Martin Carr reviews the first episode of The Strain season 2…
Having failed to defeat The Master, Ephraim and his team retreat to Red Hook and begin fortifying their position…
Guillermo Del Toro directs the opening ten minutes of season two with skill, precision and delicacy. Coming across as part Grimm faery tale, part moral fable. We are treated to high-end storytelling, which adds breadth and backstory before dropping us back into present day Manhattan. Where a split second flashback to last season’s finale, aids the unfamiliar in catching up on The Strain as it hits the ground running.
Once more David Bradley’s Abraham Setrakian stands out from the crowd. Like an ailing Van Helsing circa nineteen seventy something, he piles conviction into a performance which never drifts into caricature. Kevin Durand’s Vasilly Fet meanwhile shows similar skill, playing quietly confident and unfazed without a false note. Just as Jonathan Hyde continues broadening his characterisation of Eldritch Palmer. Dropping in elements of calculated malice beneath the sleek exterior of his ailing philanthropist. While Richard Sammel merely builds on Thomas Eichorst by revealing a subtle self-loathing for humanity, combined with fawning subservience towards Robert Maillet’s Master. Who produces a performance from beneath inches of latex, aided by the voice of Robin Atkin Downes.
What many have done with The Strain is treat it like a monster mash, which is wholly inappropriate. After all it was created in part by Guillermo del Toro so things were never going to be that clear-cut. If this show has any comparisons I would plumb for Stephen Soderbergh’s Contagion. Both deal with global pandemics and feature close-knit individuals facing insurmountable odds. Granted one updates the viral vampire myth as blood disorder, while another deals with ideas of airborne pathogens. Yet both remain recognisable bed fellows, just as I Am Legend, World War Z and The Omega Man share similar narrative genes.
What was done in all these cases but more so with The Strain, is make the horror secondary to those relationships. Treating such a scenario in this manner grounds the action adding pathos and gravitas. Something which was entreated to the audience in episode one of season one. For everything else to work however the relationships need to connect. An issue which starts and stops with Corey Stoll’s ability to sell me Ephraim Goodweather.
In House of Cards as Senator Russo he was blinding. There was such frailty, dependence and lack of control in that performance it rightly earned him plaudits. Unfortunately, on this occasion despite losing his wife, having a son who hates him and the world looking to eat them for lunch, something is missing. For me the central dynamic between Ephraim and Nora is hamstringing everything else. I might be selling them short and after all it did get a second season. However, as people have pointed out to me the correlation between one renewal and another is impossible to fathom. Truly great shows get cancelled without explanation, while more average fare goes on indefinitely. Either way The Strain is sure to remain on our screens for the foreseeable future, which gives them plenty of time to sort things out thankfully.
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