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After a slew of boring and underwhelming episodes The Strain finally brings out the batshhit crazy we were all waiting for. It took the series a bit too long to dole out the fun insanity, and the full-on craziness doesn’t really occur until the last moments of the hour, but it is here and that’s all that matters. My biggest complaint about the series has been how dull it’s been for a show with such a fantastical premise, and especially for a show that has so many imperfections in its execution. If you are going to have story flaws, and horrible characters and pacing issues, etc. then the least a show can do is provide some truly crazy, over the top moments (which we know The Strain can do exceedingly well) of which the series had delivered a disappointingly limited amount. It just wasn’t fun to watch. There was nothing offered to justify the leaden pace and uninspired storytelling. However “For Services Rendered” does what so many of its predecessors failed to do and actually depicted a surprisingly entertaining hour of The Strain. Shocking.
The episode lags somewhat in the middle, but it opens and closes with great sequences that emphasize what the show does best: creepy, tense scenarios with fun vampire scares. The opening sequence was a fantastic set of scenes that served as a fun prologue to what would follow in the hour. Lady lawyer’s husband makes his way home and because we know what awaits him, the tension and anxiety build towards an exciting confrontation. The deserted setting, despite being a storytelling contrivance, does enhance the eerie tone, adds to the feeling of dread and serves as a cool contrast to the franticness later in the sequence. It is fun to watch a dude freak out when he encounters a vampire, and while the cab driver’s actions are absolutely, ridiculously, asinine they make the other guy’s freak out even more entertaining and hilariously amusing to watch. Whenever any character drops a “What the shit?!” you know it is a fun scene.
The cold open effectively hurled us into the weirdness of this tense universe and, similarly, the ending provided the perfect punctuation to the most successful hour of the show so far and introduced us to a whole new mess o’ crazy. It was the perfect ‘WTF?’ note to end on and a truly unexpected development that breathes new life to the tired story. Who are these seemingly benevolent vampires? Why are they helping humans and getting rid of those infected? The questions their presence raise are interesting and the possibilities for future plot developments expanded considerably in a favorable way. For once I am actually intrigued by something that happened in this show, a definite improvement.
Even the flashbacks were better than the last time they were employed. These were far more engaging and relevant to the narrative and offered much more insight on the Setrakian and Eichorst relationship. There is some interesting subtext in their scenes together that hints at a more complex and intriguing dynamic between the two. The homoerotic undertones are prevalent and for a second there, I thought the show was going to ‘go there’ which would have been quite daring and gutsy. Even without explicitly stating that there could be some kind of attraction there (on the part of Eichorst, mostly) the time the two characters spend together informs their relationship in a significant way that is rare to see in this show, which has almost entirely disregarded interesting character development before this.
Of course, the episode isn’t without its faults; this is The Strain we are talking about. People continue to behave in laughably stupid ways, but at least the people committing the more egregious acts of stupidity (like the cab driver for instance) are not the main characters whose intelligence we are supposed to respect or believe. And the ridiculous behavior does add a layer of entertainment to the whole experience; most of these moments are comedy gold, whether or not the writers intend it to be funny doesn’t really matter. And some of the dialogue between Setrakian and Eichorst was a bit heavy-handed and unnecessary. This show is not profound; it is anything but, any kind of philosophizing about the human condition just seems out of place and gives the impression that the show is trying too hard.
The show is also trying to do this story as a kind of epic scope, spanning at least the city of New York (for now) and involving dozens of characters, but it hasn’t achieved it yet. It is impossible to feature the entire cast in each episode, and their stories are still so separate that every episode has a disjointed feel to it. We are constantly checking back to other minor characters, who we can assume are integral to the story (or will become so) somehow, but what that does is break up any kind of momentum the narrative has built. Add to that intermittent flashbacks and any illusion of flow is totally thwarted.
Plus, there is no sense of setting to ground everything together. Yes, we know this is all taking place in New York City and surrounding areas, but there are serious inconsistencies in the way people are behaving in each area. There is no sense of correlation from one place to another. Since we are focused on these small/brief looks into specific groups of people, we get no real sense of what the city as a whole is going through. What the collective experience is. The citizens were reacting to the eclipse in the previous episode, which made them panic for some reason, but that event is over and there seems to still be some mayhem going on that remains unexplained. There are brief glimpses of news segments, we see people with facemasks in the subway, and abandoned neighborhoods, but these are things that seem contrived. Now that the show seems to be moving in amore favorable direction with its story and characters, it would be nice to see it take on a more macro vision on the outbreak and its effects. What did you think?