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The Strain might just be the most frustrating television show currently airing. With such an impressive creative team behind it and a seemingly capable cast, it has no business being this mediocre (and at times truly, painfully awful), yet it is. Time and time again it offers glimmers of hope (interesting developments, an entertaining episode, a fun sequence) only to shut them down completely with laughable dialogue, wooden performances, and weak stories. And it’s increasingly aggravating because the series has shown great potential; the past two episodes were undoubtedly the most successful hours as they highlighted what the show does best with fun action sequences and crazy mythology, but then it comes back with an episode like “The Disappeared” which offers almost no narrative progression and spends most of its time with the least engaging characters and their personal baggage. All of the tension and momentum built up from the previous installment comes to a standstill in order to focus on character development, arguably the show’s weakest element. Sigh.
On the one hand, the writers’ efforts to explore and deepen some characters are commendable, especially since they were so lazy in establishing them in the first half of the season. On the other hand, their attempts fall flat because of the irreparable damage they caused in those early episodes. The hour spends a lot of time with Nora and Eph who are perhaps the most poorly drawn characters on the show, and any endeavors to deepen and humanize them completely fail. These two are not going to overcome their clichéd natures any time soon. Instead of giving them some nuance the writers just retread the same superficial conflicts and characterizations to little interest. Setrakian and Vasiliy might be one-note characters, but at least they are fun to watch. Everything involving Nora and Eph is outright painful. The writers want us to buy into and invest in their relationship and really try to sell us on it, but it doesn’t work. Who cares?
Though the writers do fail in making Nora and Eph’s stories compelling, the scenes without them mostly work. Lady hacker and Vasiliy had better chemistry in their few short scenes than Nora and Eph have ever had in their many interactions throughout the season. In fact, lady hacker, in just two episodes, has become one of the most grounded and realized people in this story, even though I can’t even remember her name.
Her introduction was another one full of clichés and contrivances and she seemed like yet another shallow character, but what we have seen of her after that definitely paints a coherent and even layered picture of a person who doesn’t come across as entirely loathsome (unlike Nora, who has unfortunately become an annoying shrew). She has obviously made poor decisions but she has a conscience and is experiencing a real internal conflict and while it is not done subtly, it is a believable struggle. She has just learned that she played a huge part in an attack on the human race, and vampires exist and are running frantic all over the city, who wouldn’t want a drink after that? Lady hacker shows that there is hope for more nuanced characterization in the future of The Strain.
Again, the flashbacks with Setrakian and Eichorst offer engaging material even if the information we learn isn’t necessarily revelatory. However the stuff with the master in the past is creepy and fun, though why he didn’t just kill Setrakian right then and there escapes me. And there is fun to be had with the kid who plays Eph’s son who isn’t the best actor (he’s kind of awful) but gets saddled with terrible dialogue that even an accomplished actor would have a hard time delivering. That’s just cruel, writers. However, there was some great unintentional comedy coming out of that performance which definitely made the entire episode that much more entertaining. And with such a tediously paced narrative, at least there were plenty of ridiculous moments we could laugh at: poor kid trying to act, that terribly unsexy love scene, the wife’s shrill friend, and more. If anything this episode has going for it is that there are enough individual moments (good or bad) that, while not coming together to form a decent storyline, do make some kind of impression. It isn’t an entirely boring hour of The Strain.
What did you think?