[This is a review of The Strain season 2, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS]
FX's The Strain may not possess the dramatic heft and introspective examination of humanity that AMC's monster hit The Walking Dead thrives on, but it has an entirely different strength that some of its apocalyptic horror counterparts seem to lack: the ability and gall to have fun. There's no doubt the series is at its best when it simply embraces its campier elements and revels in the genre thrills that ultimately make it highly entertaining - albeit disposable - late night TV.
Although the series hasn't always played to this strength (see last week's episode), fortunately, The Strain got back to having its characters loosen up and have a little fun - while still advancing season 2's main story arcs - in 'The Silver Angel.'
Two characters in desperate need of a break coming into last night's episode were Eph (Corey Stoll) and Nora (Mia Maestro), The Strain's resident down-on-their-luck scientists who had finally begun to put their genius minds to work on a solution to New York's vampire epidemic. Between Eph's depressed booze binges and Nora dealing with the loss of her mother, the couple - and the audience - really needed their "infect the infected" plan to work, if only for a little dramatic relief.
Fortunately, all parties seemed to get that relief, and Eph even gleefully giggled as infected vamps threw themselves to their own deaths to avoid spreading his homemade virus, signaling that his test tube concoction is a real threat. Even though Nora remained cautious against celebrating or moving forward with the next phase of the plan too quickly, the victory is a still a big one; not just for the hope of humanity, but also for Eph's sanity. Of course, being that this is only episode four of the season and that more conflict is needed, we can expect a setback for our survivors on the horizon, as The Master is likely planning his own counter measure.
While it was good to see Eph enjoy himself and his work (without a bottle), it was even better seeing Zack (Max Charles) get out of the safe house for a little recreational respite. After his temper tantrum from last week, Zach definitely needed to take his mind off things, namely his mother. Unfortunately, Eph takes him to a place that triggers more memories of her and their happy family, making the attempt at father-son time a real bummer. While a bit of a sad spot in an overall fun episode, the kid's longing for maternal love proves to serve narrative purpose at least, as we see Mama Goodweather in vampire form, along with her "feelers," on the scent of the young lad, poised to use Zach's love for her against him and the group.
One character who hasn't had to worry about past relationships coming back to literally bite him is Fet (Kevin Durand), who - apart from his developing attachment to Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas) - seems to only get genuine enjoyment out of killing vampires and blowing stuff up. Fortunately for viewers who love seeing him do both, he gets a couple of great scenes in 'The Silver Angel,' but his brash display and defiance of authority also gets him in trouble and possibly in need of a rescue from the group next week.
Back on his own after the failed mission with the Strigoi assault team, Gus (Miguel Gomez) needed a bail out too, and he may have found a helpful ally in Angel (Joaquín Cosio), a former Lucha Libre/film star who seems to know more about the vampire plague than he lets on. While still a mysterious figure at this point - especially after a lengthly and welcome cold open that wasn't just a change of pace, but offered a glimpse into his past as a vampire-slaying luchador on film - Angel should have a major role to play going forward, and his introduction certainly builds up some excitement as The Strain moves closer to the halfway point of season 2.
And aside from the story and character developments, that's what we really want out of The Strain week-to-week: some excitement, thrills, chills, and fun vampire mythology. Luckily we got all of the above this week, as a young Abraham (Jim Watson) uncovered a promising lead to find the elusive Occido Lumen; Nora, Eph, and Fet unleashed their test subject and quippy one-liners to CCR's "Fortunate Son"; and Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) set up a death trap for New York's major financial players, in a chaotic blast of a scene that saw Bolivar (Jack Kesy) and his crew run amok, wreaking havoc and spreading panic throughout NYC. Fun stuff, indeed.
With a new character added to the mix and its sense of play back on display, The Strain appears to be heading in a positive direction. Let's hope the series continues on this trajectory and avoids taking itself too seriously along the way.
The Strain season 2 continues next Sunday @10pm with 'Quick and Painless' on FX.
Photo credit: Michael Gibson/FX