Episode 4: It's Not for Everyone
SUMMARY: After being forced to kill Captain Redfern, Ephraim (Corey Stoll), Nora (Mia Maestro) and Jim (Sean Astin) make a horrifying discovery while performing an autopsy on the body.
REVIEW: This week's episode of THE STRAIN picks up immediately following last week's conclusion, where Ephraim was forced to kill Captain Redfern after he turned (are we using the term vampires yet?). I'll say this, the teaser is kinda refreshing, in that Ephraim, Nora (Mia Maestro) and Jim (Sean Astin) are all freaked out about what they just saw. Jim's reaction, “we're all going to jail!” is perfect. This is one of the first times I've seen a show where these regular, Joe Schmoe-types are utterly terrified at the fact that they had to kill someone, and have no idea what the hell is going on.
This carries over to a great autopsy scene where Stoll does a funny double take when Ephraim realizes that somewhere along the way, Redfern lost his genitals as part of the horrific transformation. We finally get a good look at what happens to the organs and bodies as they transform, and I must admit, the creature design is great.
The good thing going into the fourth episode is that as Ephraim – our hero – now knows what's really going on, we'll dive right into the actual premise, which is a race against time as the creatures begin to take over the city. Thus, all the really weak elements of the first few episodes, especially Eph's custody battle and alcoholism, should recede to the background, and not a moment too soon.
Which is why episode four feels like our first real look at what the rest of the show is going to be like. While the last few episodes weren't great, the show is starting to really get good. One thing worth noting is how good the direction is in this episode. While Del Toro still isn't back (will he direct anymore episodes?) Keith Gordon does a good job on the episode. I especially like how the subplot about Ansel – the infected passenger – is turning out, with him chaining himself up to protect his family. His scene where he tells his wife about how there are voices in his head telling him to devour her, is quite affecting and I hope more is done where the victims of “the strain” try to fight their transformations and cling to their humanity. It'll be an interesting conflict. That said, I'm not sure I buy his wife knowingly sending one of her annoying neighbors to his death. It's scenes like this – which feel phony – that keep THE STRAIN from being great.
Speaking of conflict, it's refreshing that Astin's Jim immediately confesses to being partly responsible for the outbreak, with him being on Eichorst/Palmer's payroll. It's a nice twist clearing the air for his role later on the show, and I also liked Eph's reaction, to throttle Jim and throw him off the team, although I feel like he'll redeem himself somehow. Or not. We'll see.
My only problem with this episode is the final stretch, focused on Palmer's decay and media takeover feels like padding, although it'll likely pay off further down the road. The end of the episode is cool, with Setrakian saving the day by executing the Arnots. I also like how quickly Eph realizes that Setrakian's way is the only effective way to fight the outbreak. With Ephraim now fully on board with Setrakian, the next few episodes of THE STRAIN should start to pay off as a real piece of genre entertainment. It's still not great, but at least it's getting pretty good.