Character growth! Emotion! Backstory! “Penultimat-ion!”
The Strain finally presents to us an episode that is worthwhile for reasons other than anticipation for effects sequences.
Tragic and captivating are the words for our flashbacks to Abraham’s young adult life in “Last Rites,” where we see him many years beyond his time in Poland and his first encounter with The Master. We’re shown his vampire hunting career starting small, in 1967 Shkoder, Albania, where it was even a struggle to acquire a horse to get around, as it seems. We, for the first and last time, meet Abraham’s beautiful wife Miriam, and are subjected to a touching, doomed conversation about how they’d settle down once he’s completed his task and adopt a boy and girl. In pieces throughout the episode, we see Abraham trudge into the depths of a well in the outskirts of the town, encountering a vampire, and with Eichorst, for the first time in decades, who set this trap especially for him. Abraham climbs the walls of the well slowly and runs back to Miriam, only to find the house ransacked and turned over. In the doorway, a turned Miriam stands with a child vampire held in each hand, sickeningly taunting him. This is a moment for Abraham, clearly, as we see his mission from God turn into a quest for revenge. He cuts Miriam’s heart out as a reminder of the world he is forced to leave behind by Eichorst.
“Last Rites” handles stapling this story in very well, feeling like a natural progression from the previous flashbacks, but also being very well written, and edited, into the episode. When I say well written and edited, I mean small, subtle cues that evoke emotion, like when Ephraim gets back to Zach and apologizes for not returning by sunset like he promised he would. This hits Abraham with a wave of horrid memory, well performed in a simple expression by David Bradley, making him remember the first scene with Miriam where he promises the very same in his last moments with her. I found myself surprised, as I found it stupidly easy to predict who the heart in the jar belonged to, and how it became that way, from even the first episode, “Night Zero.” But its story was delayed for so long that I’d nearly forgotten it, and this series of flashbacks was so well timed and performed that I felt I knew Abraham a little too closely by “Last Rite’s” end, even more than the rest of the cast when he apologizes for his rash actions in the sewers in last week’s events of “The Third Rail.” Abraham had given up, and to him, this was God giving him a second chance to make things right.
Having finally finished the first season of Netflix’s House of Cards (yes, I know how late to the game I am), I was curious to see how Corey Stoll could stand against himself in my own mind, as I found him the most compelling character as recovering addict Congressman Peter Russo. I found it a bit funny that this episode happened to be the one in which he would actually perform a speech, as Dutch devises a plan to have him get on the Emergency Alert System airwaves to warn the people of New York. He stumbles a bit, as a scientist who is not a public speaker might, but I could tell Stoll was able to channel a little bit of Russo in this moment. Finally, our characters do something in The Strain that actually works. As Dutch said in the first moments of “Last Rites” in a bit of a metaphorical way, the show is in much need of “A Win” instead of just any kind of plan.
Dutch and Fet have a somehow telling conversation on the roof while setting up Eph’s broadcast. Fet, despite being a charmer, always finds a way to prove himself to be very intelligent, and worth keeping around. Dutch, now willing to share her positive relationship with her father and living in London, is quite useful to the team as well, and would add a much needed DIY female character to the story. I’m hoping that the glimmer of romance between these two doesn’t cause either of them to end up dead, because that would be much too Whedonesque for this show’s own good.
For all my complaining about Nora’s mother (among other things), it is an awful tragedy that she was bitten in “Last Rites.” Nora seems to be the character on the team to have to endure the most pain in order to get her head in the game, since she was such a huge naysayer in the beginning of the outbreak. If this episode proved to be a defining moment for Abraham and for Dutch, it certainly was for Nora, and Mia Maestro’s chilling emotion with axe in hand made me forget about how many times I’d seen this kind of plot point before.
Gus, on the other side of the city, and the story, has performed a landslide back into crime, interestingly told only by his actions, but very clearly as a result of his own mother being lost to him in last week’s events. I hate to see a character trying to save himself from a life of crime slip so far from where he’s come, but it is clear that he did everything for his family. Now, with nothing, he’s emotional, angry, and desperately trying to survive, and this is by far the most compelling Miguel Gomez has been since episode 2.
“Last Rites” was bookended by my only negative points through the hour, with Eldritch Palmer on his death bed, claiming he has faith in Eichorst and The Master. At the conclusion, however, after an hour filled with such poignancy and growth, we get a hamtastic performance by Jonathan Hyde, begging for the life of a vampire more desperately than Kristen Stewart. Combine that with this face:
… and you’ve got me laughing. Don’t even get my started on the magic Capri Sun coming out of The Master’s fingernails. What kind of elixir is that? I’ve never seen a vampire do something that ridiculous. Oh, wait, maybe it’s his blood, but that makes too much sense.
The Strain episode I – xii “Last Rites” (8.5/10)