[This is a review of The Strain season 2, episode 10. There will be SPOILERS.]
When it comes to FX's horror/drama series The Strain, we can honestly say that the show does a good job (most of the time) of keeping viewers on their toes. The vampire series rarely takes a predictable route in telling its story, and while this can lead to some interesting surprises, The Strain also has the unfortunate habit of sacrificing narrative progression in service of those unexpected story turns. In other words, it's nice that we don't always know what's going to happen, but we'd like something important related to the larger strigoi threat to actually happen each week.
Perhaps the most recent and egregious example of this trend took place a few weeks back, when Eph's (Corey Stoll) new D.C. friends were assassinated by one of Palmer's (Jonathan Hyde) men. The deaths of Leigh (Nadia Bowers) and Rob (Tom Ellis) were certainly a shock, but they also basically resulted in the death of Eph's vampire bioweapon (at least, for the time being), which was the most significant and interesting plotline The Strain had cooking at the time. Sadly, that pattern of misdirection continued this week in 'The Assassin,' as both of the episode's main storylines threw curveballs that only further test the audience's patience rather than generate any real intrigue.
The first of those storylines is Eph's pursuit of Palmer, which had become more of a personal vendetta for Dr. Goodweather than an act for the greater good after the murders of his friends back in D.C. Of course, his selfish motivation certainly adds another flaw, and possibly more dramatic baggage to Eph's character, but it doesn't benefit anyone else, including the audience. Sure, killing Palmer would be a blow to the enemy, but it likely wouldn't help Eph recover his bioweapon anytime soon, and isn't the eradication of the strigoi race a higher priority than killing a man who has essentially become a glorified pawn (as much as Palmer wouldn't like to admit) in The Master's plan?
Setting aside Eph's questionable decision-making skills and the fact that he's probably not the most capable of pulling off such an assassination as others in his group might be, we're ultimately still rooting for him to take Palmer out of the equation. If he's able to do so, at least he'll be able to move on to more important matters - say, saving the human race, for example - but, alas, his shot misses the intended target, hitting Palmer's much younger lover (gross, I know) Coco (Lizzie Brochere) instead.
After Coco is rushed to intensive care and later healed by The Master (at Palmer's request), it's clear that she is of some importance to the strigoi cause, if only to keep Palmer in line. But with Palmer coming away from the botched assassination attempted unscathed, it's also clear that nothing has really changed from a narrative standpoint - other than Coco now has a decision to make. After learning of Palmer's alliance, will she join the strigoi or revolt against them? That decision could prove to be impactful somewhere down the line, but for now, Eph's misfire is simply that - a missed opportunity to inflict some real damage against the enemy.
As far as short term effects go, the biggest result from Eph's miss is Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas) landing in the hands of Eichorst (Richard Sammel). This will likely set up a time-consuming rescue scene next week, but we hope it doesn't take too long, as there are only three episodes left to wrap up season 2's many dangling story threads.
And one of those threads just happened to be this week's B-story, as Abraham (David Bradley) - with the reluctant help from Fet (Kevin Durand) and Nora (Mia Maestro) - continued his search from the Occido Lumen, working off a dying-breath tip from Cardinal McNamara (Tom Kemp). Fortunately, after 10 weeks of needlessly dragging this storyline out, The Strain finally brought Abraham to the mythic Lumen, a long-awaited discovery that also brought many questions. What would Abraham learn about the strigoi? What was actually so valuable about this ancient text? However, in typical Strain fashion, we're forced to wait even longer for answers, as the book is snatched from Abraham by an unknown assailant at the end of the episode.
Apparently, this development is supposed to create some interest as to who now has control of the Lumen, but in actuality, it's just more frustrating, considering how long it's taken to even confirm that the Lumen exists. Now, instead of Abraham getting to work on a plan to destroy The Master, we have to wait and see who now possesses the book and how the group of survivors can recover it. Audiences do have a patience breaking point, and when that point is crossed, it will be nearly impossible to get them to care again. Needless to say, The Strain is nearing that line when it comes to the Lumen.
So, not only did the episode leave out the show's most interesting characters (Angel, Gus, and Quinlan) for the second straight week, but it also failed to create any substantial intrigue out of its mini story turns. Of course, there's still a chance these will pay off in a dramatic and compelling way as season 2 wraps up, but holding out such hope for a comprehensive and cohesive conclusion seems to be more and more pointless, as The Strain continues to move in circles. If the same happens next week, perhaps we'll at least get some cool vampire kills to satisfy our action fix. As The Strain's laborious second season drags on, that's about the most we can hope for each week.
The Strain continues next Sunday with 'Dead End' @10pm on FX.
Photos: Michael Gibson/FX