Episode 2: The Box
SUMMARY: Ephraim (Corey Stoll) fights to keep control over what's he's still convinced is a virus now that the four survivors of the plane outbreak have been released. Only Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) and the minions of billionaire Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) know the truth.
REVIEW: After last week's slam-bang, Guillermo del Toro-directed pilot, one thing's immediately noticeable about the second episode – the production values that blew many of us away in the first episode have been scaled-back a bit. Likely this is for budgetary reasons, but del Toro is certainly missed behind the camera as now THE STRAIN feels like TV, which was not the case in the pilot.
This isn't the only place the second episode of THE STRAIN disappoints. The breakneck pace of last week's episode is absent, with too much time spent on Ephraim's personal life, which was the one thing that didn't really work in the pilot. Ephraim seems comically on the edge, with him almost hitting his supervisor, and it now being revealed that he's an ex-alcoholic (shades of Corey Stoll's part on HOUSE OF CARDS). The relationship with his colleague Nora (Mia Maestro) is teased again, with the two sharing a kiss even though last week he seemed anxious to get back together with his wife.
It's also bizarre that the strain-afflicted vampires who devoured the coroner in last week's conclusion are absent. Hardly any momentum is gained in this second episode, and considering how early it is in the run, it's distressing how uneventful this is.
However, there's a silver lining. There's a great scene early on where David Bradley's Abraham Setrakian in visited in jail by “The Master's” henchman Eichorst, who's revealed to be an ex-Nazi who tormented Setrakian during the holocaust and only refers to him by his concentration camp number. It's also hinted that in their battles, Eichorst killed Setrakian's lover (wife?) who's the owner of the heart (which seems sentient) that Setrakian keeps in his pawn shop. Setrakian is by far the best character in the series and hopefully he'll be more prominent later on.
One important new character is introduced – Kevin Durand's exterminator/health inspector Vasiiy Fet. Apparently he becomes a major figure as the series goes on, and Durand seems like a good choice for the part, although so far he hasn't gotten a chance to do much. I did like the bit where he shuts down a trendy restaurant by scaring a customer with a rat.
While this was a frustratingly mediocre episode, it ends on a relatively good note, with us getting a glimpse of “The Master” (voiced by Lance Henriksen), and a little gore in the final scene. Hopefully as the story gets developed THE STRAIN will be able to overcome some of the goofier character beats, as the cast is still superb, and it has a lot of potential for greatness. However, while it seemed like the natural next “big thing” in genre TV after this not-so-hot second episode I'm not so sure.