October 13, 2015 The Strain – Season 2 (Review)
In a television landscape full of quality programming, killing off main characters is a popular method of making an audience stick around week in and week out. Whether in AMC’s The Walking Dead’s apocalyptic future, or HBO’s Game Of Throne’s alternate fantasy universe, keeping the viewers guessing engages them in the hope that their favorite character will live to see another episode. The second season of FX network’s, The Strain, uses the current trend of unstable casts to great effect. From the premiere to the finale, the characters, both good and evil, were put in situations that kept their fates shrouded in mystery. Created by Guillermo del Toro, the show is based on a trilogy of novels by Chuck Hogan and del Toro. Each episode moves the character’s story arcs along in surprising ways, while showcasing the talents of the special effects and makeup teams. The balance of gore-to-story is well done in this finely acted show.
Now that Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde: MI-5 2011, The Mummy 1999) has a healthy body, he finds love for the first time in his life with his assistant Coco Marchand (Lizzie Brocheré: American Horror Story 2012, The Hour 2012). Palmer’s feelings should make him a more sympathetic character, but it allows his selfishness to grow only enough to include his newfound love. They met when she was representing a Real Estate company in the season opener when Palmer purchased a vacant building with very specific requirements. In the finale, we learn the nefarious plans for the building’s use, along with a foreshadowing of next season’s horror.
The relationship between Dr. Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather (Corey Stoll: Ant-Man 2015, Homeland 2014) and Dr. Nora Martinez (Mía Maestro: Hannibal 2015, White Collar 2012) is strained by Eph’s constant drinking, and his indiscretions while in Washington DC. On the train to Washington, he is confronted by his old boss. In order to escape, he must cross a line that surprises the viewer in its callousness. His trip is an attempt get the government to mass-produce the counter-virus he and Goodweather have developed, along with the less than voluntary assistance of a couple of infected humans. The trip’s mission fails and Eph learns that Palmer’s Stoneheart Group has connections outside of New York City. Defeated, he returns to the city.
Dutch Velders (Ruta Gedminta: The Incident 2015, Ripper Street 2013) and Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand: Vikings 2015, Noah 2014) become romantically involved until a complication from Dutch’s past returns to make her rethink her choice of being with Fet and fighting the strigoi, (the mind-controlled vampires created when a human becomes infected). Dutch agrees to work with Eph to try to assassinate Palmer, which fails and severely wounding someone close to Palmer’s heart. Dutch and Eph fail to escape the scene and are captured by the police. Split up at the police station, Eph is left locked in a cell when the precinct is overrun by strigoi. One of the most suspenseful scenes of the season is when Eph and one of the human policeman are trapped, just out of reach of the strigoi’s snapping stingers. Eph is saved by the rest of his team and discover that Dutch has been delivered to the lair of Thomas Eichhorst (Richard Sammel: Inglourious Basterds 2009, Interpol 2010-2012), the Master’s right hand man.
Eichhorst brutally forces Dutch to eat sliced pineapple in order to sweeten her blood. Then, in this show’s only moment that crosses the line into bad taste, Eichhorst forces Dutch to drop her pants and bend over. It appears as if he’s about to shoot his vampire tongue into her when she is able to fight back and escape. Dutch is rescued by Fet, as Eichhorst slips away. Emotionally shaken by the encounter, Dutch chooses to be with her girlfriend and give up the fight for humanity, only to get rejected and have her future on the show left in limbo.
One of the most dramatic season-long storylines, is between Eph’s son Zach (Max Charles: American Sniper 2014, Constantine 2014) and his infected mother Kelly (Natalie Brown: Bitten 2014, Being Human 2012-2014) Like Eichhorst, Kelly has been chosen by the master to regain more human traits and is given a swarm of spider-like children strigoi to pursue her son. Zach, torn between the love for his mother and his denial that, despite her appearance, she is dead, comes to a head in the finale when he must choose between joining her, and running to try to find his father.
This season, regular citizens joined the fight against the strigoi. Justine Feraldo, (Samantha Mathis: Under the Dome: 2013, Lost 2007) a councilwoman for the New York City borough of Staten Island, creates her own task force to rid the island of the infected. She is promoted, and she begins to clear Red Hook Brooklyn, where the main cast’s home base is located. Feraldo becomes their ally due to a relationship formed with Nora and Fet. They teach Feraldo’s men how to detect and fight the enemy. Her success catches the eye of the mayor and the Master. The checkpoint she sets up to weed out the infected comes under attack in one of the biggest—and most action packed—fight scenes of the season between the living and the strigoi. She is able to prevent being overrun by enlisting the help of the residents of the local neighborhoods. She gains even more political power when she is asked to safeguard the upper east-side of Manhattan, home to the rich and powerful of the city.
The team of vampire hunters whom Gus Elizalde (Miguel Gomez: South Paw 2015, Louie 2012) had agreed to work with were killed in a Mission Impossible-style attempt on Palmer’s life. Left alone again, Gus wanders into a restaurant and becomes involved with a woman and her family, which includes his childhood hero, professional wrestler Angel Guzman Hurtado (Joaquín Cosío: The Lone Ranger 2013, Eastbound & Down 2010). Gus and Angel team up with a replacement immortal fighter sent by the ancients to retrieve the Occido Lumen. They enlist Professor Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 2001, Hot Fuzz 2007) in their quest, agreeing to provide him with enough gold to win an auction against Palmer for possession of the book that could lead to the destruction of the Master. Setrakian’s search for the Occido Lumen takes many turns as the episodes progress, ultimately ending in the finale with a double cross that could have had dire consequences for both he and Fet. At this point in the season, they appear to be the only two left of the original cast still hunting the Master. An unexpected turn of events, leaves the promise of a larger battle to come.
Eph’s journey this season is emotional. While Fet uses his size to fight the infected, Eph’s strength is his training in infectious diseases and viruses. In the finale, he is given the chance to leave New York and get Zach and Nora to safety. He chooses to leave with them and attempt again to have his viral weapon used in the fight. The train they are traveling in is derailed by an attacking horde of strigoi and he is separated from Zach and Nora. In an emotional final scene, he loses everything he had been fighting to protect. Emboldened by Coco, Palmer pushes back at the Master’s control, but by reneging on the deal to possess the Occido, Palmer suffers a disastrous personal loss. In Palmer’s emotional final scene, he takes a bloody memento of his lost love, mimicking that of his arch-enemy Setrakian decade’s earlier.
Although the show’s dramatic plot lines can drag at times, the viewer is never bored. The promise of a well-presented scene is always around the next corner or down that next darkened tunnel. With a great mix of Horror, Sci-fi, and human drama, the show continues to be worth the time spent watching. With the losses suffered by the human characters this season, it appears the Master is winning the fight, but with Setrakian’s new alliance, and possession of the Occido Lumen, a turn in the battle shows promise for season three. Viewers will wait in anticipation of another fine season next year. CrypticRock gives season two of The Strain 4.5 out 5 stars.