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TV Review: The Strain: Season 2, Episode 1

07.10.2015by: Chris Bumbray

Episode 1: BK, NY  

SUMMARY: Having failed to kill “The Master”, Professor Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) finds himself taken before “The Ancients” – a group of Strigoi looking to resume the balance and eliminate The Master. Meanwhile, Eph (Corey Stoll) struggles to make his son understand that his infected mother is no longer human.

REVIEW: I struggled with The Strain during its debut season on FX. While the pilot earned a mixed reception, I thought it was kind of great but by the time we got into the second episode the cracks were starting to show. It’s not that The Strain didn’t have its moments. At its best it was very well-made genre TV, and several of the episodes, such as the “Creatures of the Night” episode where our heroes found themselves trapped in a convenience store by a horde of Strigoi, were excellent. But, too often the show was hit and miss.

 

One thing I noticed is how padded the first season felt. Perhaps thirteen episodes was too long a run. If this had been a contained eight, it might have worked better. Each episode had its good points and its bad points. A lot of the bad involved our hero, Dr. Ephraim Goodweather. While Corey Stoll is an amazing actor, he never felt quite right in the part, from his awful wig (I still don’t know why the showrunners made him wear one) to the attempts to make him a hard-drinking anti-hero, which just doesn’t seem convincing for a big-wig doctor at the CDC. He’s not supposed to be Snake Plisken folks; he’s a man of science!

The rest of the cast of characters was a mixed bag, although some of them – like Kevin Durand’s Vasily Fet and Mia Maestro’s Nora – started to grow on me as the season went on. Really, the show was at its best when focused on David Bradley’s Setrakian, with the WW2 flashbacks always giving the show some heft.

Season two begins with a prologue showing The Master’s origins, with this bit directed by Guillermo Del Toro (who doesn’t direct the rest of the episode and seems to have taken his DP and big-budget with him). From there, the show is once again on and off. The stuff with Setrakian, who finds himself approached by The Masters with a truce, works. I especially like that Miguel Gomez’ Gus has now turned into a tough guy soldier bent on protecting the city, after having inadvertently kicked off the Strigoi attack. It’s also cool to see Jonathan Hyde as Eldritch Palmer feeling his oats a bit, now that’s he’s been rejuvenated.

 

However, there’s still a lot of The Strain that doesn’t quite work. For one thing, even though the city’s under an attack of apocalyptic proportions, life seems to be going on as usual – with Palmer even giving a press conference. There’s no sense of urgency. Also, a truly bizarre decision has been made to recast Eph’s son Zach – which is strange as the kid they got for the first season was just fine. They’re also still trying to give Eph that cool guy edge, with him hitting the bottle hard early on and bickering with Nora.

Things pick up a bit towards the end, with some good action and a decent cliffhanger. It’s still too early to tell whether season two is going to be able improve on the first, but my fingers are crossed. I like the cast – even if the characters sometimes rub me the wrong way – and the ingredients are there for another Walking Dead. It just needs to be re-thought a bit.

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