The show starts off in much the same way that the television show Fringe does and puts inside a plane where a terrible infection spreads. The only difference is that here there is a mysterious and very terrifying pounding from the plane’s cargo hold; once out, the plane lands and is chock full of dead people. A CDC expert (played by House of Cards alum, Corey Stoll…complete with a full head of hair, no less!) arrives on the scene to inspect the dead vessel. As expected, the passengers are all dead with no clear signs of what did the dirty work…until four people miraculously awaken from a “dead slumber”. Things escalate when an empty coffin (that latches from the inside) surfaces and a massive, cloaked dealer of death wreaks havoc in the airport. The episode ends with a touching reunion between a father and his dead daughter…what??? There’s much more to this, I think.
The acting, up until this point, has been very top heavy. Sure the leads are all ok, but they’re inconsistent at best. Corey Stoll pulls off his roll well, even though some of his dialog is very cheesy. I will also say that his hairpiece/wig is so bad it’s distracting (and yes it probably has a lot to do with the fact that I know he’s bald because he was in House of Cards, but it’s still pretty bad); I’m not sure why they went that way, but it’s something I can eventually get past. I hope. Sean Astin, mostly known for his turn as Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings, is less than stellar in the first episode; it’s a little surprising as he is solid in most things he does. The female lead, Mia Maestro, is very frustrating to watch; I know she’s a good actress and she very well in most scenes but then she’ll deliver a line that is just groan inducing.
The real scene stealer here is David Bradley. Sure that’s not a household name, but you’d know him if you saw him…he’s only been in two of the most notable franchises in TV and film in the past decade (Harry Potter and Game of Thrones). His gritty delivery is spot on and it seems as if the writers have saved all of the best written lines for him. He has a very ominous persona as the “crazy old man who no one believes having lived through this before and knows how to stop it” role…every horror story needs one. The very first scene he was in, wherein a couple toughs try to rob his pawn shop, he establishes himself as a supreme badass and not to be trifled with at all. He is absolutely perfect in this role.
I do need to say something about the writing…it’s bad. Some are so cringe worthy, I feel bad for the actors having to deliver them. I suppose not all lines are bad; in fact all of the big speech moments are written to near perfection. However, when the lines are off they are so bad it’s almost worthy of turning the channel. I mean, within the first ten minutes someone (who is an adult man and has worked at the airport long enough to get an important job) looks up at the dead plane and says “It’s like a bus with wings”. Then, his BOSS says “It’s cold. Like a dead animal”. Really?!? I suppose there is a kind of Hemlock Grove-esque quality to the show, but as cheesy as HG is, that show doesn’t write lines this bad. I’m hoping that this evens out some in the coming episodes. Pleeeeease!
Overall, The Strain has a ton of promise. The acting is there, it’s just buried under a pile of crap writing. The source material is also highly praised by people who have read the books, so I am optimistic that the story is there. The visuals and makeup effects are spot on and the sense of horror and tenseness is there in abundance. I am willing to give this show a legitimate shot even though the premier left me unimpressed. I have faith that FX and del Toro will deliver on the promise of the premise, but as of right now I haven’t felt that bite yet.