What’s the name of the show? The Strain
When does (did) it premiere? Sunday, 13 July at 10pm on FX
What is this show? US television is having a baroque horror moment. After the camp of American Horror Story and the eerie mishmash of Penny Dreadful now there's The Strain, a show that takes all the conventions of vampires and gives them a spin for the modern age. This time a blood-thirsty parasite sucks dry all the passengers on a plane, infecting all but four mysterious survivors. Luckily there is a crack team at the CDC who is trying to figure out what this is and how to stop it. I hope it has something to do with garlic.
Are the worm things as gross as they are in the ads? They’re pretty gross, but not that gross. At least none of the worms have come out of someone’s eye. Yet.
What’s the show’s pedigree? Horror master Guillermo del Toro is executive producing and also directed the 90-minute pilot episode. It’s based on the 2009 graphic novel of the same name by del Toro and Chuck Hogan, who also writes and produces. Joining the team as showrunner and writer is Carlton Cuse, the man who strung us along for six seasons of Lost before ruining the whole thing with an awful ending. Hopefully that doesn’t happen with The Strain.
What happens in the premiere? Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll from House of Cards), a CDC epidemiologist, is called in when a flight from Berlin into New York lands with all of the passengers dead. He starts investigating even though he's going through a difficult divorce and custody battle and just happens to be sleeping with his assistant, Mia (Nora Martinez). They discover a creepy coffin that is full of earth on the plane; it (the coffin) later disappears in a cloud of black smoke. Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley), a Holocaust survivor that has dealt with this menace in the past, meets them at the airport but is quickly dismissed. A shadowy figure with really gross eyelids (Richard Sammel) seems to be orchestrating this whole delivery of this coffin. Finally, all the corpses on the plane come back to life just as Ephram discovers the worms.
Wait, is this thing about worms or vampires? Well, it’s really about the worms, but it seems that the worms infect a host and then bring it back to life, but then the host feeds on more humans with a giant, gross protrusion that comes out of their mouths. They’re not supernatural creatures so much as hosts that exhibit all the symptoms we associate with vampires.
Is it really bloody? Pretty much. If you’re averse to gore or really creepy things, this probably isn’t for you, but there isn’t so much that it’s egregious.
What’s the scariest thing on the show? Corey Stoll’s toupee.
Which characters will you love? Vampire hunter figure Abe is interesting and definitely has some secrets of his own. Gabriel Bolivar (Jack Kesy) is one of the survivor’s of the flight and also a Marilyn Manson-esque goth rockstar who is delightfully badass.
Which characters will you hate? Ephraim’s wife and kid, mostly because all the family stuff just takes away from what we really want to see: the monster.
Do you see the monster? What does he look like? Only fleetingly, and he looks sort of like a Victorian rag merchant with a tapeworm face.
Is this show any good? This seems to be of the new horror genre which packs just about every convention into the same show. It’s about vampires and contagion and zombies and conspiracy theories and its all happening at once. If this spins out of control (see the asylum season of American Horror Story) it could be a mess, but if it all comes together (see all other seasons of American Horror Story) it could make for a bloody good time.
That said, some of the acting is heavy-handed and some of the twists pretty easy to figure out. At its core, The Strain is currently little more than a medical procedural like House with a scarred, recovering-alcoholic scientist at its center. There are other medical dramas out there doing it better, The Strain should let them have their thing. This isn’t trying to be sophisticated or human horror (we have The Walking Dead for that), just the pulpiest of pulp fiction, a goal which it accomplishes in spades.
The pilot is dark in the best way and stays tense and interesting for the full episode, even as we go about the boring business of exposition and meeting all the characters. The pace starts to slacken considerably by the second episode, especially when we have figured out so much more of what’s going on than Ephram has. The show will be much better when it goes from the investigation phase to the, “How the hell do we kill this?” phase.
What’s the best thing about it? After the sexy vampires of True Blood and the cuddly vampires of The Vampire Diaries this is turning the blood suckers into what they were always intended to be: really freaking scary monsters.
What’s the worst thing about it? So far, other than the parasite approach to vampirism, there isn’t anything too inventive or surprising.
Should you watch this show? Do you go to the opening weekend of horror movies? Then yes. You absolutely should and you will love it. This is a genre piece done well and with extreme deference to the conventions and rhythms of that genre. However, it doesn’t do much to transcend the genre, which would make it a much watch for everyone. This one is for horror aficionados only, and I have a feeling they wouldn’t want it any other way.
My favourite plot twist:
did you watch the pilot ONTD? what did you think?