The Strain Recap 1.2: “The Box” Is A Good Next Step

The_Strain_Early_Promotional_Art I liked last week’s premiere of The Strain but there were a couple of issues with pacing and set-up that kept the episode from really taking off. Thankfully this week is a marked improvement, which is either very or not-at-all surprising considering Guillermo del Toro’s lack of direct involvement in the episode. Regardless of why, if you weren’t fully sold on The Strain yet, “The Box” should do a lot to assuage your reservations.

My favorite part of the pilot by a mile was Abraham, and perhaps the biggest accomplishment of this episode was that it kept me fully engaged while only giving Abraham one scene… but it was a doozy. Abraham’s confrontation with Eichorst was riveting, with Abraham’s barely checked fury (and fear) clashing beautifully with Eichorst’s alien disgust and fascination. The scene is also well-played in that the two talk about all the bizarre things we’ve seen so far in a way that makes perfect sense between the two of them while only giving the audience the slightest hint of what’s going on. Richard Sammel, who plays Eichorst, is clearly going for a Hans Landa vibe, and he does a pretty good job of hitting that note without feeling like a complete carbon copy of Christoph Waltz. Meanwhile, David Bradley is even better than in the pilot, which is saying something. This scene only made me more excited for Abraham and curious about his backstory, and I’m sure the show will deliver a good one.

Another great moment here was the introduction of Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand), a Russian health inspector who is introduced going about his usual work, but with such gusto that I can’t wait to see him drawn into the bigger story. Durand, usually used as creepy psychotic muscle (see: Lost), brings a jovial and brusque persona to bear here, in a way that is naturally funny without ruining the mood of the story. His moments are almost matched by the surprising use of Gus (Miguel Gomez), the street tough that helped deliver the titular box to Manhattan in the last episode. I fully expected him to be killed off immediately, but he’s still here, and I’m curious to see how he becomes further enmeshed in the narrative. Gomez plays the ex-con-trying-to-go-straight very well, and the overcompensating righteousness he displays with his jerkoff brother felt genuine in how hypocritical it was. These are two nice-looking subplots that add some nice definition to the world and story.

Once again, the weakness here was Eph’s homelife, though this time it’s only in the placement, not in the content. The scene where he visits his wife and son plays out the way that the scene last week should have: a vaguely melancholy resignation among all that things are changing between them. After that, there’s a scene of Eph at AA, a moment that probably could have been established better so it doesn’t feel like it came out of nowhere. It’s especially frustrating because Corey Stoll nails the delivery of his monologue here, and encapsulates his character’s personal struggle so well that I wonder why this wasn’t our first introduction to the character in the pilot.

Relative to the pilot though, this subplot is much less of a problem, which possibly (unfortunately) illustrates the weakness of del Toro as a TV writer. As a filmmaker he’s used to keeping things as tight and concise as possible, and in transitioning to TV it seems like he feels he can take his time more. But I think good TV writers know that the extended narrative of a TV season doesn’t mean each moment should last longer, but that you can have more moments spread out to make a larger point. Thankfully this episode demonstrates that the collaborators that del Toro and Carlton Cuse have gathered have a firm grasp of del Toro’s style and tone and can harness that into quality TV structure, which makes a huge difference going forward.

Overall, “The Box” was a strong second showing, and one that has me even more excited for next week’s episode. Personally, I can’t wait to see Abraham and Vasiliy hang out together; that is something I will enjoy immensely. In the meantime, it feels like The Strain is just getting started, and you’d be smart to stick around.

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