The Strain Recap 1.1 “Night Zero”: A Solid Start to an Enticing Series

The_Strain_Early_Promotional_ArtAlright, trying to break some new ground here. I’ve never reviewed a series episode-by-episode, but how hard can it be?

Considering that Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite filmmakers, the idea of him doing a horror TV series like The Strain is kinda perfect for me. If nothing else, it should be good to tide me over until Crimson Peak (and, all things going well, again until Pacific Rim 2). Of course the real question is whether or not del Toro’s voice can carry over to television, and then whether his series collaborators- led by Carlton Cuse- can retain that voice without his constant involvement. Based on the pilot, “Night Zero”, we’re headed in the right direction, but The Strain needs to keep building speed and keep the rhythm it has by the end of the first episode, and not fall prey to its early missteps.

(Spoilers within… beware!)

The biggest flaw of “Night Zero”, which almost derails the pace of the whole thing, is the opening act. The first scene on the airplane is fine and does a good job teasing without revealing, and setting up the relevant secondary characters. On the other hand the second scene, with the ATC guys reacting to the plane and calling the cops, is completely superfluous. There is nothing in that scene that we don’t already know or learn soon after, so all this scene does is slow us down. Then there’s our introduction to Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll), which happens as he goes through separation counselling with his estranged wife. It’s a good idea in theory to establish Eph’s life outside the outbreak, but it’s a scene at war with its own intention. The scene should be showing how Eph cannot focus on his family as much as his work, but instead the scene shows Eph being very invested in the moment (and ignoring his ringing cell phone) and his wife seemingly acting like a bitch because he takes his important job seriously. The scene should’ve emphasized how despite the love between them, and despite his wife understanding the importance of his job and the demands of it, that she feels that they need someone who is more present in their lives than Eph can afford to be. But while that might’ve been the intent of the scene, it doesn’t at all play out that way, and takes way too long to boot.

Once we’re past those road bumps though, it’s off to the races, thanks in large part to Abraham Setrakian, easily the best part of the show so far. He’s a grizzled old badass who’s spent his life fighting and waiting for this plague, and is sure to be a highlight of the show going forward. It was initially a role meant for John Hurt, but David Bradley plays it beautifully, walking the fine line between weary and wise, dangerous and desperate. The villains, Eldritch Palmer and Thomas Eichorst, are also solid, with the right sort of unsettling confidence that’s more scary than anything else here (which is saying a lot). Personally I can’t wait to see Eichorst let his monstrous side loose, and to see him and Abraham face off. The forensic sleuthing that Eph and his team do is also intriguing, and I’m curious to see how they balance the science-based investigation with this inherently fantastical threat. Then there’s the effects, possessing the usual del Toro balance between gross and oddly beautiful, with a tangibility that can only come from a lifelong love for (and use of) practical effects. There are some nice scenes to make up for the early missteps: the rising of the undead in the morgue (set to “Sweet Caroline”, no less) was a good balance between creepy and funny, and the moment when Abraham dispatches a couple of thugs in his pawn shop before going downstairs to feed his heart-in-a-jar was the best five minutes of the whole show.

So in closing, Guillermo del Toro’s grand TV epic has begun, and while there were some hiccups here and there we still have plenty of good things in play, and the right ingredients to make a really cool show. Let’s see where it goes from here, and hopefully the story will tighten up as the stakes are raised (no pun intended) and the time clock begins speeding up. Overall I’d say The Strain is definitely worth checking out, and I’ll definitely be back for more… and hopefully, so will this column!

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