[This is a review of The Strain season 2, episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]
As The Strain nears the midway point of its second season, there is certainly a lot happening within its expanding vampire-ridden world. Not all of it is compelling, but building off last week's episode, the series continues heading in some interesting directions and finds some much-needed balance in juggling its many narrative threads in 'Identity.'
Thankfully, the episode opens on our new Strigoi character, picking up right where 'Quick and Painless' left us. Although we still don't learn much more about him (yet), we do see he's been transported into New York City by some human helpers, reminiscent of how The Master arrived at the outbreak's true ground zero. After introducing this mysterious character with a closing tease last week, this brief check-in on his whereabouts is much appreciated, while still making us wonder what his motives are and which side he is on.
Of course, the show's main focus is rightfully still on Eph (Corey Stoll) and his mission to recruit powerful allies to produce and distribute his vampire bioweapon, which he successfully field tested in 'The Silver Angel.' Fortunately, upon arriving in D.C., the incognito Dr. Goodweather doesn't waste any time as he visits good friend Rob (Tom Ellis), a lobbyist with a conveniently large network of valuable political contacts. Luckily, one of those contacts happens to be Leigh Thomas (Nadia Bowers), a representative with a large pharmaceutical company that may be able to help Eph mass produce his bioweapon, a moniker Rob suggests to avoid using when pitching it to the D.C. bigwigs. After all, they have to sell it first, and bioweapon simply sounds too scary.
During these dealings, Rob and Lee seem trustworthy enough, but as Eph - along with the audience - learns that 30 major U.S. cities have also been affected by the vampire plague, he realizes he can't be too choosy about who his new partners are, needing to set things in motion quickly.
Still, it's somewhat surprising just how quickly Eph literally jumps into bed with this new acquaintance. The lust-driven decision looks even worse as Lee presents him with a contract to hand over exclusive rights to his vampire-killing product. Understandably, Eph feels like he's being manipulated, but he reluctantly signs the deal anyway. While it could prove to be a bad move for Eph, he and Lee's complicated relationship does add some dramatic fuel to what is an already fast-paced episode.
Speaking of fast-paced, back on Staten Island, vampire Kelly (Natalie Brown) and her feelers (which have turned out to be the most terrifying part of this horror series) finally catch up with Nora (Mia Maestro) and Zack (Max Charles), providing some payoff to the threat that's been teased all season. Unfortunately, the dramatic and emotional impact of that payoff is meager, as the episode's writer completely abandons the idea of Kelly attempting to lure Zack in, especially considering he still hasn't come to terms with her transformation. Wasn't that why she was specifically after him in the first place? Considering emotional drama has never been The Strain's strong suit, it's ultimately somewhat forgivable, albeit a little disappointing.
On the positive side, the sequence did allow for our main group of protagonists - now including Fitzwilliam (Roger Cross) - to come together for a fun, action-packed rescue involving those pesky and creepy spider-like feelers. However, Fitzwilliam's contributions to the group are short-lived as he winds up bitten in the fracas. Like the confrontation between Kelly and Zack, his death is dealt with little emotion, but it's fine here, considering his character already served his narrative purpose earlier in the episode when he detailed what he knew about Palmer's (Jonathan Hyde) real estate dealings. In this case, killing off a relatively useless ancillary character is probably a good move, as it should free up more screen time for other threads in the narrative balancing act The Strain is trying to pull off.
Compared to last week's episode, 'Identity' does a better job with that balancing act, as it also makes time to check in on Gus (Miguel Gomez) and Angel (Joaquin Cosio), as well as back again with our mysterious Strigoi character, who turns out to be a mercenary serving the Ancients in the battle against The Master. The only subplot that didn't receive much attention this week is the search for the Occido Lumen, which is understandably put on hold as Abraham (David Bradley) comes to Zack and Nora's aid when they are attacked by Kelly's feelers.
Another thing 'Identity' does well is continue to build intrigue and momentum with its final scenes, which, unlike last week's tease, include a straight-up shocker as Eph's new well-connected partners, Rob and Lee, are killed by a Stoneheart assassin. Eph is also wounded (somehow not killed at point-blank range) and left - along with the audience - wondering how Palmer tracked him down. Maybe shaving his head wasn't enough of a "disguise" after all.
The episode then closes with our first look at The Master in quite some time, and he's looking more hideous than usual. In desperate need of a new body, he chooses Bolivar (Jack Kesey) over loyal servant Eichorst (Richard Sammel), the latter of whom appears dismayed and slightly betrayed. We'll just have to wait and see if The Master's decision shakes Eichorst's allegiance to him as the season moves along.
The Strain season 2 continues next Sunday with 'The Born' @10pm on FX.
Photos: Michael Gibson/FX