the time being) and performs an operation with a box cutter and tweezers, earning the show some proper “Gore Stars” for the first time in a while. The sequence was thrilling, and even though I was questioning every two seconds “What if there’s another one,” the characters’ relief made me believe that Jim would survive. Unfortunately my first instinct was correct. You did it, The Strain, you made me second guess myself. Good job, have a cookie.
This is where we roundabout back to the morality in an apocalyptic situation, as Jim knows what will happen to him if he is not killed. Both Eph and Nora want to get him to a hospital, but Abraham knows what needs to be done. Vassili objectively steps into the situation with enough understanding and puts a bullet in Jim’s head, and I instantly became glad that I had gotten to know Fet for a few episodes leading up to this, because his action and demeanor in this episode would made a stranger who knows none of his background hate him immediately.
The episode results in an escape with a gloriously cheesy, yet somehow thrilling escape, equipped with silver bullets, UV lights and some molotov cocktails. Thanks Kwik-E Mart!
Maybe I was exhausted, maybe I was lucky, but I think I had both going for me this week. This is most certainly The Strain’s big mid-season pay-off episode, but I seriously hope that it doesn’t slow down to start building up again, because it’s traveling at a good enough momentum to where I could start telling people, “Hey, you should go watch The Strain.”
In the meantime, I’m starting to hope my toe isn’t broken.
The Strain episode I – viii “Creatures of the Night” (8/10)