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I’m with the vampires on this one.
The Strain presents an intriguing world burdened with an unquestionably compelling dilemma. The idea of a super-powerful vampire virus quickly spreading and wreaking havoc over the United States makes for a fun premise, no doubt. Vampires in television (in popular culture, really) may be overplayed by now, but Guillermo del Toro’s reimagining of the familiar creatures offers for brand new stunningly disgusting imagery (beating hearts in jars, crazy long, blood-sucking tentacles and slithery wormy things FTW!) and some over the top, insane (and likely convoluted) mythology. These vampires are scary and intimidating and appear to be almost invincible, their ruthless plan is unfolding to become something absolutely devastating. The stakes in the show couldn’t be higher; we are talking about the future of the human race here. However the show depicts most of the human characters as being so monumentally dumb, that it is incredibly difficult to root for their triumph over the malevolent vampires (Nazi vampires, in case you forgot).
Repeatedly, the characters in this series make ridiculously stupid decisions, and have no sense of internal logic that drives their actions. The narrative just takes them wherever it wants to take them in order to get from set piece to set piece. And sure, for a little while it is fun to jump from crazy moment to the other, but that gets tiring quite quickly. Nora and Eph are professional human beings with important jobs one would think are hard to come by (it takes some brains to reach their level at the CDC, right?) yet their decision-making skills are absolutely laughable. How can we root for such idiots to overcome the seemingly well organized and powerful vampire scheme?
Also, the show’s attempts to deepen the characters and make us sympathize with them almost exclusively work to do the exact opposite. The more time we spend with some of these people, the more unlikable and annoying they become and their incompetence is heightened. We don’t necessarily need to like every character in a series in order to invest in their story, but they do need to come across as (believable) people, not just a pile of inconsistent clichés with poor judgment. Each time they find themselves in danger and up against one of the creatures, I’m rooting for the vampire to devour them because if these people are an accurate representation of the human race, we deserve to be extinct or taken over by these things or whatever their endgame is.
That being said, “It’s Not For Everyone” is a noted improvement from previous episodes of The Strain. It doesn’t necessarily overcome the many, many shortcomings the series suffers (the bad dialogue still prevails, there are laughable performances a plenty, and the narrative continues to unfold in a tedious pace); nevertheless the episode does do some really interesting stuff with some of the characters and provides some fun, and pulpy sequences (as expected).
This week gives us a greater look into Ansel’s unnerving transition and it is quite well done. We have been privy to how some of the other ‘survivors’ have transformed, so we know the physical steps in the process and the outcome (thanks to that nifty autopsy scene) as well as the more psychological effects the virus can have on the infected. With that out of the way, we can really delve into Ansel’s specific experience and it’s an interesting one. He is the only one to show an active resistance to the virus so far, and deliberately takes a stand against the thing that has hijacked his body in order to protect his loved ones.
The scene were his wife finds his tied up in the shed is truly startling and works to give the audience a greater idea of who these people are. The characterization is still a bit shallow, but there are strides being made here. He and his wife have been shown to be religious which connotes a sense of morality within them, or at least a striving for morality. This perhaps informs his selflessness and ability to combat the destructive nature of the virus. Later, the writers subvert the ethical and pious characterization by having the wife basically feed their neighbor to her now human/vampire hybrid husband. A fantastic and unexpected move that shows how far people will go in their attempts to protect the ones they love, however stupid or despicable they may be. With this episode, Ansel’s story definitely rises in the ranks as one to look forward to; it’s too bad that the actors are still doing sub-par work. However the strength of the story is enough to keep us engaged and overcomes the questionable performances, which hasn’t been the case in previous installments.
And possibly the hour’s best moments came from David Bradley’s scenes, an actor who has been a standout since the show’s pilot and has become the best part of the series. His character is an over the top caricature, but he has fun with his performance and sells every moment. Who doesn’t love a vampire hunting, Holocaust surviving, pawn shop owner? After last week’s disappointing outing, in which he refused to help Nora because the writers wanted to delay the inevitable for no apparent reason, this is a great return that accurately show’s off the character’s badassery. More of this, please. Seriously, if Setrakian were the show’s main protagonist, I wouldn’t have such trouble rooting for the human race.