[This is a review of The Strain season 1, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]
As expected, things are really picking up. Rather than have Eph, Nora and Jim continue to search for answers while being completely oblivious to what’s really going on, episode 4 of The Strain, ‘It’s Not for Everyone,’ hurls them right into the reality of the situation and it serves all three characters exceptionally well.
First off, it’s incredibly satisfying that ‘It’s Not for Everyone’ picks up right where ‘Gone Smooth’ left off. Many shows would have just cut to the gross-out-heavy autopsy scene, assuming that the break between episodes would keep us from wondering how the trio dealt with the shock and Redfern’s body.
Not here, though, and seeing how they come to terms with what just happened is easily one of the most compelling moments of the episode. The first three episodes took the time to build the characters, so now the show has the luxury of spicing things up by subverting expectations and here, the writers really take advantage of it.
The Strain doesn’t just reduce the scene to expositional dialogue detailing how the characters feel and what they plan to do next; rather, it lets you watch as they process everything. Whether it’s through words or reaction shots, you’re well aware that the wheels are turning in their heads and that they’re trying to find a balance between following protocol and doing what’s necessary to save the city, justifying and grounding the decisions they make in this rather outrageous situation.
The opening scene is exceptionally dynamic with all three actors keeping what we’ve come to learn about their characters intact while also unveiling new layers by engaging in a heated and genuine back-and-forth. Just when you think you know these people and have a sense of what trajectory they’re going to take, everything changes and that keeps you guessing throughout the entire episode, especially when Eph and Nora come face-to-face with Setrakian at the Arnot home.
At the end of episode 3, had you asked me if Nora would be the one to go along with Setrakian’s plan, I’d have said yes, but episode 4 manages to pull off an impressively convincing turnaround. She doesn’t go from being the first to believe Setrakian to completely changing her mind. Instead, bit by bit, you see her slowly back away while Eph forges forward.
Jonathan Hyde has some strong scenes as Eldritch Palmer and Miguel Gomez’s Gus benefits from a grounded, engrossing family dynamic, but it’s Ansel (Nikolai Witschl) and his wife Ann-Marie (Alex Paxton-Beesley) that steal the rest of the episode because their situation features some really refreshing decisions and behavior.
On the one hand, we’ve seen Redfern and Bolivar lose it and give in to their taste for blood, so it’s only natural to assume that Ansel would also eventually lose his capacity to act like a normal person and possibly kill loved ones. However, he holds on just long enough to chain himself up in the shed to save his family – well, minus Gertie.
Ann-Marie also winds up becoming an especially captivating character thanks to her surprising but very well supported decisions. From the moment we met her, she’s been presented as a nice, normal loving wife and then “It’s Not for Everyone” tosses in the religious angle, giving you the impression that she’ll do anything for Ansel and also always do what’s right.
But then those two values collide, and watching her try to navigate that paradox makes the sequence’s grand finale so much more than just “the big twist.” It's something you’re able to connect to and understand, too.
The Strain is definitely on the right track so far. Things did get a little slow in episodes 2 and 3, but episode 4 proves that it was well worth ditching the blood, action and gore for the sake of character development because it ensures that the show will have so much more to offer beyond shock value as we move forward.
The Strain continues next Sunday with ‘It’s Not For Everyone’ at @ 10pm on FX.
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.