[This is a review of The Strain season 1, episode 13. There will be SPOILERS.]
So that’s it. The Strain is over. Am I still glad the show’s been picked up for a second season? Yes. Am I looking forward to it? Yes, but not nearly enough to be counting down the days until its return. The Strain has had its moments, namely ‘Night Zero,’ ‘Occultation,’ ‘Creatures of the Night’ and ‘Loved Ones,’ but for the most part, the show was a sufficient guilty pleasure and that’s exactly how it wraps up.
‘The Master’ keeps the focus on three storylines – Eph and co.’s efforts to kill The Master, Gus’ encounter with Mr. Quinlan (Stephen McHattie) and The Ancients, and Eldritch Palmer’s determination to get on The Master’s good side. They’re all fine and do add some interesting layers to the characters and their situations, but there’s nothing particularly revelatory about the storylines that leaves you foaming at the mouth for the next season. No, every season finale doesn’t need a mind-blowing cliffhanger, but after the rather drab last few episodes, The Strain really could have benefited from it.
Let’s start with Eph, Setrakian, Nora, Fet, Dutch and Zach. They’ve turned into quite the band of vampire killers. It's especially satisfying watching them all arm up and take on the munchers together, but the scene was a bit of a hodgepodge of gunshots and beheadings.
Perhaps episode scribes Carlton Cuse and Chuck Hogan didn’t want the Fet/Nora/Dutch fight to take away from what was going on upstairs with The Master, but some sort of unique kill or bigger moment during the Eichorst scuffle could have made the battle more memorable. The part when the attack suddenly stops and the vampires rewind out of the room is a nice touch and also rocks some of the episode’s most memorable visuals, but it doesn’t make enough of an impact in terms of carrying you through to the next season.
The Eph and Setrakian vs. The Master battle has the same problem as the one from ‘The Third Rail'; they all move way too slow. It was nice that Eph took the initiative to break the windows and let in the light, but why doesn’t Setrakian just slice The Masters head right off while he’s writhing in pain? Don’t wait until he finds a shady spot and composes himself. Or how about when he’s lying on the ground outside? Just jump in and get it done already!
The revelation that The Master can survive in sunlight isn’t half as staggering as it could have been. The team’s been working with the UV lights for a while now, but in order for this bit of information to be a game changer, they need to talk it up, even if it’s only just a little bit. Perhaps if the group announced a plan prior to barreling into Bolivar’s place and it was to defeat The Master by exposing him to sunlight, that might have done the trick. But clearly that’s not the case, so in the end, that’s not the new detail that sticks.
Kelly’s effect on Zach, however, is a fascinating new story component. Minus Eichorst, what vampire has the ability to communicate with humans? Up until this point, when someone is turned, the most they’re capable of is sucking their loved ones dry, and because that point is so firmly established, this encounter is especially striking.
Gus has been one of the most appealing characters since day one and I’ll always be interested in seeing what he does next no matter what, but the reveal that Mr. Quinlan and the other vampire hunters want to recruit him isn’t the chill-inducing induction I was hoping for. Oddly enough, the standout for me this episode is Jonathan Hyde as Palmer.
Palmer’s been sidelined to an extent due to his condition and the fact that he never really leaves the office, but he’s out now and boy is he eager to become The Master’s favorite. If he’s willing to hurl the Secretary of Health and Human Services over a balcony without even a hint of remorse, I cannot wait to see what he’s capable of next.
‘The Master’ wasn’t the big finish I wanted, but there is some solid set-up that should serve season 2 well, namely Palmer’s rise to the top and his potential to add a credible reason government officials aren’t stepping in, Gus joining forces with the vampire hunters and Zach finally getting the opportunity to kill some vamps and make a difference.
And then, of course, there’s the spread of the vampire apocalypse, which could really use some work. It was nearly effortless to jump in during ‘Night Work’ because the whole thing began in a very familiar place and made you wonder, what if a “dead plane” really did land at JFK? The show does offer up bits about the CDC wanting to bury the issue and we get to see a good deal of local destruction, but in order to really wrap our heads around what’s happened, we need a broader sense of how it’s affected the New York area - and beyond, for that matter.
Setrakian’s final words are all about the world we’ve created and how the enemy is using our infrastructure against us. He goes on to say, “The world today is not what it was one week ago. What will it be one week from now? One month from now? Nothing is written that cannot be changed. It is a small world after all. We made it that way.” That’s a really interesting idea right there and hopefully we’ll get to explore it more (and in a more believable manner) when the show returns.
The Strain has been renewed for a second season.
Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.