My opinion of your show doesn’t bode well if its season finale feels more like a pilot episode than the actual pilot episode.
Maybe I’m so spoiled with high quality zombie/vampire lore in media that The Strain had no chance of affecting the “monster horror” bits of dopamine receptors in my brain. Maybe it’s because of the timely news that Ebola is seemingly more dangerous in its symptoms, and actually scarier, than vampire or zombie invasions. And that’s not just a generalization made because of it being a real disease; Ebola literally invades a host just from blood, and remains undetected for nearly a month. I’m not a member of the CDC, but compared to this, cellophane worms and stinger throats just seem silly.
The Strain has quality pieces of its massive Pandora’s Puzzle Box throughout, but, as a low-budget first season cable network show that needs to have consistent effects, it’s super silly. The problem, however, is that it could have played into the silliness more. Exaggerated characters and settings and make-up worked well, but Ephraim Goodweather’s family drama, attempts at fixing that drama, and “grounding” the show in a sort of reality, all in the midst of a vampire apocalypse, weighed the show down. Essentially, having the authors of the book as showrunners did more harm than good to The Strain’s tone in attempting to keep it serious and creepy when the resources just weren’t there yet.
First, in this season one finale, Eldritch Palmer is up and about, and is mortified that he’s not special enough to The Muppet to achieve the gift of immortality, thus his arc for this episode began his efforts to appease his new master as Eichorst once did. Because the first scare of The Strain’s finale definitely needed to be throwing helpless women off of skyscraper balconies. Now that Eldritch’s feet work for themselves, his butler, Fitzwilliam, decides to call it quits and essentially tells the old rich white dude to go to hell, since he’s halfway there already.
Picking up from last week, Gus was picked up by the Vampire Assassin’s Creed leader, and has struck a deal to exact vengeance on The Muppet, whose mulch box he so blindedly escorted into the city, ultimately costing Gus his brother, mother, best friend and, well, his home city. Maybe the world too. After witnessing Gus’ downfall last week, Miguel Gomez finally gets to express his pain, and he does it quite well. Upon the season finale, we’re set up with Gus being offered a chance to do the Vampire Watchmen’s dirty work in the daylight, something that they can’t do themselves, but we’re also introduced to a new piece of Del Toro’s puzzle box: The Ancients, who are set up in a very dark cellar and surrounded by a pool of what I’d assume is sacrificial blood. I know nothing about them, but they looked cool, and I assume they’re basically vampiric apostles of good, or something.
In the main plot of this episode, we’re first shown one of Zack’s memories we’d seen before from Kelly’s smartphone, but effectively transition to see that Zack is dreaming this memory, startlingly awakened in a strange place by a strange noise, presented in a fairly well-thought indication of a child struggling to get used to this life on the run, unable to go home. When Eph and Fet go out to do some recon, we finally get back to the relevance of the only “survivor” of the four from “Night Zero’s” dead plane, Gabriel Bolivar! Remember him? With the wig? No, the other guy with the wig.
Although he has become more of a backdrop vampire, his club in Tribeca has become relevant, as it is where The Muppet is hiding himself, I guess in good company of Robert De Niro. This recon mission proves, yet again, that Fet is by far the character with the most general smarts and wit. His ability to adjust to this world consistently plays off Eph in a solidly entertaining way, as Eph is more of a straight man in a world where Fet feels strangely comfortable, just like it was any other extermination job. Fet was able to show off his know-how of architecture in Manhattan before, but it truly shines here, as he explains that Bolivar’s club used to be a speakeasy, and proves a tunnel to exist in the building across the street, and methodically planning ahead by pulling the storm drains out of the street to make the sun pour into the tunnels and deflect the vamps.
Ephraim soon realizes that he can’t protect Zack from everything, especially with Kelly’s husk still out there searching for those she once loved, so the finale is the big moment where the children amidst anarchy learn how to defend themselves, as Eph stumbles in trying to explain the vampire’s aversion to silver, but more so how to stab it with a sword (i.e., kill).
Of course, Zack still believes his mother is out there and alive, and fakes having an asthma attack so that Eph would go back to the house. Kelly’s vampire husk, of course, reveals itself to Eph and a traumatized Zack, and decides to lumber away instead of attack. Why? Because I guess we need a season 2 plot, that’s why.
Everyone gets through this without a scratch, but Ephraim, who was literally shown dumping Dutch’s liquor earlier in the exact same episode and depicting his progress away from alcoholism, takes a drink of whiskey just because he can’t handle that he lied to his son. If House of Cards was any indication, SPOILER ALERT FOR HOUSE OF CARDS, Corey Stoll has just signed his death sentence with that single sip of alcohol, and it was for an outrageously stupid reason. Although, it is the end of the world instead of a political career, so I guess the stakes are raised here.
Prior to this encounter with Kelly’s husk, there is a showdown in the Bolivar’s speakeasy club, and it is the most awkward, slowly paced action scene I’ve ever seen. The kills are numerous and cool-looking, except for the confusing Kelly-look-alike-vamp that confused the hell out of me, but the battle’s pacing is elongated and cumbersome, I suppose to pad out its rather short time in the hour, but not needing more choreography or Elmer’s Glue blood. In the upstairs of the club, Setrakian hunts for The Muppet, who goofily thrusts his cape in a “draculaic” fashion (I’ve been waiting all season to use that word I made up). Ephraim comes up with the brilliant idea to break the windows, which is a great way to get a leg up on the fight, but when I, as the audience realize it, I think “The Master is an absolute idiot for having his minions in a building so susceptible to their primary weakness.” Although we learn in an admittedly cool visual effects sequence that The Muppet, while weakened by it, cannot be killed by sunlight. Why? Because we need a season 2 plot, that’s why.
The Strain Episode I – xiii “The Master” (6/10)
The Strain will return for its second season in 2015.