With the first season now concluded (but a second confirmed), I think it’s fair to say that the results of Guillermo del Toro’s new vampire series ‘The Strain’ have been mixed at best. The show seemed to have such promise and potential when it started, but hasn’t yet come together. Perhaps the pieces will start fitting better next season?
In the meantime, the S1 finale episode called ‘The Master’ is another frustrating effort. For one thing, the episode starts with Setrakian explaining to his new vampire hunting partners that, with the casket destroyed, the Master will have to retreat to the protection of his swarm of thousands of vampires that our heroes found in the subway tunnel last week. OK, that makes sense. However, Eph and Fet then head out in the daylight to scout for the Master’s possible hiding locations, and only search for him in places above ground. They eventually find him in an old theater building that rocker Gabriel Bolivar had purchased, where he’s nesting with maybe a dozen vamps. Why wouldn’t he stay underground, far away from sunlight and surrounded by his huge army? This makes no sense at all.
Fet and Eph return to their new base of operations (now that the pawn shop has been overrun) in a Brooklyn apartment. (I think it’s Fet’s place, but I’m not sure. It doesn’t really matter.) They gather everyone and explain the situation. For safety, they will all need to stick together at all times. Even Eph’s kid is given a sword and told to come along, as if that were somehow a good idea. Setrakian insists that once they go after the Master, they cannot stop under any circumstances until he’s destroyed.
Fortunately, Fet knows the history of every building in the city. He recognizes that Bolivar’s theater used to be a speakeasy back in the Prohibition days and is connected to the restaurant next door by a secret underground smuggling tunnel. This amounts to a pointless bit of plotting just to give Fet an excuse to clear the tunnel of vamps with a couple sticks of dynamite. It seems to me that the dynamite would have been better used to blow out one of the theater walls to let sunlight stream in, but I guess nobody else thought of that.
Once inside the theater, the team is attacked by a growing group of vampires (where are the reinforcements coming from?), most of whom stand around and only confront our heroes one by one, like the ninja henchman in some bad Michael Dudikoff movie. The girls and the child are left behind to do most of the work clearing out the vampire bodyguards while the menfolk rush in to find the Master.
Setrakian gets distracted by the sound of his long-dead wife’s voice calling to him, and somehow doesn’t immediately recognize this as an obvious trick. When he finally comes face-to-face with the Master, Setrakian freezes up like a putz. Luckily, Eph still has his wits about him and smashes a bunch of windows to let sunlight in. The Master reels around, flailing to avoid the sun, but when Eph and Setrakian corner him, the vampire jumps right out a window onto the balcony. Setrakian approaches with his sword drawn, only to once again freeze. This time I suppose he’s waiting for the sunlight to do the work. Instead, although the Master is clearly wounded, he hops off the balcony, skitters down the side of the building and dashes right into the safety of the sewer. Back inside the theater, Eichorst, Bolivar and the other vampires retreat, creepily walking backwards back the way they came in.
In the battle’s aftermath, Setrakian says that he’s confounded that the Master survived the sun. He didn’t know that could happen. With the realization that the Master is much stronger than he expected, and that traditional methods of killing a vampire may not work on him, Setrakian doesn’t know what to do. “We’re lost,” he laments.
Other Bits of Business
- Newly revitalized Eldritch Palmer is disappointed to learn that he has only been granted health, but not immortality yet. Eichorst tells him that this is a test of his devotion.
- Palmer’s manservant decides that he’s finally had enough and will no longer do his boss’s bidding.
- After Eph’s late night pirate broadcast, the Secretary of Health and Human Services intends to place New York City under quarantine and recommend that the President declare martial law. Palmer pays a visit to talk her out of it. When she won’t listen, he picks her up and tosses her off a balcony to her death. The Director of the CDC (Eph’s boss) witnesses this and immediately agrees to become Palmer’s new flunky and do whatever he instructs.
- Eph’s kid fakes an asthma attack so that his dad will return to their house to find some spare inhalers. The stupid kid really just wants to get a photo album. While there, his mother returns and the boy learns that she’s a vampire now. Being a total idiot, he tries to run to her anyway. Eph has to hold him back, then she shoots at his ex-wife. Since he’s a terrible shot, he only hits her in the arm and she wanders away.
- Amazingly, gang-banger Gus has the most interesting storyline in this episode. Kidnapped by those mysterious vampire commandos, he’s brought to a secret underground lair by the leader. (The character is credited with the name “Quinlan,” but I don’t believe that’s ever actually said in the episode.) Gus makes a futile attempt to escape, during which he wanders into what appears to be a throne room with several very old, immobile vampires in chairs. The Quinlan guy calls them “The Ancients.” He explains that an ancient truce has been broken, a war has been declared, and that the good vampires (we presume they’re good) need a human soldier who can operate in the daytime for them.
Given that the show has been renewed for a second season, no one should be surprised that the Master is still alive. Had Eph or Setrakian killed him, the series would be over. What would the plot be at that point? Another vampire comes to town to get revenge for the Master’s death? I guess maybe Eichorst could take over or something.
I’m glad to finally get some background on the vampire commandos, but the stuff about the Ancients and the different factions of vampires feuding over an old truce feels awfully derivative of a lot of fantasy fiction, including Guillermo del Toro’s own ‘Blade II’ and ‘Hellboy II’ movies.
I’m sure that I’ll tune in again for the second season, but I would sure like to see a shake-up in the writing staff or something. This vampire drama needs some fresh blood.