[This is a review of The Strain season 3 finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
Over the course of three seasons, FX's horror/sci-fi series The Strain has only occasionally found its true sweet spot as a delightfully campy and highly entertaining tale of apocalyptic survival. Far too often, the show has instead attempted a difficult tonal and narrative balancing act by also focusing on delivering real emotional drama -- which has mostly come off as unearned, forced or simply unwanted. In short, the show -- much like its hybrid character Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones) -- has constantly been dealing with an identity crisis.
And with just one season to go before the series concludes next year, we figured that the show's identity was more or less locked in. The showrunners had picked an approach (albeit a confused one) and the result was the slightly goofy, sometimes entertaining survival drama that most viewers had seemingly embraced anyway. So, it's a little
curious baffling that -- of all the times to make a bold decision one way or the other -- the series made its season 3 finale, 'The Fall', its true turning point.
While the finale's ending won't be a shock to readers of the source novels, the abrupt tonal shift the series takes with a literal flick of a switch is felt immediately. We can't be sure of what's to come in season 4, but after seeing New York City -- a city our survivors fought so hard to protect -- leveled in an instant by a nuclear blast, it's hard to imagine The Strain going for a fun or campy vibe any longer. No, when you choose a nuclear winter overrun by unchecked hordes of blood-sucking parasites as your show's third act, you've gone about as dark as you can go.
From a narrative standpoint, the only real positive thing we can say is at least The Strain made a firm decision. Sure, by having Zach (Max Charles) nearly destroy any chance of humanity's survival in a fit of rage, you've also essentially made three seasons of our main characters' efforts at eradicating the strigoi strain absolutely meaningless, but you have indeed forged a clear path for season 4. Considering The Strain has always struggled with maintaining a cohesive, focused narrative for long stretches, the idea that the bomb also likely eliminated the show's unresolved subplots -- along with most of NYC's inhabitants -- is actually welcome. Seriously, we don't need to see more petty squabbles between Fet (Kevin Durand) and Eph (Corey Stoll) or insignificant lovers' quarrels that take away from the slightly more pressing matter of saving the planet.
But perhaps even more frustrating than unnecessary story arcs and a finale ending that essentially amounts to a complete narrative reset is the way in which that ending was executed. Although, nuking the city was always part of the Master's plan to take control of the area, having Zach pull the trigger was especially infuriating, simply due to the character's level of irrationality. We understand the series has been doing all it can to slowly progress Zach through the stages of insanity with his inability to firmly grasp reality, but this leap stretched the suspension of disbelief to the breaking point, causing the entire scene to seem utterly surreal. Already one of our most hated TV characters, Zach managed to discover a league of his own in that category following the season 3 finale.
And while it will probably be hard to overlook the season's ending the further we become removed from it, we should also remember that season 3 was an overall improvement over season 2. In the season's later episodes, the show was actually working to streamline its story threads (Eph and Dutch's budding romance notwithstanding) for a meaningful confrontation with the Master -- something Strain audiences were craving after that frustrating mid-season fake-out that saw the Master lose his head but not his ability to infect a new host body. Before the end, it appeared that the new sonic weapon Eph and Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas) had cooked up in the lab might actually be effective and that the help of Quinlan and the allegiance of a White-starved Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) could help our band of survivors get a step closer to defeating the plague. But alas, here they are in even more dire circumstances than ever before. We'll just have to wait and see what the next (or first) step is to reclaiming ground in the fight against the strigoi when The Strain returns.
What did you think of The Strain season 3? Let us know if the comments section.
The Strain season 4 will premiere on FX in 2017.