Martin Carr reviews the fifth episode of The Strain…
Abraham Sektakin (David Bradley) and Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) are tucking into a late breakfast in the Arnot family kitchen. Steaming hot scrambled egg on toast is consumed, while father and daughter Arnot lay decapitated in the basement. Brandishing the grounded airplane passenger list they make plans and discuss their options.
Over in Westchester county attorney Joan Luss (Leslie Hope) is in the latter stages of contagion, complaining of flu like symptoms and unable to keep anything down. Her motherly concern towards the children is taking on a more predatory demeanour, something the housekeeper is more than well aware of. Meanwhile Gabriel Bolivar (Jack Kesy) and Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) are receiving emergency house calls from medical specialists. For one dying is inevitable for another a small mercy; and we should all be thankful for those.
Over at the Barbour residence there’s a surprise in the wood shed and something decorative hanging around inside. Down in the sewer the theme continues as Vasilly Fet (Kevin Durand) finds more than rats and vermin to contend with. As the contagion begins to spring up across Manhattan, allegiances are made and reconciliations forged.
What is beginning to wear thin with The Strain is the amount of exposition needed. As remaining survivors either continue to spread the disease or get dispatched by our classic protagonists, what needs to be maintained is a sense of urgency. When Abraham (David Bradley) and Ephraim (Corey Stoll) teamed up last week a sense of pace came with it. Mismatched men brought together by a common cause both classical narrative storytelling and in a way essential. Combined with an element of distrust this partnership made for compelling television. It felt almost a shame when the focus had to shift elsewhere. However, bearing in mind that books have more space and time to devote to each character, it is inevitable things get jettisoned when it comes to another medium.
Having ignored Leslie Hope’s (Joan Luss) attorney for several episodes it felt strange returning to her now. For a firebrand who crossed swords with Corey Stoll’s (Goodweather) CDC expert early on she was quickly forgotten, only to return with sinister contact lenses, too much blusher and bad hair. Apart from a quick drink with Bolivar (Jack Kesy) and blood in a wine glass, Leslie Hope had no chance at gaining either public interest or empathy. As a result when we do see her we have already seen symptoms, feral behaviour and an end result through Nikolai Witschl as Ansel Barbour. Putting it bluntly we know what is going to happen. Alfred Hitchcock explains my point in more cinematic terms concerning the difference between suspense and surprise. Besides its fragmentary nature a secondary issue with this episode are the creatures themselves. Once fully transformed they resemble infected throwbacks to I Am Legend. Not a Clash of the Titans 3D conversion catastrophe admittedly but neither something to brag about at parties.
Something which required more time but was sadly truncated were a select few flashback scenes, which gave us insights into Abraham (David Bradley) as a young man. These gave context, peaked interest and displayed innocence in the character as he was befriended upon entering a concentration camp. In terms of economic story telling the seven minutes of screen time given over to Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) was less showy but no less effective. Neither dialogue heavy nor action orientated, these scenes gave us her back history and provided Nora with a sense of purpose beyond the job. Vasilly Fet (Kevin Durand) remains a character with untapped potential, but has nothing more to do than deliver wisecracks in a heavy accent or shuffle around storm drains looking thoughtful. Given that this episode was directed by Peter ‘dead or alive you’re coming with me’ Weller it felt bogged down by exposition. Moments of interest were rushed and the action less than engaging. Nonetheless there is a good series here still fighting to get out; you just need to know where to look.