This summer, FX brings Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain to TV for some creepily delicious vampire horror. We’re here to bring you our weekly take on just how well the adaptation holds up.
Time to Choose
With the first two episodes of The Strain, I was patiently waiting for the hook to sink in much like Game of Thrones or House of Cards or The Walking Dead. I previously stated that the writing had a ways to go before it would get up to passable TV standards and that some of the chemistry would also need to be ironed out here and there. Furthermore, as a fan of the novels, I wanted to see just how much they would drift from the original narrative, through characterization, plot, or otherwise. Well folks, I’m proud to say that this episode, entitled “Gone Smooth,” comes through in a big way here.
A Spreading Infestation
Returning to where the plot left off last episode, with Eph, Nora, and Jim are frantically trying to get to the bottom of what just happened at the medical examiner’s office. With so much of their authority constantly chipped away, they leap to the conclusion that there must be some kind of conspiracy, possibly linked with the military or the government. The trio separate so that they can look for more answers as well as deal with their own personal issues.
Nora (Mia Maestro) tracks down the elderly Setrakian, appearing for his day in court after being jailed for trespassing. Setrakian feigns frailty to the presiding judge, to which David Bradley plays up the solid fake out well, convincing the court to drop the charges. Confronting the shop owner later, Nora confirms, through albeit obscure allusions, that what they face is far greater than any man-made contaminant. Once again he impresses on the woman to destroy any bodies that stayed on the dead flight, whether they are walking around currently or not.
Eph’s (Corey Stoll) personal turmoil continued during his custody hearing as his son seemingly betrayed his coaching from the previous episode, choosing to relegate his father to part-time status, only seeing each other a few times a month. Though his former wife, Kelly, has to this point put on a strong facade throughout their divorce, here we see the toll it takes on her later in the episode, still holding onto old photo albums of better days and Natalie Brown plays it up very well.
Jim (Sean Astin) finally gets some background here having a chronically ill wife in need of getting into a drug trial. Wanting to do whatever he can to help his spouse, the man has linked himself with the Stoneheart group and, unknowingly, the Master as well, being the inside man in the CDC. This symbiotic relationship pays dividends for him, however, as his wife is let into the drug trials in reward for allowing the Master’s coffin to pass through security at the locked down airport in the first episode. Previous stories have always shown how such a relationship can prove costly, so it will be interesting to see just how far this one will go.
Confidence in the source material
From the open, we see that the mysterious Thomas Eichorst (Richard Sammel), the Master’s liaison, has been living in disguise for some time under heavy makeup and prosthetic appendages, hiding his throat goiter and fangs to pass unnoticed among humans. This was a great point of clarification as to what exactly we’d be seeing of the vampires in The Strain and if they’d appear as they were described in the books. Fortunately, I’m glad to see they’re sticking to the source material here.
With the focus of this episode lending itself to expanding our knowledge of these vampires, “Gone Smooth” shows three of the four passengers who survived the plane flight and their continuing transformations into vampires, with each in varying stages of conversion. The production did not hesitate to go full tilt on just how deep the strain will infect its hosts, especially with the transformation of Goth singer, Gabriel Bolivar (Jack Kesy), who experienced one of the most shocking elements of body horror to make the show. Over just this short period of time, it would seem that the four are near complete conversion over to their new species, as we see each of the survivors slowly losing their humanity.
The One Change
The only real noticeable deviation for this series would be the casting of Kevin Durand as the pest control specialist Vasiliy Fet. By no means is he a bad casting decision, but for book fans, his build is much different from his original incarnation. Despite that the spirit of the character is still there and while his deadpan seriousness remains, I expect him to be the main comic vehicle for the rest of the series.
By episode’s end here, our heroes come face to face with a fully converted vampire, the former pilot, Captain Redfern, as his pincer has finally developed along with his taste for blood. Escaping to the basement and devouring blood packs, the monstrous husk lashes out at the team. Shocked and horrified at this new development, the team fights him off, with Eph putting the finishing blows on the man, caving its face in with a fire extinguisher.
“Gone Smooth” definitely raised the stakes for The Strain that struggled mightily in the beginning to incorporate its realistic elements into a story about undead bloodsuckers. Getting the science out of the way of the narrative, the show now has the potential for more monstrous fun as well as uncovering the mystery surrounding the sudden appearance of these entities, wonky dialogue aside. The invasion has already started and our heroes are far behind.
While we wait for next week’s episode, I want to ask my viewing audience question: what would you do if you found your significant other drinking the blood off a raw piece of steak? Please comment below.