Evan has a problem with The Strain’s wasted potential! *Gasp!* What? Again?!
This week on The Strain we have episode 10, “Loved Ones”, providing, in some capacity, what I pretty much wanted in the first place. We have our gathering at Setrakian’s Little Shop of Horrors and two plans are devised, which serve as our two plot threads to split into this week: Dutch reveals to the the group that she was the person responsible for bringing down the network to, I don’t know, stick it to the man, and that her employer was this universe’s Donald Trump, Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde), whose involvement with Eichorst and the vampire occult was so vague, uninteresting and mostly irrelevant until this week that I barely even bothered mentioning him at all before today. Our second mission for the week is Eph working with Zach to track down Kelly, as they were able to just barely retrieve the location of her phone with… I think he used Find My iPhone? By typing it into Safari browser? I don’t know, computer magic.
Finally, an episode of The Strain that focuses its attention on no more than two plots (other than the bottle episode, “Creatures of the Night” two weeks ago) and not only that, but these individual “missions” have a focus. One to try and restore balance to the world, beginning with the restoration of the network with Fet and Dutch, and the other much more an internal mission with Ephiram’s search for Kelly.
Let’s get the subplot out of the way first. Vassili insists on helping Dutch get into the Stoneheart building, where Eldritch is holding himself, in their attempt to reverse her deal. Now, I’ve never seen Kevin Durand (Lost, Touching Evil) in any other role, but Vassili Fet may just be my favorite character yet as this overconfident, smart ass exterminator. Of course, the charming Russian accent doesn’t do a whole lot to keep them from being noticed as they’re pulled out of the elevator immediately by Eldritch’s butler… I still can’t remember his name for the life of me.
Fitzwilliam! Who, by the way, is the only recurring African American character on the show and is not even listed on the official IMDB page? What’s up with that?
Anyway, Fitzwilliam takes russian prince charming and Dutch aside with his five extra butler bodyguards and takes her in to see Eldritch, who reveals through monologue, out of his bad guy instinct, that he’s allowing the world to go to shit with this vampire infection in the name of discovering immortality for himself, playing it up as a favor to the world; “upgrading humanity’s software” as he calls it.
Fet and Dutch are then sentenced to death, but Fitzgerald, finally settling all of his insecurities about his employer for good, allows them to go in the most awkward alliance twist I’ve ever seen on television. What will happen to Fitzgerald? At this rate we may not know until season two.
Now on to plotline A, where we have the most natural, and most heartfelt moments between Eph and his son we’ve seen in The Strain thus far. How can you tell your son the probability that his mother is dead and turned into a vampire? It’s not an easy decision.
The episode decides to take a noir-ish story thread at its most basic by structuring Eph’s search for Kelly as a backtracking of her final hours, while cutting to “X hours earlier” to show us what Kelly was going through.
The episode actually opens with events prior to last week’s, as Kelly encounters the undead Matt, holding her own until she’s able to escape the house, but not without becoming infected herself. Finally, in episode 10, we see who the victim is of all the disgusting promotional art for the show, the one of the cellophane worm infecting via eyeball. It was Kelly all this time! Spoiler Alerts, marketing department! What if someone recognized Natalie Brown’s eyeball in all that Comic Con promotional art? Huh?
From there we see Kelly’s slow, tragic progression into becoming a creature of the night: from the dehydration, to sucking the life from her friend Diana and son, and ultimately following The Master’s voice into the depths of the MTA deep below.
Eph, hours later, is attempting to track her down throughout the episode, finding her cell phone taken by a homeless woman. He eventually finds Diana in her basement already turned, so he somberly puts her and her son out of their misery. Eph eventually turns up with no trace of his ex wife other than her broken necklace, and goes back to Setrakain’s home and makes a decision that infuriated me.
Morality and truthfulness are issues constantly presented to characters in post-apocalypse “controlled” chaos like zombies, and let’s face it, the only thing keeping The Strain from being about zombies is that we’re told otherwise in the narrative. So, we expect the decision to just tell Zach that his mother has become a vampire is a hard one for Eph, but deciding to lie to him just complicates the story further. As a video gaming fan who has played Telltale’s The Walking Dead (not based on the show, mind you), where the decisions in a morbid, morally grey world are up the player, I found my brain furiously mashing ‘X’ or ‘A’ or ‘Y’ or whatever, wanting Eph to give Zach the true answer, but he didn’t.
Between this awful, stupid decision, and deciding to be straight with Nora, after sleeping with her, that he still loves his ex-wife makes me confident in declaring Ephiram Goodweather a flip-flopping asshole, and the only reason he is an asshole is because the story demands setting up future drama.
The primary issue I continuously complained about as I watched “Loved Ones” is the episode’s wasted potential in poignancy for Kelly becoming lost to the world, and to Eph and Zach. If this episode was seen as a standalone by someone just getting into the series, or if The Strain’s first season were allowed to be shorter (hell, FX produced Fargo, and that was only ten episodes), this chapter would mean so, so much more.
If “Creatures of the Night” was intended to be The Strain’s “pay off” action episode, “Loved Ones” is intended to be the heartbreaking episode that hits home, as any zombification or supernatural corruption story will eventually attempt. Hell, Shaun of the Dead almost made me cry when Edgar Wright did it (sorry for spoilers on Shaun’s mum if you haven’t seen the movie, but it IS ten years old now).
My point regarding Kelly’s transformation into a vampire is that it would mean so much more if it was the first time we’ve witnessed the tragedy in the series. Instead, we’ve seen it happen, at length, with multiple characters in the first half of the season, most of whom are dead, and more than half of them we never cared about. If the series was not stretched out to 13 episodes, or if it was just the first time we saw this transformation, I would give this episode an outstanding rating. Contained within its own events, “Loved Ones” works, but it’s too little too late at this point in time, and it’s really a huge shame this is the case. The episode’s conclusion with Zach flipping through his mom’s phone and watching her video of his birthday sent saddening goosebumps down my spine.
In and of itself, as a standalone episode, I’d say it’s as good as “Creatures of the Night”, which I gave an 8/10, but with everything that’s happened in the nine episodes before this? Not a chance in hell. Or, the Manhattan subway, pick your poison.
Goddamn Corey Stoll’s wig.
The Strain Episode I – x “Loved Ones” (5/10)