The Strain Recap 1.9: “The Disappeared” Spits In The Face Of MomentumPosted: September 10, 2014
At this point, I think the best metaphor for The Strain actually comes from Parks and Recreation. There’s a scene in the fifth season where the ever-put-upon Jerry Girgich tries to give Chris Traeger advice about fatherhood. He makes a really eloquent and thoughtful comment… and then dissolves into incoherent babbling when he’s allowed to talk too long. And that is what The Strain feels like at this point: capable of really great, well-structured entertainment, but completely incapable of sustaining that entertainment consistently for more than one or two episodes at a time.
After last week’s excellent episode put together most of our main Scoobie Gang (and yeah I’m gonna keep making the Buffy reference here, deal with it), the group is promptly split up again, and that is the major momentum-killer here. Eph’s decision to separate from the others to wait for his wife would work better as a character moment if it was a turn from him being too obsessed with the virus to care about his family, something that the show never fully convinced me of. It also would’ve been more high-stakes if his son was still missing also, rather than having him be reunited with Eph right away. As it stands, separating Eph and Nora from the others doesn’t seem to serve much purpose other than to give them an opportunity to have sex, and without Eph’s wife coming back, the whole subplot felt particularly useless. In fact, it would’ve been a smarter move to have Gus encounter Eph’s wife and son after he escapes the cops, and have the three of them work together to survive the strigori-ridden streets until they were reunited with the others. Something like that would have not only brought Gus closer to the others but also given Eph’s family another connection to the story besides their dysfunction with Eph, which has felt tired from day one.
(Also of note: we’re three-quarters of the way through the season and I still do not remember the names of the wife and the son, which should say something about the level of investment I have in them.)
Another downer here is that the WW2 flashbacks here were almost completely useless. Unlike the previous ones, which established important and somewhat revelatory character information, these seemed to exist purely to fill in gaps in the plot that didn’t need to be filled. We don’t need to see Abraham’s liberation from the camps, or Eichorst’s escape, unless it tells us something about them as characters, which these scenes did not. The final sequence between Eichorst and The Master was suitably creepy (and the Master looks great) but it also felt very out of place in this episode, and might’ve been better suited alongside whenever Palmer does or does not get his rewards from the Uber-Vamp. Otherwise it’s just a context-free moment that works purely on the surface-level, without any greater relevance.
With so many insignificant scenes (like, almost every scene) and a crippling lack of momentum, this was a particularly down week for The Strain. I’m still optimistic for the series overall, as the show has given us enough good moments to prove it’s capable of them. But episodes like this don’t help to keep me engaged, and the crew needs to figure out how to keep tension and excitement going week to week and escalating up to the finale. It almost feels like they’re afraid to run out of plot before the season is done, and I hope they can get past that fear and start telling good stories consistently.