[This is a review of The Strain season 2, episode 7. There will be SPOILERS]
Being that The Strain season 2 is still only halfway towards its conclusion, the series' audience should understand and expect that the show will be presenting more dramatic conflict than satisfying resolution at this point. However, that satisfying payoff needs to at least seem within reach for the audience to continue to care, and after getting bogged down in inconsequential emotional drama in 'The Born,' The Strain fails to make any real narrative progress this week, providing us with more frustration than genre entertainment.
As mentioned last week, some emotional drama is certainly needed, especially when it comes to Zack (Max Charles) and Eph (Corey Stoll) dealing with the loss of Kelly (Natalie Brown). That entire storyline has been mishandled at times and dragged out at an agonizing pace this season. Fortunately, it seems Zack is finally finding some closure this week, meaning that he might actually become a valuable contributing member of Eph's self-appointed vampire-killing task force.
On the unfortunate side, one of the leaders of that task force, Fet (Kevin Durand), spends most of the episode throwing a hissy fit after he and Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas) find Dutch's ex-lover Nikki (Nicola Correia-Damude) alive. Dutch and Nikki's embrace and rekindled friendship makes Fet jealous and even passive-aggressive, turning this once emotionally unaffected and unsentimental vampire-slaying brute into a little bit of a selfish brat, kinda like the Zack we saw a few weeks ago.
Not only is this a turn away from what we've known of his character so far, but the fact that Fet can't even speak with Dutch about his encounter with The Master and The Master's ancient human/vamp-hybrid foe (Rupert Penry-Jones) also presents an obstacle in advancing these storylines forward. Instead of Fet and Abraham (David Bradley) getting the rest of the group up to speed on the battle with The Master, we just have to hope this dialogue happens off screen, and also hope that the group comes together again at some point to hatch a new plan to stop him.
While Fet's feelings will likely affect the group dynamic in some way down the line - by either causing a rift between Dutch and himself, or some other drastic action - Abraham serves as the voice for the audience as the two enter The Master's not-so secret facility, saying, "Your romantic worries have no relevance at this moment."
To make matters worse, upon his return from D.C., Eph is also emotionally unavailable, causing an additional communication breakdown between him and the rest of the group. Feeling guilty about leaving Nora (Mia Maestro) and Zack in harm's way, getting Rob (Tom Ellis) killed and sleeping with Leigh (Nadia Bowers), Eph spends much of yet another episode at the bar drowning his sorrows and not informing the group about what happened in D.C. Of course, the biggest problem with this is that The Strain's most important story thread, Eph's bioweapon, takes a back seat this week, as the only thing we learn is something that we could have easily surmised after Eph's attack - that the vampire toxin has fallen into hands close to Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) and Stoneheart.
All of this emotional turmoil also took screen time away from two other threads that have been seriously neglected in recent weeks - with those being the search for the Occido Lumen, and Gus (Miguel Gomez) and Angel's (Joaquin Cosio) partnership. After teasing that the ancient text could be the key to The Master's defeat earlier this season, The Strain has ostensibly forgotten about the Lumen; and with six episodes left in the season, we're still not even sure how Gus and Angel will play into the larger narrative, though we can guess they might become the human hunters our new mysterious strigoi friend is looking for.
Speaking of our favorite vampire warrior, his storyline is where the only real genre thrills and narrative progression come from this week. Not only do we get a glimpse at his backstory, but we see The Born (as he's known) in action and taking down feelers in a variety of violent ways. And apart from some fun sequences, we also learn that The Born could become an ally in the hunt for The Master, even though he is disgusted when Fet and Abraham's plan to blow up The Master's nest only blows up their chances to catch the show's main antagonist.
Despite this lone bright spot, the episode as a whole is a disappointing entry in what has been an up-and-down season so far. With so many story threads operating on their own, and with its character relationships becoming more complicated and weighed down by emotional baggage, The Strain seems to be doing exactly what we have been afraid of: forgetting its own identity as a fun genre show. I mean, can't its characters just get along, get back to killing vampires and move the story along at a reasonable pace? We can only hope that's not too much to ask.
The Strain season 2 continues with 'Intruders' next Sunday @10pm on FX.
Photo credit: Michael Gibson/FX