[This is a review of the The Strain season 1, episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
The second episode of The Strain doesn’t come anywhere close to matching the thrill of the plane investigation or the massacre at the morgue in the first, but it does function as a solid and very necessary character and world-building episode. “Night Zero” benefited from the novelty of the inciting incident, but now that that’s done, it’s got to beef up both the main players and the core story to ensure the longevity of the show, and that’s exactly what “The Box” does.
Ephraim gets a nice balance this episode. Roughly half of the time he’s discovering new things pertaining to the case, but then the other half, he’s with his family, just being an average person. “Night Zero” laid out the basics of Ephraim’s situation with his wife and son, but “The Box” digs a little deeper, and not just in terms of blurting out new details on their predicament, but rather by letting them behave like normal people.
Ephraim does walk into the house with a specific plan in mind, but the resulting interactions between him, Zach, Kelly and Matt (Drew Nelson) feel strikingly natural. In “Night Zero,” it was the gorier and more unnerving material that pulled me in most, so it was a nice surprise to get some especially absorbing and engaging simple family drama this time around.
It also seems like Miguel Gomez is going to be able to accomplish quite a bit of that throughout the season as Gus. Even though he’s had less screen time than the large majority of the main players, he’s got an infectious energy to him. Whether he’s being kind to his mother or threatening his brother, Gomez does so with such conviction that it’s easy to connect with Gus and understand what he’s fighting for.
However, the standouts of “The Box” are definitely the plane “survivors.” We’ve got Captain Redfern (Jonathan), Joan Luss (Leslie Hope), Ansel Barbour (Nikolai Witschl) and my personal favorite, Gabriel Bolivar (Jack Kesy). The material with Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) and Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel) works well, but it’s easier to dive into all of this madness via the survivors because it’s the more grounded approach.
These are four people who know absolutely nothing about what’s going on. They even insist on ditching the CDC quarantine even though Ephraim suggests they might still be at risk. I don’t know about you, but if a doctor tells me he needs to check something out, I’m going to let him, even if it eats up my time. But the point is, it’s far easier to put ourselves in their position. It continues what “Night Zero” started - what if a plane landed at JFK full of dead people? Now it’s - what if you were one of the survivors? And there’s an answer in “The Box” for everyone.
You could be pissed like Joan Luss and threaten the CDC with your big law firm, you could be like Bolivar and take a more blasé I’m-just-gonna-do-my-thing approach or you could go with Captain Redfern, trust Ephraim and help the CDC. And the best part is, regardless of whom you connect to most, there’s something exciting to come. Joan and Redfern don’t get as big a payoff as Bolivar, but their choices do lead to some compelling scenes, in particular, the conversation between Bolivar, Joan and Regina King’s character at the restaurant and Refern’s scenes with Ephraim and Dr. Martinez.
Speaking of Dr. Martinez, she needs some serious work. If she’s going to be a viable main character on this show, she’s got to do more than just follow Ephraim around from place to place to reconfirm the things he discovers. But we’re only two episodes in, so there’s still time for that, just like there’s still time for elements of the show that are working well, but need more screen time, like this rivalry between Abraham and Eichorst, and also Kevin Durand’s character.
“The Box” doesn’t flow as well as “Night Zero” and also isn’t as memorable, but it does take the time to give the show some layers that should work to The Strain’s benefit in future episodes.
The Strain continues next Sunday with ‘Gone Smooth’ at @10pm on FX.
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.