[This is a review of The Strain season 2, episode 9. There will be SPOILERS.]
Weekly watchers of The Strain can certainly appreciate high drama, but only when it naturally raises the stakes of the show’s larger threat: the strigoi outbreak in New York City. Unfortunately, the series has spent a good chunk of its second season mired in emotional character quibbles and unimportant tangential narrative threads that have only slowed what momentum the series had after its return this summer. Needless to say, for those who’ve been on board since the beginning, season 2 has been a bit of a bumpy – if only occasionally fun – ride.
Luckily, those who have stuck around were rewarded in some respects this week by ‘The Battle for Red Hook,’ an episode that provided some genuine excitement while giving the show’s characters a real reason to stand together: to fight for the survival of their great city.
And in this narratively-fragmented season, it’s seldom that we’ve seen all (or most) of the original band together, as group in-fighting and trips to D.C. have split our crew of survivalists apart. It was certainly refreshing to see them set aside their differences – especially Fet (Kevin Durand) and Nikki (Nicola Correia-Damude) in their mutual infatuation with Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas) – and join forces toward a common goal, if only for a brief time.
But more importantly, the episode raises those aforementioned stakes to such a level that the audience’s interest is raised as well. At various points throughout the season, The Strain has focused its energy and its precious, finite amount of screen time on soapy melodrama and apparent narrative dead-ends, but as Eichorst (Richard Sammel), Kelly (Natalie Brown), and a horde of strigoi navigated their way around the Red Hook quarantine checkpoints (let’s not bother questioning why no one was at the dock to screen them), there was a sense of urgency and a real sense of danger.
That danger gave Councilwoman Justine Feraldo (Samantha Mathis) – whom we hadn’t seen in some time – a tough fight-or-flight decision, but staying true to her character, she choose to stand firm and defend her city from the ugly plague that took her cousin and turned many of her constituents into blood-sucking parasites. Not only that, but she took to the streets to rally civilian forces with a little cheesy, yet very much welcome rah-rah charge that led to one of the season’s larger and more exciting action set pieces.
Not only does the episode’s major set piece provide viewers with the vampire action they crave, but it also reminds us just how fun The Strain can be – not so much for the gore, but more for the kinetic energy. In the entertaining melee, we get a little bit of everything as the bullets fly, bodies fall and strigoi strike with their slithery stingers.
Elsewhere, Eph (Corey Stoll), Fet and Nora (Mia Maestro) had ventured away from the fight to restore the city’s power and its vampire-killing ultra violet lights, while Abraham (David Bradley) went looking for Eichorst to settle an old score. This is where the episode starts to fall into a familiar and undesirable pattern as Eph leaves Nora and Zack – which he’ll certainly get flack for later – to aid Abraham as he promised, after he helped flip Red Hook’s power back on.
Of course, as soon as Eph’s gone, that’s when Kelly appears, and although her attack on Zack is once again thwarted, she escapes for a second straight week. In similar fashion, Eichorst also escapes Eph and Abraham’s clutches (or is it the other way around?) for the second week in a row, setting up more of the same mini-battles to come near the end of the season.
What’s even more frustrating is that progress isn’t made on either finding the Occido Lumen or Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) this week after the show expressed the overall significance of each in recent episodes. Moreover, the episode doesn’t allow for an appearance from Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones), Angel (Joaquin Cosio), or Gus (Miguel Gomez), providing further evidence that The Strain is juggling too many story and character threads at the moment. The bottom line is: some of these things need to start coming together in a coherent and cohesive way for the series to retain its audience’s interest heading into season 3.
The sluggish narrative arcs aside, the episode still managed to succeed at a base level of being entertaining, and when it comes to The Strain, that’s about all we can ask for each week. That said, we sincerely hope to get some sort of resolution when it comes to the Lumen and Kelly Goodweather as season 2 wraps up. As this week’s episode title indicates, our protagonists won merely a battle at Red Hook and not the larger war, so we’re certainly looking forward to a more decisive showdown in the coming weeks.
The Strain season 2 will continue next Sunday with ‘The Assassin’ @10pm on FX.
Photo credit: Michael Gibson/FX