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2014-07-19

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July 20, 2014 - 12:43am

'The Strain' RECAP: Still working out the kinks

BY CHLOE GILKE

FX

Chloe Gilke: This week's episode of "The Strain" proved that the series can still hold up at the helm of another episode director (this time, TV veteran David Semel). "The Box" was markedly quieter than the pilot episode, but we still got plenty of thrills and scares. With Regis Airlines claiming that the plane tragedy was due to a carbon monoxide leak, Eph and his colleagues were stuck in a difficult situation. The survivors were given the O.K. to leave, and apparently their ringing ears and bloodshot eyes weren't worth the trouble of staying in quarantine. Eph and Nora's relationship was explored a little more (a sweet kiss in the lab!), and poor Jim had woefully little screentime (he vomited at a crime scene!). We were also introduced to a standout new character: Russian pest control worker Vasily, and his adorable, mouse-killing cat.

Alex Intner: That cat was adorable! Maybe he could return — that fancy restaurant needs some rats removed after all! Back to the show, the visuals weren't quite as strong as the pilot, but this happens often. Semel (who directed an episode of the visually distinct "Hannibal” earlier this year) did a good job with this one. He didn't match del Toro's visual flair, but there are maybe two or three directors in Hollywood who could manage that. The scene that really popped for me was the final scene, with the vampire girl in the bathtub, which was eerily scored by a kids chorus singing "This Old Man." (I will never hear that song the same way again.) The shots of the red blood against the white water and the grays of the rest of room created some striking cinematography. It was a great way to close what, to me, was a pretty slow episode of the show. The writers are allowing Eph and crew to find the Vampires using good old investigation, and that hurt the episode.

Chloe Gilke: "The Strain" has some compelling characters and storylines, but it doesn't quite know what to do with them yet. It's trying to be genre horror and a detective procedural at the same time, and while each type can be good on its own, "The Strain" completes each half-heartedly. As much as the show kept pointing out how competent Eph is at his job, I'm not so sure. He recognized the incision mark (the same one all the plane victims had) on Doyle's neck and recognized that the "virus" liked blood, but he didn't actually put the pieces together. I'm not saying that we should automatically speed up to the point where the CDC knows it's chasing vampires, but part of the reason that the episode felt so slow to me is that we're waiting for the characters to catch up to what we already know. The best parts of this episode were the surprising ones. Seeing the survivors' symptoms was a lot of fun, especially with Bolivar at the end of the episode. He bit a girl in his bedroom, but discovered his thirst was more than a kink. One of the most memorable moments in the episode was seeing him lap at a puddle of her blood on the floor.

Alex Intner: Absolutely. While Bolivar is one of the more stereotyped characters on the show, they've used him quite well so far. That scene was just the right amount of weird and creepy. The last third of the episode had the best parts in terms of distinctiveness and story advancement. One that stood out to me was the scene where the old billionaire Eldritch got to see the Master. While we only got a look at the back of his bald head, he saw everything, and couldn't do anything besides cower in the background as we look down on him. Speaking of the old men, there was only one appearance from Abraham Setrakian this week, as hit got a visit in prison from Thomas Eichhorst. A lot of the dialogue was exposition, but there's a relationship there and I can't wait to see the show explore the relationship between Setrakian and the Master in more detail.

Chloe Gilke: Toward the end of the episode, we also finally got a solid advance in the "Eph's family struggles" plot. As Kelly and Matt were renovating the house, and Eph pulled Zach aside to prime him for the custody hearings. Turns out, his mom already told him that the judge will ask him some questions and that he should tell the truth. Zach's trust in his father seems to be waning, and Corey Stoll did his best work of the episode here. With his family on the cusp of cutting him out completely, Eph attended an AA meeting and shared his thoughts. Again, there was a lot of exposition here, but it was a heartfelt moment nonetheless. As refreshing as the backstory-heavy dialogue can be (especially with shows like "The Leftovers" keeping viewers in the dark about everything), I hope "The Strain" will keep the exposition lighter in future episodes.

Alex Intner: Eph in the AA meeting was Stoll's best work of the series to date for me. The struggle he conveyed in his voice almost made me forget the thing that's on the top of his head. I was almost expecting it to jump off his head and give his son a hug for him. Wig jokes aside, Stoll is why I care about that side plot involving Eph's family. A lot happened between him and his family, and one look between him and Zach conveyed it all. He's sacrificed a lot for his job, and the scene in the AA meeting showed that sacrifice and the toll it took on Eph. Back at his work, the survivors were released, but as the scene involving Bolivar illustrated, there's still something wrong. So much so, that the captain turned to Eph and asked to be checked out. He's got the same incision, and those worms crawling around in his body.

Chloe Gilke: The captain may have been concerned, but the rest of the survivors were eager to put everything out of their minds. The dinner scene was especially effective. Even as they tried not to talk about it, the conversation eventually turned to their scary shared symptoms. Before they could come to any conclusion, though, Vasily broke in, waving all the rats he'd found in the restaurant. I'm not sure how Vasily will fit into the rest of the show, but he kept up some of the lighthearted tone of the first episode, and I'm always up for seeing more "Lost" actors on TV. One "survivor" who didn't make it to the dinner, though, was little Emma. With the anticipation building all episode and culminating in the first real vampiric act from one of the survivors, we knew how it had to go down. Her poor father was so ecstatic to have her home that he failed to notice her red eyes and creepy stillness. "This Old Man" scored the father's death scene, keeping up the tradition of putting innocent-sounding music with brutal violence. I'm excited to see where the vamps go from here, especially since the action is pumping some fresh blood (ha, sorry) into the sluggish story.

Alex Intner: The innocent music with the horrible vampire attacks is one of my favorite parts of the show. (I'm kinda glad he didn't get the chance to put on her "Lion King" soundtrack. Imagine that set to "Circle of Life"). And, we got hints of the Vampires this week, with a little more information about what was in that box that was brought out of the airport by Gus. (Played by Miguel Gomez, who also played the man Louie befriends in Miami.) He's yet another character the show has running on the periphery. It's another case of us knowing that there's a history between the loving mother and her two sons, with Gus having spent time in jail and now taking small jobs to make ends meet. While I don't mind the story (the relationships are pretty interesting), the only connection he has to the main plot is that he drove that van and ran away when the box started moving in his trunk. I hope that they integrate him more into the story in future episodes.

Chloe Gilke: I enjoy the cuts to Eldritch and Eichhorst, but I'm also eager for them to interact more with Abraham and the CDC crew. Like you said, there are a lot of storylines and characters I don't mind, but they seem only tangentially relevant. We know plenty about Eldrich's health issues and, after this episode, Eichhorst's connection with The Master and Abraham. But building a rich backstory isn't worth sacrificing screentime for the here and now. But with the vampires maturing and the body count racking up, I'm already anticipating a solid episode next week. Also, I really, really want to see the Master's face (so scary, it made the stoic Eldrich shiver). That's reason enough to tune in, right? Anyway, talk to you then!