TV Recaps
The Strain Premiere: Science, Vampirism and Good Summer Fun

Dan O'Halloran | 17 Jul 2014 12:00
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Guillermo Del Toro combines vampire mythology, CSI sleuthing and a looming human apocalypse to create an entertaining new horror series.

When Game of Thrones and Fargo finished their recent runs I was grasping for a new summer series to hold my attention. The Leftovers didn't fit the bill and the return of 24 hasn't done it for me either. Legends of Korra has come back strong and Extant has intrigued me, but I've been looking for something more. After watching the premiere of The Strain (Sundays @ 10pm on FX), I think I may have found it.

Guillermo Del Toro, writer and director of Pacific Rim, Pan's Labyrinth and the Hellboy movies, executive produces, directs and writes for this FX series based on a trilogy of books written by both himself and Chuck Hogan -- and it shows. The pilot episode's pacing and cinematography were top notch. The dialogue was...passable, but solid acting made up for that, especially with actor David Bradley of Game of Thrones and Harry Potter fame chewing up the scenery as an aging monster hunter facing a threat he thought long past. The show also offers a heavy dose of science in its vampire mythology -- just hinted at in this in the episode's creepier (and sometimes campier) scenes. But the overall feel of the show is one of solid entertainment that delivers on its promise of chills, suspense and the occasional humorous moment mixed with some camp for good measure.

The series opens with a flight from Berlin to JFK with something loud bumping around the cargo hold. It bursts forth into the cabin and the next thing we know, the plane has landed itself with no radio contact. Fearing a terrorist attack, every emergency federal agency available is called, though the Center for Disease Control it seems gets first crack. The hero of our story is Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, played by Corey Stoll recently of House of Cards fame, who is pleading his case in family counseling to keep his marriage together despite his workaholic tendencies. Unfortunately, the call to the plane crisis comes during his latest counseling session and he must leave. Thus we have established the-brilliant-investigator-who-sacrifices-his-personal-life-for-his-job character that is pretty standard for these shows.

On the tarmac we meet his crew: Dr. Nora Martinez, the somehow-hot-but-brilliant right hand woman played by Mia Maestro (whom Eph had an affair with during his marriage) and his trusted assistant played by the dependable Sean "I'll never leave you, Frodo!" Astin. Inside the plane, Eph and Nora find everyone dead, but with no apparent trauma. So they decide to break the number one rule of horror: never split up. Nora heads to the cockpit while Eph checks out the cargo hold. And that's when a few of the corpses come back to gasping, jerking, stuttering life. Turns out four of the victims are now alive while the other 200+ passengers and crew remain dead. The survivors are the pilot, a lawyer, a goth rock star and a nondescript nerdy guy. Those four go into quarantine while the rest of the bodies get shipped to the coroner.

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We also meet Abraham Setrakian, a cranky old man who easily disarms and threatens a pair of local thugs that try to rob his pawn shop. Apparently he is known for paying well for silver. After seeing the plane on the news he heads into a secret back room and we discover what he does with all that metal. He has crafted a sword with a long thin blade that is easily hidden in an unremarkable cane -- except for the elaborate wolfshead handle. He then monologues his inner thoughts while sitting in front of a jar filled with a severed heart floating in yellowish fluid. "He's back." He pierces his finger and holds it over the jar so his blood drops into the liquid and long thin worms wiggle out of the heart to drink it up. Yeah...

We also meet another old man, this one much wealthier, receiving dialysis in a high rise office. He is met by a man who doesn't breathe to be informed that plans are proceeding apace. Muhahaha! Sorry, this scene was very stereotypical and felt right out of a Tim Burton Batman movie. That's not a compliment for those keeping score at home.

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