The Creature From the Dark Side of Sesame Street
When the biggest, meanest creature your show has in its vampiric lineup, the one intended to be the series’ ultimate endgame, comes to life looking like a half-finished background character from Farscape, you’ve either done something very right or very wrong. The initial incarnation of the Master was the giant foam latex equivalent of Corey Stoll’s hairpiece: a gross miscalculation of what the audience expected (or wanted) to see that was eventually corrected (or abandoned) through the magic of long-form storytelling.
Essentially F.W. Murnau’s Count Orlok on steroids, the Master was unwieldy from the get-go, a bucktoothed mass of yellowing flesh and giant, glowing red eyes that did little to instill fear, mostly because the character was so visually distracting. In time, the hulking monstrosity playing host to an evil, parasitic worm would become unsound and eventually the Master would take the form of a Goth musician before assuming his final, and most powerful form – an elderly rich white guy. The shift to Jonathan Hyde gave the Master some much-needed personality in the final season, but even as the series cruises toward ‘The Last Stand’, we’ll never forget that The Strain‘s big bad first looked like he came from the dark side of Sesame Street.
The Worst Character on Television
What can we say about Zack Goodweather that hasn’t been said a thousand times? The Worst Character on Television gave The Strain a human villain who made the blood-sucking monstrosities running around seem downright likable by comparison. It was as though the writers pointed to everything annoying about The Walking Dead‘s Carl (including the shaggy haircut) and said, “Yes, all of that, but worse.” How much worse? The kid set off a nuclear bomb because he was angry with his father.
To The Strain’s credit, the show committed to steering into the skid that was Zack Goodweather, following up the deliberate detonation of a nuclear device with a display of abhorrent male behavior – believing himself entitled to the affection of a young woman because he was nice to her – only to double down on his mad-at-dad antics by infiltrating humanity’s last hope only to signal the enemy. In an interview ahead of the final season, Carlton Cuse said he hoped to make Zack the “evilest character on TV,” and while the show may not have completely achieved that, it certainly gave audiences one they would love to hate.
It Had a Sense of Humor About Itself
Sure, The Strain took itself too serious far too often. Every time it tried to underline the gravity of its situation it came away eliciting more snickers than scares. Early on, henchman of the year and, on paper anyway, one of the most transparently evil characters on TV (he is, after all, an immortal Nazi vampire who has carried on a half-century-long vendetta against the cranky janitor from Hogwarts) Thomas Eichhorst (Richard Sammel) was seen tending to a daily ritual of rebuilding a face that had mostly rotted away with the same diva-like sense of purpose as Jessica Lange juicing lemons with her elbows as Joan Crawford in FEUD. That could have been scary or gruesome, but it wasn’t. Instead, the scene was presented as campy and played for laughs, suggesting The Strain had a sense of humor about itself.
The same is true of musician Gabriel Bolivar, the walking Hot Topic merchandise wall whose little rock star fell off into the toilet and was flushed away and forgotten like so many goldfish. Depicting the end of the world can become a tireless slog in which one horrible moment follows another and it all becomes misery porn. The Strain at least new when to crack the window and let some air in. Having a sense of humor is one thing, but being able to laugh at yourself is something else altogether. For all its faults these last four seasons, a willingness to mock itself wasn’t one of them
It’s Really Just a Midnight Movie TV Series
More midnight movie than epic horror series, The Strain didn’t quite make it to the upper echelons of genre television. Its ratings were but a fraction of The Walking Dead‘s, but it did have one thing in common with its biggest competitor: you watched it knowing there was a better show lurking in there somewhere (under a hairpiece, maybe?). The Strain may not have ever became the show it was intended to be, but, by the end of its four-season run, it at least found a way to turn its silliness into a defining characteristic worth appreciating.
The Strain concludes Sunday night with ‘The Last Stand’ @10pm on FX.
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