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After last week’s much-improved, crazy insane hour, The Strain returns with what might be the best episode of the season yet. “Creatures of the Night” is a great mix of familiar zombie movie tropes and fun vampire/plague nonsense mythology. Even though the most intriguing aspect of last week’s episode (vigilante vampires?) is not alluded to in the slightest, the group would certainly have benefited from a little help from that mysterious band of vampires, the episode’s narrative is engaging enough to handle the omission. Plus the writers finally give us an hour with a concise, focused story strong enough to constitute what occurs in the entire episode without any need to cut to other minor, less interesting storylines.
“Creatures of the Night” follows our gang of idiots as they get trapped inside a gas station convenient store for a night as zombified vampires menacingly close in on them. It is a scenario familiar to this genre and which we have seen countless times in film and television, but the limitations it forces on the show help make it an exciting and tense hour of television. While previous episodes have failed at showing a sprawling story successfully, this more insular approach works wonderfully. The goal is a simple one, the threat of danger is always present and palpable, and there are even people one can root for. Also, after what seemed like a lot of stalling, the show moves the narrative forward in a direction many viewers were waiting for.
Finally the team hooks up with Vasiliy and actually kicks some vampire ass. It took them long enough. This was the kind of action that we were hoping to get in the eclipse episode and have been so cruelly deprived of. Though the characters were brought together by some extremely convenient coincidences, I buy their meeting with Vasiliy more than them winding up with the lady hacker in the gas station (that’s just lazy writing), it is a development that was a long time coming and one that adds necessary life to the story. Because none of the other characters ever really could and would develop a partnership with Setrakian like Vasiliy can. And though he remains a cheesy caricature of a person, he and Setrakian establish a good rapport with one another and share a similar sensibility when it comes to battling with these creatures. If only the show could just be them two slaying vampires all the time. Who needs Eph and Nora and all their unnecessary, tiresome baggage?
At least the main group is whittled down a bit with the departure of Jim. A slightly unexpected and sudden turn of events, it seemed like the writers were setting up a redemption arc for Eph’s disgraced coworker which would end with him possibly sacrificing himself for the greater good. Instead the series rather ruthlessly kills him off, without really giving him a chance to contribute significantly to the group’s endeavors, which is quite realistic and heightens the sense of danger. If Sean Astin, one of the ‘bigger’ names in the cast can die this early in the series, then almost anyone can. The callousness of his death is appropriate and makes total sense for the show. Yes, Eph and Nora get a bit too mawkish and preachy about the whole thing, but the series and its writers appear to endorse Vasiliy and Setrakian’s pragmatic approach towards fighting against the vampires. Seriously, can the show just be about them two? Come on, writers. Who cares if it veers off from the source material?
Despite this being perhaps the most entertaining episode of the series so far, and it does seem to be improving week to week, there are still some fundamental flaws in The Strain. Primarily its character problem because even the more tolerable people in the story often come across as ridiculous clichés. We like watching Setrakian and Vasiliy kick ass, and the actors seem to be having fun with the roles, so we can forgive some of the questionable characterizations for these two, but literally everyone else in the cast is painful to watch. Mostly because they are the ones that have the worst dialogue and the writers feel the need to have them voice every little thing in their heads. They don’t trust that the audience could absorb information through subtext or allusions, or the actors to fully convey the necessary information through their performances, so everything is plainly spelled out, often through terribly wooden and unnatural dialogue. This always disrupts any kind of flow or momentum the episode builds since the characters need to stop and discuss whatever is happening or what they have to do, etc.
In moments of real tension and anxiety, like getting trapped in an enclosed space while there are scary bloodthirsty vampires encroaching upon you, one doesn’t just stop everything to discuss the moral ramifications of a certain plan, there is no time. You do it, move on and deal with any consequences later. The Strain is not a realistic show, it doesn’t reflect the world and humanity as we know it to be, we know that, but even in this heightened world there should be some kind of logic to people’s behavior.
We got glimpses of that with Vasiliy, who quickly adapts to Setrakian’s methods and even lady hacker reacts to the insanity in a believable way. The writers are trying to show a more reluctant transition from both Nora and Eph, but what it is really coming across is moronic stubbornness. They get with the program by the end of the hour because they really have no other choice. There must be other ways to show disagreement or dissent that would make more sense as well as propel the narrative forward. Now that several story threads have come together, we can look forward to interesting conflict and more importantly a more active story progression.
What did you think?