The Strain Recap 1.3: In “Gone Smooth” The Worst Almost Overwhelms The Best

The_Strain_Early_Promotional_ArtThree episodes in and it’s pretty clear where The Strain’s strengths and weaknesses are, but unfortunately they have yet to work out the weaknesses. In this week’s ep, we have some REALLY good strong moments, and some weak moments that might not ruin it, but definitely serve as a reminder as to what makes them weak in the first place. Thankfully, this episode leaves us in a pretty good narrative spot, one that hopefully will see the weak moments fall by the wayside in the coming weeks.

Once again, the big drain on the episode was Eph’s homelife. The scenes between Eph and his wife and son continue to be an improvement over the initial scene in the pilot. Unlike that unfortunate intro it’s quite clear here that they still love Eph and wish they could stay together as a family, but they both realize (in a way that Eph can’t) that he is unable to commit to them the way he should. However, this subplot continues to be completely irrelevant to the overall vampire story, and so becomes a massive momentum-killer. I feel that in a narrative like this, the high-concept genre elements should be used to emphasize and externalize the emotional conflicts amongst the characters, rather than just being garnish. On that note, right now it feels more like Eph’s son or wife should’ve died before the show, or been one of the people on the plane. Were that the case, the elements of death/resurrection/immortality would directly relate to Eph’s angst about his family; as it is, it’s just a distraction, for the story and Eph both. This contrasts greatly with the scenes regarding Jim’s (Sean Astin) wife’s cancer and his ties to Stoneheart. Jim’s desire to save his wife from death relates very directly to Eldritch Palmer’s quest for immortality, and makes those scenes feel much more relevant (if a little redundant in their execution).

Still, the strong elements remain strong and- most importantly- fun. Vasiliy and Abraham continue to entertain, and with the former getting closer to being fully involved and the latter pursuing his own plan against the vampires, I know I still have things to look forward to in the coming weeks. But perhaps the best part of this episode were the bookending makeup sequences. First there was the opening scene wherein a noseless, emaciated man carefully prepares his appearance until our old friend Eichorst is revealed, the sort of beautiful grotesquerie that Guillermo del Toro has made a hallmark. And then, in a mirroring moment during one of the closing scenes, the increasingly-not-annoying rocker Gabriel takes off his stage makeup to reveal his own sickly visage… and then has his penis fall off.

And then the episode ends on a minor high note, as one of the survivors of the flight fully transforms into a vampire and attacks Eph, Nora and Jim, finally demonstrating the horrible nature of what they’re really facing. This development very much excites me, if for no other reason than this should send the narrative into high gear, and as a result either ditch the family subplots altogether or (much more likely) envelop them fully into the monster plot. But then, I thought that might happen last week when all the corpses went missing, so I guess we’ll have to tune in next week to find out if I’m right about it this time. This I have no problem with, but I do hope that The Strain‘s balance between the good and the bad starts to weigh more in the direction of the good, and soon.

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