The Strain Recap 1.4: “It’s Not For Everyone” Finally Gets Things Going

The_Strain_Early_Promotional_ArtFour weeks in and it feels like The Strain is finally starting to hit its stride. True to my hopes last week, we lost the worst parts of the show so far (Eph’s homelife, primarily) and were able to focus on the plague in a more direct fashion. And while there was still one notable distraction that kept the episode from fully taking off, it’s still a major step forward for the series, and a promise for some major escalation in the near future.

The one major downside for the episode was Gus’ storyline, which had absolutely nothing to do with the overall plot in any way except for a brief encounter with Abraham. However, unlike Eph’s homelife, these scenes are still somewhat interesting and engaging, enough to keep me entertained, if not particularly interested. And much like the scenes with Vasiliy (who was sadly absent this week), I’m sure Gus’ perspective will become key as the plague spreads, and the thought of him interacting with the other protagonists is intriguing. There was also one misstep in pacing: after having to kill a vampire at the end of the last episode, the beginning of this week’s show had Eph, Nora and Jim performing an autopsy on the vampire corpse. And while the scene that opens the episode sees the three of them grappling with their shock until Eph marshalls their professional acumen, the following scene is a much slower and quieter scene between Eph and Nora, where they seem way too calm and not at all frantic to keep working. This, combined with the two other scenes that happen before the autopsy itself, loses the tempo from the last episode and allows the audience to catch their breath long enough to question the characters’ reactions. A five/six-minute long uninterrupted autopsy scene would’ve been much more engaging, and made more sense for these characters struggling to get a handle on something that challenges their perceptions entirely.

But as for the good, let’s start with that AWESOME autopsy scene, which is classic del Toro (and recalls a similar scene from Blade II while also feeling very distinctive). The melding of the grounded scientific context with the purely fantastical subject is a compelling and exciting one, and aided by some terrific practical effects work. And in that scene, it’s also cool to see Eph act purely as the driven and borderline obsessive professional that everyone’s been telling us that he is; it’s much more believable now that he could lose himself in his work at the expense of his family. It was also very refreshing to see, once realizing the scale of the danger at hand, Jim immediately confess to his hand in the outbreak, rather than have it become a tiresome and infuriating subplot that goes on all season. It was also cool to see Nora finally be given some defining action in her refusal to embrace the brutal “cure” for the plague, and I’m curious where her arc will take her as the story goes on. Besides all of that, the few quick scenes with Eldritch Palmer were intriguing as well, and show the scope and intelligence of his plan in a whole new (and frightening) way.

But by far the most interesting, and eventually bizarre, subplot was the story of plane-survivor-cum-vampire Ansel and his wife. This subplot also starts with a refreshing moment of intelligence, when Ansel and his wife realize they should send their kids away as Ansel’s condition worsens. When the wife returns, she discovers Ansel has fed on their dog, and then (again, intelligently) chained himself up in the backyard shed so he wouldn’t hurt anyone. Seeing Ansel’s wife, established maybe a little too broadly as a committed Christian, struggle with what’s become of her husband is compelling stuff, and I would’ve been interested to see episodes of her slowly letting her love for her husband (and perhaps even her faith in God) drive her to do bad things to protect him. But then the writers went a little too fast and have the wife sacrifice a douchey neighbor to feed her husband almost immediately, without much provocation, which in my mind undercuts the more compelling dramatic opportunities of that story. But it was still compelling in the moment, and it could perhaps pay off down the line in unexpected ways.

Overall, a solid improvement for the series, ending on the awesome note of Abraham taking on a couple of vampires with his sword cane, and recruiting Eph to his hunt. Next week should hopefully bring us more vampire-slaying in the near future, and the eventual inclusion of Vasiliy and Gus and the others in the main story. Once again, we shall see next week, but inch by inch I feel my optimism being rewarded, and I’m sure that will continue to be the case.

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