[This is a review of The Strain season 1, episode 11. There will be SPOILERS.]
The Strain has its moments, but it has a seemingly impossible time keeping them up.
The standalone episode at the gas station was a particularly strong installment, but then we got a disjointed and disappointing follow-up, ‘The Disappeared.’ Minus Vasiliy and Dutch’s failed effort to infiltrate Palmer’s office, last week’s episode, ‘Loved Ones,’ hit it big via an outstanding and heartbreaking narrative for Kelly. Now, the back and forth continues, and The Strain falls flat again.
‘The Third Rail’ suffers from the same issue that plagues (no pun intended) roughly half of the show’s episodes – too many underdeveloped and unconvincing storylines. This week’s big winner is Gus and it’s not because he finds himself in the middle of a particularly wicked action scene, but rather because Miguel Gómez makes it all so convincing.
We haven’t seen much of Gus’ mother or brother in a while now, but it doesn’t matter. Gus’ reaction to seeing their condition comes with an onslaught of raw emotion. Similar to Vasiliy, Gus is a badass and I’d like to bet it’ll always be a blast to watch him wipe out vampires, but Gómez has the ability to turn that quality into much more than a fleeting thrill. Whether he’s processing the threat of his brother, mother or Felix, Gómez always gives the viewer access to Gus’ thought process, making the action far more exhilarating to track and also giving the repercussions of his encounters a lasting effect.
Zach and Mrs. Martinez have a few memorable moments as well. It makes no sense for Eph and co. to bring a child and a woman suffering from dementia underground to fight The Master, but at the same time, why would they ever think leaving them alone together is a good idea? Maybe Nora shouldn’t have been so whiny and jealous and just stayed behind to watch out for them. Or how about Dutch? Where’d she go?
Regardless of the logic issue, Zach and Mrs. Martinez do have some effective interactions that make you wonder, what would you do if you were in Zach’s situation? Good thing he opts to go out and get Mrs. Martinez her cigarettes, because it results in one of ‘The Third Rail’s’ biggest payoffs – Zach crossing paths with Gus. Hopefully, that will happen again soon enough.
As for Eph, Nora, Setrakian, Vasiliy, and their latest lame plan, their efforts feel wishy-washy and hollow. Yes, we get the opening during which Vasiliy tests out the new weapon, but where’d the idea even come from? And how can they just jump into the mission without additional tests? They’ve got a limited supply of bulbs, but what sense does it make to risk them all on a concept that might not work?
Half the fun of seeing such a device put to use is watching the characters take the time to conjure the idea, troubleshoot it and then create hope that it might do the trick. However, we don’t get that here, so when Vasiliy ignites it, the result is just a neat visual trick that’s far less exhilarating and satisfying than it could have been.
Eph’s encounter with The Master is another element that falls short of expectations.
They’ve been talking about The Master for a while and now, our main man is finally face-to-face with him. It should feel bigger than this, but it doesn’t and it likely has a lot to do with the flimsy representation of The Master’s motives. Why doesn’t he just kill Eph on the spot? Even if he missed opportunity #1 when Setrakian walked in, there was still time before Vasiliy unleashed the light.
Making the episode’s climax even more unappealing is that, in the end, our heroes are all over the place. Vasiliy thinks they had a shot, Nora thinks he’s crazy, Eph is emotionally disturbed and Setrakian’s busy throwing a temper tantrum. No, they can’t be one big happy family all the time, but when they are torn apart like this, the details have to be more defined; otherwise, the break-up is sloppy, frustrating and makes the characters less likable.
The Strain continues next Sunday with ‘Last Rites’ at @ 10pm on FX.
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.