Amazingly, ‘The Strain’ did something really daring and interesting this week. Without any introduction or context at all, the episode opened with five minutes worth of scenes from an old black-and-white Mexican wrestling movie. That’s surely producer Guillermo del Toro’s influence at work. I’m not sure that it ultimately amounts to anything in the show, but it’s at least a fun change of pace for a few minutes.
Of course, the rest of the episode returns to the usual, kind of boring status quo.
It’s not a real wrestling movie, in case that wasn’t obvious. It was invented for the show. The gimmick is that we’re watching an old VHS copy, complete with tracking errors. The action even fast-forwards between scenes a few times to speed things along. (Even so, the joke does unfortunately wear thin by the end.) In the cheapie flick, a heroic luchador wrestler known as “Angel” grapples with a villain wrestler who turns out to be a vampire (the traditional type, with pointy plastic teeth and no tentacle tongue). After their bout in the ring, Angel follows the vampire to its lair, where he dispatches the monster and its evil vampire wives using crosses attached to his fists.
We then cut to the present timeline, where the washed-up actor who once played Angel watches his masterpiece in the break room between shifts at his current job as a busboy in an Indian restaurant. What does any of this have to do with anything? Not much, honestly, though we will return to him for a bit later.
Meanwhile, Eph, Nora and Fet test the new vampire plague by dropping their test subject, the former Mr. McGeever, on the street next to a subway entrance known to be a vampire nest. McGeever hesitates a minute and does not go in. Instead, he wanders away. Eph and the others follow him to a psychiatric hospital. It turns out that’s where the rest of his (also vampirized) family is. Like other vampires, he was drawn to his loved ones. They leave him be as he settles down to nest for the day.
Back at the apartment, Dutch becomes very interested in what Eldritch Palmer’s former manservant Fitzwilliam might be up to. If he’s quit his job, she reasons that he might be a useful source of information and a potential ally. She convinces Setrakian to go with her while she tracks the man down on Staten Island.
While they’re en route, we have the first of several flashbacks to 1966. Young Setrakian and young Eldritch (who’s in a wheelchair) are working together as partners to find the ancient book called the ‘Occido Lumen’, which Setrakian believes is the key to defeating the Master. They track it to a nunnery in the Alps that’s been overrun by vampires. The only survivor is a young boy who claims that the Mother Superior burned the book. Setrakian gets distracted chasing the boy through the basement, where he’s attacked by vampire monks. (It’s a very funny image, but I thought we were in a nunnery. What are male monks doing there?) Left alone upstairs, Eldritch is approached by Eichorst, who knows all about him and introduces himself. By the time Setrakian gets back, Palmer is alone again and has lost interest in looking for the book.
Back to the present day. Gang-banger Gus returns to his old apartment and finds his vampire mama still locked in there. He can’t bring himself to kill her. Suddenly, the Master speaks through the woman, taunting him for being a failure. Gus locks her in the apartment again and leaves.
While the sun is still out and they have time before the vampires are active again, Nora suggests that Eph might want to spend some time bonding with his son Zach. He takes the boy to some batting cages, like they used to do before the apocalypse. The kid completely sucks at baseball. He just stands there, sulking about how much fun he used to have with his mommy.
That night, Eldritch Palmer conducts a meeting at the Federal Reserve Bank in which he announces that the stock market will reopen in the morning and New York will get back to business. He’s viewed as a big hero. As he and all the city’s major power-players leave the building, however, a swarm of vampires led by Gabriel Bolivar descend on them and kill a bunch of stock brokers live on the news. Palmer calmly gets in his car and rides away. He clearly orchestrated this to leave the city in financial chaos.
On Staten Island, Fitzwilliam’s brother tricks him into meeting with Dutch and Setrakian. I gather that he will soon join the team.
Gus stops for a meal at the Indian restaurant where Angel works. He doesn’t know anything about Indian food and seems to be there just to flirt with the man’s daughter. Grumpy Angel tosses him out. A few minutes later, as Angel is dumping some trash in the alley, Gus approaches him and tells him that he remembers his movies. Angel angrily denies being that person and sends him away. Despite the prominence of the wrestling movie that started the episode, that’s all we see of Angel this episode, though I’m sure he’ll be more important later.
What is Gus’ plan here? Is he trying to recruit this elderly former wrestler to fight vampires with him? If so, what use could he possibly be? I don’t understand the point of this storyline at all.
At night, Eph and Nora return to the mental hospital and find McGeever dying in an alley. Eph finishes him off. They then hear a loud crash, followed by another. They investigate and witness a bunch of vampires, all infected with the virus, jumping off the building to their deaths. The Master knows that they’re sick and has commanded them to kill themselves. (I questioned last week why he wouldn’t just do that, so I’m glad the show addresses it.) Eph is ecstatic anyway. He has confirmation that the plague works. He wants to make plans for mass dispersal, but Nora is hesitant.
Fet goes to a subway station and plants a bomb to seal off a vampire entrance point to his neighborhood. As he leaves, he’s accosted by cops (really Councilwoman Feraldo’s goons) about breaking curfew. After the bomb goes off behind them, the cops get abusive and give Fet a beat-down.
Eph returns home and finds his son asleep, listening to a shitty Gabriel Bolivar album. (This is the first time we’ve heard a snippet of his music, and it’s as lame as you’d imagine.)
The episode ends with Eph’s wife Kelly and her team of “Feelers” at the batting cages, sniffing around for Zach.
I really liked the episode’s opening sequence, even if don’t entirely see the point of that storyline yet. As far as this show goes, the rest of the episode is decent enough, with little outright stupidity. However, I’m growing annoyed at how much Fet seems to be turning into a cartoon character whose sole trait is an obsession with blowing things up (we often hear him muttering things like “Almost boom-boom time”) and the episode needlessly runs about ten minutes longer than usual. As a consequence, it feels really draggy. I expect that future reruns will trim some of the fat. I recommend starting with all the scenes involving twerp Zach. That kid is insufferable.