If you’re wondering about the story, check the first impressions here. As far as the concept of The Strain is solid: a Walking Dead style scenario about the end of the world but replacing the over used zombie concept with vampires. When I first heard of this I thought “Wow, what a refreshing idea! How exciting!”. Ok, maybe that’s not word for word but I was very excited. Mix that fresh take with the fact that this show will be running on my favorite channel, FX, and that’s a winning formula. At least, it should’ve been. Inconsistency with acting, story telling, pace and effects (both practical and special) takes away from what could have been a stellar concept.
The pacing here is the real problem. First and foremost is the beginning of the story, where the vampire plague begins its incubation period. It took at least three episodes for the vampire threat to be a tangible thing. There was also the “I’m the only person who can stop this outbreak” thing mixed with a hardy dose of “Ahhh, you’re crazy! We don’t believe you!”, so you’ll have to swallow all of that tired tripe. Once the full on Vampocalypse (patent pending) is fully under way the show gets much, much better. There are some seriously tense moments as the main group of survivors try to get this epidemic under control. But then the pace puts on the air breaks just when things start to heat up when the flashbacks start to occur. For some reason, the show runners felt that some World War II back story was needed during the most climactic parts of the show. These flashbacks give some needed fleshing out of the story of The Master, the leader and hive mind of the vampire threat, but it is far too drawn out and kills the momentum of the show. It’s unfortunate.
Let’s talk about the acting for a moment. I can’t describe to you how hit and miss it is. Corey Stoll, the lead of the show and former House of Cards alum, does a fantastic job as the CDCs answer to the vampire outbreak. Obvious hair piece aside, Stoll manages to convey fear, desperation and grief in very convincing fashion. The same cannot be said for his CDC counterparts, however. Mia Maestro and (inexplicably) Sean Astin give incredibly flat, unconvincing performances that left me scratching my head. Luckily, some of their compatriots fill in the bad with some very good. David Bradley (Mr Filch and Walder Frey, among many parts he’s known for) and Kevin Durand play their respective roles perfectly and are easily the most entertaining characters in the series. Abraham Setrakian (Bradley) is a grizzled old vampire slayer whose cranky, no nonsense attitude to stop The Master from accomplishing his goals is my favorite part of the show. A close second, however, is Vasiliy Fet (Durand) aka The Rat Catcher. He is not only very entertaining, but his knowledge of the inner workings of the sewer system is supremely valuable to the end result. There are other fine actors here, but their performances are forgotten due to the equally bad performances of some of the others. It’s a shame, really.
The finale brought about the culmination of what Setrakian and his band of vampire hunters have been working for: a showdown with The Master and his vampiric minions. Even though the finale was very good and filled with tension, there are plenty of unanswered questions; enough for FX to deem worthy of a second season. If you haven’t seen it yet, I have to warn you of something: the design of The Master is ludicrous. It’s the most laughable thing I have ever seen in a television show and it completely takes away from the feeling of the show. That being said, the climax was well worth some of the grind. I do want to say that I wish that the story of the vampire SWAT team and Gus Elizalde (the overly stereotyped Hispanic thug with a heart of gold) was fleshed out more. Oh well, there’s always next season…
The Strain isn’t a bad show. I know, a lot of what I mentioned above seems as if that’s exactly what I’m saying, but that’s not entirely true. There are bad parts to it, for sure, but there are some very good parts as well. I truly believe that Del Toro may be spreading himself a bit too thin and the quality of this show dipped because of that. At least, I really do hope that he didn’t see the final design of The Master and let that garbage on TV on purpose. If you’re tired of the same old zombie fair and need something a little more refreshing, then The Strain may be for you. Just make sure that your grain of salt is well within reach.