Season finale review: 'The Strain' - 'The Master': Let the sunshine in
"The Strain" wrapped up its first season last night, and I have some thoughts on the season as a whole coming up just as soon as I give you a detailed history of Manhattan speakeasies...
What a strange show is "The Strain" — sometimes for good, sometimes for ill. There are things it does very very well, and then things it does terribly, and we often get equal amounts of both. Eph's family drama, while intended to ground him as a character and make him someone the audience can root for — which is apparently necessary, since saving the entire human race is not enough reason to be on his side — was an enormous drag all season. And where some shows might recognize a part of the show that wasn't working and downplay it, we actually got even more of that stuff — including an episode largely devoted to detailing the last day as a non-vamp for Eph's boring wife — in the back half of the season(*). And some of the makeup effects are marvelous, but the Master himself always looks silly when we see his face (like the shark in "Jaws," he was a lot scarier when there were only brief glimpses of him).
(*) I think this is a situation where having the creators of the source material in positions of power has its downside. (See also "The Walking Dead.") Obviously, you take any contributions from Guillermo del Toro that you can get, but if Carlton Cuse were running the show without del Toro or Chuck Hogan participating, I wonder if he would have just put Kelly and Zach on a bus out of town by mid-season.
A show that was just about Setrakian, Fet and Eichhorst would be pretty splendid, because they all operate on the same exaggerated level of reality where "The Strain" functions best. It's a fundamentally, unapologetically ridiculous show. and attempts to ground it by showing Eph's custody battle, or Nora caring for her senile mother, or even Jim (RIP) caring for his ill wife instead have the opposite effect, and make the show seem more absurd than it wants to be. (On top of being dull, for the most part.)
That said, the various action set pieces of the season — the confrontation with Eichorst on the subway platform, the zombie-style assault on the convenience store (an episode so strong I didn't mind the contrivance of all the major heroes, save Gus, winding up in the same place at the same time), and the two recent assaults on the Master, among others — were all excellent, and allowed me to overlook not only the poky personal storylines, but the gaps in the show's own internal logic. (At times, Manhattan is a war zone that would have already been quarantined, impending presidential phone call or no; at others, people move about certain neighborhoods like it's business as usual.) And the Master's survival in sunlight — making a despondent Setrakian realize just how little he actually understands about the strigoi — worked as a good counterpoint to the more optimistic notion that the militaristic vampires will use Gus to fight back this epidemic.
On the whole, there was more good than bad to this season — or, at least, the good parts, when they came, were so strong that they encouraged me to sit through some lengthier bad parts — and I'll be watching again next season. But I'm hopeful that Cuse and company can solve some of the pacing issues and better identify which characters are worth the time and which need to get some vampire worms under the skin, post-haste.
What did everybody else think?