The Strain Episode 1 – Questions, Predictions, & Snark

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the strain, guillermo del Toro, http://entertainment.ie/tv/news/Guillermo-Del-Toros-new-TV-series-The-Strain-debuts-teaser-trailer/256775.htm

The Strain begins with a mystery. A flight attendant on a full flight from Berlin panics, shouts that there’s something in the hold, something that’s trying to get into the plane. He’s right.

I haven’t read either the novel or the comics, but I love a good horror story and was really looking forward to the show. They integrated technology into the story well, and the monster hit all the right spots. Sadly, the heavy handed character development and clunky dialogue took a lot of the joy out of it for me. So, what follows is full of snark, but I am totally watching the next few episodes, so they did enough right to convince me to give The Strain a chance.

Spoilers after the cut!

The Strain FX Studios July 2014After we get the introduction and a glimpse of the creature, we’re introduced to the main character, Ephraim Goodweather. He parks in front of a fire hydrant, banters with a nearby stranger so we know he’s part of the CDC, and then goes inside the building for family counseling. He’s taken to task for his lateness before the session is interrupted by a phone call. We’re treated to full-on manly angst, as he whines about how he’s not the bad guy, while his wife patiently explains that putting his job before his family is what tore them apart. More phone calls, and the wife weepily tells him to go.

We get banter between Ephraim and Nora, a co-worker (a whole lot of sexxxy sexual harrasment) on the phone, and angry banter with his wife’s new boyfriend, establishing that Ephraim is in charge here. Then we move to the tarmac where officials are panicking, and we learn Ephraim likes to drink milk and his assistant, Jim, is played by Sean Astin. And then they lay into the science talk, the kind to let us know Ephraim is smart and doesn’t play by the rules. He snaps off one-liners before chugging some more of his milk. Oooooh.

We switch to a pawn shop, with two thugs trying to rob David Bradley, before he throws down some rambling lecture and holds a knife to one thug’s wrist. Then he overhears the radio alert about the plane, and slinks into a back room so he can talk to himself as well as a beating heart in a glass jar that he feeds from his wrist. I take it he’s the Van Helsing of the group.

Back on the tarmac, Ephraim is bellyaching some more about his family, and we get a little exposition establishing that he had cheated on his wife with Nora, and then Sean Astin gets more milk for his boss.the strain, guillermo del toro, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Strain_%28TV_series%29

Inside the plane, everyone is silent and slumped in their seats. The passengers are dead, without a single trace of how they expired. They examine a young girl, who like the others, appear to have died a peaceful death. That is, until finding traces of ammonia and splatters of some kind that only show up under UV light. Then the investigative team splits up to search the plane. Corpses twitch, stuff creaks, and Jim starts calling for Nora to stop going into the cockpit. Of course she ignores him, and we’re treated to the shocking appearance of (dum dum dum) survivors!

Then we see a man in an elevator, with the creepiest eyelids ever. He enters a fancy apartment full of medical equipment, and an older man hooked to the machines seems to know that his visitor isn’t human. He talks about some line that has been crossed, then they nonchalantly chat about his visitor’s inability to breathe.

Back on the tarmac (the cuts back and forth — so dizzy), there’s more tension as the team shows Everett, Ephraim’s boss, all the dead bodies and talk about the survivors, which we then get to meet. The lone woman is a lawyer, while the others are the captain of the plane, a guy with ringing ears, and a rock star. None of them remember what happened after the plane landed. The CDC is called away to examine an awesome wooden box carved with reapers and filled with dirt. Nora notices it latches from the inside.

We’re then treated to more “character development”. Can we get back to the box? It’s really cool looking, and way more interesting than any of the interactions between Nora and Ephraim so far. Their interactions just underscore how perceptive and principled Nora is, whereas Ephraim is limited to whining and drinking milk.

Yay, back to the box! More mysterious ringing in people’s ears. Can we get a Renfield in here? The supervisor of the airline control room seems a likely candidate for a Renfield-ish character, as he goes to investigate a lonely hallway all by himself. He finds the vampire laying in a pool of blood, and rather than run screaming for the nearest person with a gun, he stays and shows us how the vampire feeds. There’s a proboscis, flipout fangs, and a close up of an inner (?) proboscis sticking into the guy’s vein to suck up all that red goodness. The vamp proves to be a selfish lover as he bashes in his victim’s head and runs off wailing like something H.P. Lovecraft had nightmares about.

Creepy eyelid guy hires/blackmails some more thugs, establishing that this series consistently depicts criminals as Hispanic. Creepy Eyelid wants the box, and he wants it back over the river by daylight.

the strain, guillermo del toro, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Strain_%28TV_series%29Van Helsing shows up then, just in time to walk through a bunch of fans calling for the release of the rock star, and takes advantage of how terrible the security guards are at their job. He fakes weakness to get to Jim, then tells him he has info on the plane. In the meantime, Ephraim is thrown into an impromptu press conference, despite Everett’s earlier promise that there would be no press. Ephraim is still establishing his rule-breaking self, so he tells them most of the people on the plane died despite family members not having been notified yet. One of the victim’s family members attack him, and Ephraim promises answers in 48 hours.

A mortician has identified incisions in every victim’s neck, and shows that their blood is white. Ephraim meets Van Helsing, and woah is that some stilted dialogue taking place in front of witnesses. Van Helsing is carted off yelling about the coffin, and of course no one listens, because the old dude is obviously off his rocker. I mean, he has a sword in his cane.

The mortician determines that an odd pattern shows up on the victim’s skin, and Ephraim and Nora find a nasty worm in the plane’s cargo hold. They also find soil, and decide that the coffin really was the source of the infection. Too bad the thug has already stolen it. They examine the security footage, and get a glimpse of the vampire whisking away the 500 lb coffin. Then the race is on to recover it before it leaves the airport.

The box is in a van, and the thug is caught by a security checkpoint, but Jim orders them to let him through. He then reveals to the thug that he’s a double-agent, and states that this is the last time he’s putting his neck on the line for them.

the strain, guillermo del toro, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_StrainOur mortician is busy with the bodies, and has discovered odd growths on their hearts. Sweet Heart Caroline is playing, letting us know that creepy stuff is coming. He is distracted by a noise, and comes back to find that the heart he was weighing is beating. It’s infested with worms, and he pulls one from his wrist sloooowly. Of course, all the dead and partially-dissected bodies behind him have risen, and they tear into the mortician as the heart beats in the foreground. There’s a little wrap up as Ephraim decides to concentrate on the worms since they’ve lost the box.

In jail, a drunk guy asks Van Helsing if he’s a librarian, and comments on his “ancient ink”. It switches back to the creepy eyelid guy and the sick old man, who apparently know Van Helsing and plan to kill him. The sick old man knows he’s dying, but I’m not sure why I should care.

The thug transporting the box proves to be quite the momma’s boy as he calls his mother while driving the van. There’s a voice-over about dark nights and feeding and love, and then we’re treated to one of the victims, the little girl the CDC examined, showing up at her father’s house and telling him that she’s cold. He doesn’t question her sudden appearance, and his daughter blinks before the screen fades to black. She has the creepy eyelids as well.

Questions:

  • Even though they’re in NYC, why does it look like Ephraim’s car is set for right-side driving?
  • Are they really going to continue with this milk thing?
  • Can we get more vampires and less Ephraim-angst?
  • Did he pull the 48 hours deadline out of his ass?

Predictions:

  • More people will needlessly die in dark alleys and rooms because they go to investigate noises rather than running like anyone who has ever seen a horror movie would.
  • Ephraim will be distracted by his family and will pontificate more about how he’s not at fault for any of their issues.
  • Nora will figure things out and Ephraim will get the credit for it.
  • Jim will find a way to redeem himself and rejoin the good side.
  • Van Helsing won’t get to kill anyone/thing soon enough, but when he does, it will be badass.
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About Author

Sarah Richardson is a graphic artist living in Chicago. In addition to illustrating and laying out tabletop RPGs and zines, she burns through comics and books as fast as her eyes can move. Sarah swears a lot on twitter as @scorcha79.

6 Comments

  1. Claire Napier on

    I said it in the edit notes and I’ll say it now: if there’s not a “mix up” between the milk and the white blood at some point, this series has WASTED a horrible opportunity.

  2. I totally agree with your snark and assessment Sarah. I didn’t even finish the first episode. It was like a horror equivalent to Falling Skies (bad acting, see-through plotting, stilted dialogue). Is this really from the man that made Pan’s Labyrinth?!

    Hopefully it gets better.

    • Hogan and del Toro wrote the first episode, and del Toro directed it, but he hasn’t done a lot of TV, so there’s hope that it will get better.

      As a side note, I started reading the graphic novel and it is SO MUCH BETTER than the show.

      • I reviewed the comic for Manga Bookshelf way back when and it was solidly average. Not at all as I was impressive, given the hype that surrounded the series then and now. Like the show, it got sidetracked with “character development” and backstory, and slowed down the action. Just give me vampires! Is that too much to ask?

  3. Jamie Kingston on

    I was not impressed. I made it two more episodes. The Latino criminal is apparently trying to make up for past sins, unlike his junkie brother, who was the one trying to rob Sword Cane grandfather.

    The show lost me altogether in ep 3. No one would be that calm about what happened to him in the bathroom.