The Strain, by acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, is a trilogy of novels following the sudden invasion of vampires and the human resistance that results. Basing much of its lore and monsters in science fiction, the series sets itself apart from the traditionally supernatural elements they were originally created out of. Because of the book series’ immense popularity and a decent following from its comic’s adaptation, the pair now bring the series to FX for even more blood-letting.
The show opens with an international flight, nearly packed to capacity, standing silently on the tarmac of John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York shortly after landing, with no calls or distress signals coming out of the mysterious craft. Responding to the situation, the airport calls on several different agencies to look in on the distressing situation, including the CDC.
The institution’s lead investigator in the area, Ephraim Goodweather, played here by Corey Stoll, is first inside along with partner, Dr. Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro), who discovers the entire occupancy of the flight to be non-responsive, if not dead. Through further investigation they find that some mysterious entity had traveled along with the passengers, infecting and killing each one as they sat in their seats. Of the over 200 flyers among them, only a handful would miraculously survive.
The mystery continues as the team finds a nine-foot wooden box among the flight’s cargo with no manifest or account of it even being on the flight. Inside the box, our heroes would find several pounds of dirt which would later be found in several key areas where Eph and Nora would also find the supposed culprits of the plane stoppage: parasitic worms.
A New Challenger Appears
Unbeknownst to our heroes, secret moves were taking place beyond their gaze as a tremendously rich figure, Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde), sets into motion a plan to have the container escorted out of the airport without anyone knowing. Helping him in this regard is what appears to be an undead benefactor who wields some kind of hold over the man of advanced age.
Hurrying back to the holding area where the box was being held, the team would be amazed to find it taken away somehow. Security cameras would show something, something big, swooping in on it in an instance, taking it away to parts unknown. This mysterious figure did show itself briefly, luring the airport’s top official to a secluded area only to reveal himself dramatically, dwarfing the man and feeding on his blood before pulverizing his corpse prior to leaving. Arriving on the deteriorating scene an old pawn shop owner, Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley), arrives confirm what the mysterious box truly is, not a cupboard or a pantry or some casual container, but a coffin to house a great monster and enemy of man. Believing very little of what the man says, he is promptly arrested and taken away.
Compelled by Palmer’s undead client, a seemingly random street tough, Augustin “Gus” Elizalde, is enlisted the help retrieve the gargantuan coffin and the plan goes off pretty much without a hitch. Its only instance of potential failure at a checkpoint is waved off by Sean Astin’s Jim, whose mysterious connections to Palmer may bear further fruit later in the season.
Reaching Out, Touching Me, Touching You
Offsite, the deceased bodies of the 200 passengers amassed for autopsy begin to reanimate. It seems along with killing their hosts, the worms also repurpose the host’s body into veracious bloodsuckers, equipped with horrifying projectile pincers used to feed. Their first meal: a horrified lab technician, delightfully consumed to the Neil Diamond’s hit song “Sweet Caroline.”
Left without the originating coffin, piles of now walking and feeding corpses, and a glimpse of a mysterious entity running about, the one thing our protagonists have left to hold onto are the samples of the dangerous worms clawing for their next taste of blood.
The Good, The Bad, The Awkward
So let’s get this out of the way before I go any further, Stoll’s wig is horrendous. Or at least it seems so for viewers used to seeing the gentleman’s bald scalp on the Netflix series, House of Cards. It’s pretty jarring how much the thing can take an audience member out of the narrative just staring at the rug. But aside from that, he brings a confidence to the estranged character that shouldn’t have too many Strain fans complaining. And indeed, most of the casting choices seem to be on the up and up, though some of the writing from this introductory episode doesn’t do well to service everybody unfortunately, especially in the case of Miguel Gomez’s Gus.
Through a weird combination of poor writing and some pretty terrible line reading on Gomez’s part, a couple scenes of his that are pretty much only there to distinguish him as a tough Latino guy just come off at best pretty weak and at worst pretty racist. It’s especially considering hi race that alarms me taking into account the creators at play here, doubly so since del Toro is also credited for writing this episode. Again, this is only episode one, so they can step it up, but this was a pretty low rung to start on.
An Insatiable Hunger
Overall, though, the show is a good first impression to the universe, heavily grounding the show in science, while also showing plenty of weird to be explained later on along with fleshing out their characters a bit more. Some of the dialogue will probably need to be less in the service of the plot and more organic, but those are the usual growing pains a show goes through in their first season. The invasion will continue as each episode passes, and with each new show more fog of mystery will be dispersed. Time will tell who will survive, who will be eaten and who will be turned.