I should have been doing much more vital things this last week like writing my book but unfortunately for my future, I couldn’t take my eyes off ‘The Strain’, a fabulous vampire/virus related show that aired on FX and ended last year. I can tell you one thing, I have a hell of a lot more respect for this ‘dramatic program about the end of the world involving a disease that takes over it’s host and goes after others than ‘The Walking Dead’ and I’ll tell you why. This show had the decency to end before it ran out of ideas.
‘The Strain’ is based on a trilogy of books written by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. I’ve only just started reading the books but I don’t know why I am because I’ve seen all of the episodes and coincidentally, the series was created by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan who also stand as the shows executive producers. It’s the Harry Potter argument all over again.
Anyway, I love this series and whilst I’m upset that it’s over, I’m glad the show did what it was here to do and left gracefully. I’ll go through the show season by season, highlighting the changes in the characters and giving my take on the exciting happenings in the show. As ever, there is a spoiler warning on this review.
Season 1 starts out with a very mysterious happening indeed. A plan full of passengers lands at JFK airport. All electricity has been turned off and there are no sounds coming from inside the plane. The CDC are called in to investigate a possible outbreak.
Now we are introduced to the shows main character, Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll). Ephraim is an ‘epidemiologist’ and the study of ‘Epidemiology’ according to Google is defined as ‘the study and analysis of the distribution and determinants of health and disease conditions in defined populations’. So, make of that what you will.
In the Pilot episode, Ephraim is locked in a custody battle with his estranged wife, Kelly (Natalie Brown). She wants full custody of their son, Zach (Ben Hyland in Season 1, Max Charles in Season 2-4) for no better reason than Ephraim is too preoccupied with his work and consistently misses engagements with the family. In my mind, suing for full custody would be totally appropriate if the parent was abusive to the child or the other parent and therefore considered a threat but Ephraim is shown to be a nice guy who adores his son and his son adores him so whats the problem?
I strongly get the impression that the writers are deliberately making Kelly an unlikable character. Not only is she trying to get full custody of her and Eph’s son, she is living in Eph’s house with her new boyfriend, Matt (Drew Nelson) and altogether she’s cold, bitter and in my opinion, gets what she deserves.
Ephraim boards the plane with his colleague and girlfriend, Dr. Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro). When they enter, they discover that all of the passengers and crew are dead expect for four. Captain Doyle Refern (Jonathan Potts); Lawyer, Joan Luss (Leslie Hope), Ansel Barbour (Nikolai Witschl) and Gothic rockstar, Gabriel Bolivar (Jack Kesy) who has a significant part to play in the first three seasons.
The media and family members are quick to the airport and soon enough, the mysterious plane is all over the news. The story catches the attention of a very special old man who owns a pawn shop, Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley, Jim Watson in flashbacks). Abraham knows exactly what this story means and heads straight down to the airport to warn the CDC about the unmarked cargo they found in the hold, a massive, wooden box with strange carvings all over it. All does not go as planned however as Abraham is arrested while he is trying to warn them. You see, they take his truthful statements about vampires as crazy ramblings from a crazy old man. So he’s sent to jail.
Whilst in jail, Abraham gets a visitor. His visitor is a sinister one indeed. That visitor is Thomas Eichhorst (Richard Sammel). Don’t be fooled by his ‘human’ like appearance. Eichhorst is a vampire and a personal enemy of Abraham. You see, Eichhorst is not only an undead bastard. When he was alive, Eichhorst was just a regular kind of arsehole. Eichhorst, who is German, doesn’t refer to Abraham by name but by ‘A-230385’ which is also the number that is tattooed on Abraham’s arm should give the audience a big clue as to their relationship.
In a story told through flashbacks that are dotted around the episodes, Abraham was separated from his family and placed in a concentration camp as a young man during World War II. The ‘as a young man’ part plays in later on in the show. Eichhorst was a ‘commandant’ in this particular concentration camp and was as evil and sadistic as anyone would expect a Nazi to be. Eichhorst recruits Abraham for a ‘special project’ after being impressed by his wood carving skills. The ‘special project’ turns out be the huge box that’s now at JFK and contains something that’s not very nice. But the box doesn’t stay at JFK for too long.
Time to meet another main character. Augustin ‘Gus’ Elizalde is a gang member who has just recently been released from prison. He’s trying to go straight so he can look after his mother, Guadalupe (Adriana Barraza) and his brother, Crispin (Francis Capra). His search for ‘honest’ work doesn’t get him very far as it takes his straight to Eichhorst. Gus’ task is simple. All he has to do is pick up a van from JFK airport and drive it over the bridge and into New York. Gus completes his task and things get worse from there.
If I’ve done this right, there should just be one other main character from season 1 that should be mentioned. Some might say he’s the driving force behind all the evil doings of Eichhorst and the other main antagonist of the whole show. The character is that of billionaire business mogul and owner of ‘Stoneheart’, Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde). Palmer is a desperately ill old man whose reasons for helping out the evil people are somewhat different. Whilst Eichhorst and his boss’ motives are all the way evil and all the way consistent, Palmer just wants eternal life, the only thing that all of his money cannot buy. You see, Palmer has been ill for most of his life and constantly having bits removed and/or replaced. Now that he’s an old man, he wants to live the life that he couldn’t live and that’s one of not having to be assisted for his every movement of every day. All I can say is, it’s a good thing he’s rich because he’s obviously morally bankrupt. At least for the first few seasons he is. His character perks up a little bit in season 2 but I’ll get to that later.
The majority of the first season follows the survivors as their condition generally worsens and we as an audience overlook the true effects of the strain. Ephraim refuses to believe Abraham’s claims that this is a ‘vampire’ virus that has been around for centuries and is tirelessly looking for a solution. But eventually he gives in and joins Abraham on his quest to bring down the big bag, The Master (Robert Maillet, Season 1, voiced by Robin Atkin Downes). No, this isn’t ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’.
You know what? I haven’t done this right because I’ve missed out two more big characters from Season 1. Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand) is a master exterminator in New York City and he’s not just great at killing rats. He gets the job done when it comes to vampires aswell. He’s also somewhat of a historian when it comes to architecture and knows New York City like the back of his hand.
Also, there’s Dutch Velders (Ruta Gedmintas), a British lady living in the US with her girlfriend, Nikki (Nicola Correia-Damude). She’s hired by Eichhorst and Palmer to shut down the internet and mostly any forms of communication between New York and the outside world. She does so without knowing the reasons why and then joins the resistance to bring down The Master.
All of these characters come together in Season 1 to fight The Master, Eichhorst, Palmer and the vampires or ‘Strigoi’ as they are known.
A portion of the first season focuses on the four survivors from and the effects of the virus. From what I could see, it starts out like a nasty cold with them all looking pale, no energy and a scratchy throat. Then the symptoms start getting weird. All of the survivors start getting blood shot eyes and their hair starts falling out but the weirdest of weird symptoms (even after the 6ft wiggly thing bursting from their mouths) is saved for last and it’s especially bad for men.
This is before anyone gets a look at a fully matured Strigoi but when we do, they’re… well… ‘smooth’. And by ‘smooth’, I mean their genitalia falls off. Believe me, I wish I was joking. I’m not sure how it works for women but we get a front row seat on how it works for men, courtesy of Bolivar.
But there are some other players in town. They’re called the ‘sun-hunters’ and they’re are Strigoi themselves who hunt other Strigoi and execute those who are infected. We first meet them when they go after Joan Luss. They know what Setrakian knows which is that killing them is the only way to stop the spread of infection but Nora doesn’t like that idea. She wants to find a cure but she soon comes around to the idea and is chopping off heads with the best of them.
The rules for these vampires are somewhat different from the ‘biblical’ version of vampires but not too different. Sunlight still burns them, as does silver but crosses, garlic and holy water don’t do jack shit. Also, kiss goodbye to the classic ‘stake through the heart’. What do you think this is? Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
Anyway, once all of the heroes are together, Setrakian tells them all the plan. They need to kill the Master because he’s the ring leader and I can’t remember if this is brought up in the first season or not but there’s a theory that if the Master dies then all the Strigoi will die. Taking them on one by one is a losers battle, it’s best to go for the big man straight off.
In the season finale, the Master launches a raid on Setrakian’s hideout beneath his pawn shop. Bolivar, now a fully turned Strigoi, infects Nora’s mother, Mariela (Anne Betancourt) and Nora is forced to kill her to stop her from turning. They figure out where the Master is, he’s having a slumber party with Bolivar, and they go after him. After some tussle, Setrakian manages to wound the Master with his silver sword that doubles as a cane and push him out into the sunlight. But it doesn’t do much. The Master is burned by sunlight but he doesn’t explode like the other Strigoi do. Our heroes regroup and know for a fact that they need another plan. But that’s not the end.
Earlier on in the season, Kelly goes missing and Eph is frantic to find her. She shows up at the end of the season finale but she’s not quite herself. You see, she was infected by Matt and has turned herself but the Master has bigger plans for her. She has been looked after by Eichhorst and he shares some make-up tips with her so she will look more human. Through Zach’s eyes, she is his mother but Eph knows the truth and shoots her right in front of his distraught son. His son gains a newfound hatred for his father as he doesn’t understand and Eph goes back on the bottle. All significant beginnings of some exciting friction that will come to fruition in Season 2.
All in all, this opening season was a great achievement in terms of setting up the characters and the events. They packed a lot into 13 episodes and I prefer it that way. I don’t think it would have been the same if they had over 20 episodes because then it would have been stuffed with a load of unnecessary padding and I don’t think I would have liked it as much. I found it really easy to get a sense of the characters and the effects of the events just through the performances rather than the spoken dialogue which is a rare find. And all of this continues in Season 2.