[This article discusses major plot points of The Strain season 2 finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
Last Sunday's season 2 finale of The Strain took the characters of FX's sometimes-campy vampire apocalypse drama from co-creator Guillermo del Toro, and thrust them deeper into the central conflict. The episode, titled 'Night Train,' was an attempt to up the ante as it were, accelerating the pace of the apocalypse, while also taking the life of a major character and sending another one off hand-in-hand with what used to be his mother. With its surprisingly downbeat ending, the season's greatest success may have been the intimation that the war was not only far from over, but that the worst of it had not yet begun.
With the promise of dark days ahead, series co-creator Chuck Hogan and executive producer/writer Carlton Cuse offered some insight into what happened in season 2 and what fans can expect in season 3.
The first order of business for Cuse and Hogan was to confirm that, even in a world filled with worm-infested vampires, sometimes dead is dead. To that end, the two were referring to the surprising death of Eph's scientific partner and (sometimes) love interest Nora Martinez, played by Mía Maestro. Cuse said the decision to kill Nora was not one the writers' room came to easily, but that sometimes character deaths are oddly necessary to keep the narrative feeling alive.
"It was a very hard decision… I think on some level the audience needs to be told narratively that no one is safe. I think the same was true on Lost, we killed popular characters like Charlie and it was extremely painful, but it was necessary to make sure that the show has a sense of danger and stakes. We felt like the impact of it would be shocking and unexpected. It was a big sort of tragic turn in our storytelling and I think that the stakes have been raised. We did it on Lost and you see it on Game of Thrones, the reality of television storytelling is you have to be wiling to do some bold things in order to not have the audience feel like the narrative is predictable."
Cuse pointed out that losing a major character could benefit the narrative beyond the shock of seeing them die. As he put it, culling down the cast will help focus the storyline moving forward, streamlining certain threads that may have meandered somewhat or were not given the sort of attention they deserved.
"We have a very large cast and I think one of the things we struggled with in the second season was effective servicing all of the characters. We are very excited to do more with, for instance, the Justine Feraldo character played by Samantha Mathis. She's going to be a big part of season 3. Also the Quinlan storyline will be something we'll be seeing a lot more of in season 3 as well."
Audiences will also see a lot more of the impact the vampire apocalypse is having the world over. Series co-creator Chuck Hogan (who also co-authored the novels on which the series is based) said season 3 will aim to illustrate how things have worsened and to push the overarching story further along within the framework of a single season. In regard to seeing what affect the apocalypse is having, Hogan said:
"[We] do get a sense… where exactly the world is. And season 3, you might see some things move a little more quickly, there might be some time jumps, so we really get a sense of things falling and the world's situation, both economic and otherwise, really going into a serious collapse.
The feel of the show in season 3 is going to be different, not radically different, but we are going to be advancing the story faster and getting more of a worldview to really speed up the storytelling even more."
While the world prepares to falter, The Strain's ostensible protagonist, Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll), will be ready to face the apocalypse head on. Hogan says Eph was changed by what transpired in season 2 (and not just because Stoll finally got to ditch the horrible and unnecessary wig), and that the loss of Nora, coupled with his son Zack's (Max Charles) decision to leave with his now-fully transformed mother would push the character to a greater sense of purpose and action in season 3.
"One of my favorite things about season 2 was that Corey Stoll's character Eph was really energized more than he was in season 1. I feel like events of season 2 are going to push him even further in season 3. I'm really excited about where that's going. That will be something that is ongoing. I think Eph, coming off of this is going to be looking to do anything he can – A) for revenge and B) to find out what happened to his son. So, yeah, he's going to be on a tear in season 3."
Presumably, part of Eph's "tear" will be to track down Zack and get him away from his mother, who, despite becoming a literal monster, was still the preferred parent for the boy. And while many have taken issue with Zack's admittedly confounding decision, Cuse believes it will pay off down the road, as the show explores putting the character in "a very dark place" that includes exploring his "fairly complicated relationship with the Master."
Meanwhile, Hogan addressed concerns about Zack's decision and how it would be that a child would make the sort of decision that he did, saying:
"Earlier in the season [Zack] was clinging to the hope that [Kelly (Natalie Brown)] was just sick and that she might get better. As things went on, he had experiences where he realized that's not the case, so I think he's aware of [what she is] but at the same time, she's not dead, she's not gone, she's still there and I think he sees a glimmer of his mother inside the creature, and I think for an 11 or 12-year-old boy that's still a really powerful force. So I think he's really caught in a hard place as far as that's concerned. It's going to be interesting in season 3 to see what happens there; we've left him in a really interesting place."
Of course, season 3 will be roughly the halfway point of the entire series, as Cuse, Hogan, and del Toro have all envisioned The Strain to last five seasons. Knowing they have an endpoint in mind (and it's creeping up on them), Cuse and Hogan may be pushing the narrative forward to ensure there is enough time to adequately adapt the story from the books, as well as make it a unique product for television audiences. For his part, Cuse seems thrilled to be involved in another story that is about a specific destination, as he stated:
"Inevitably, the conclusion of our series will be different than the books, but the reason we want the show to be over in five seasons is that we really see The Strain as a story with a beginning middle and an end. And we want to bring it to its conclusion. It doesn't feel to us that this is a show that really should be in an ongoing condition. It's really a story about a group of people, how they react to this apocalyptic set of events and where it leads them and where it leads the world. And the idea that we get to take our narrative from A to Z is really appealing."
The Strain will return with season 3 in 2016 on FX.
Photos: Robert Sebree/FX