“The Strain” Keeps on Straining

Strain 2 goop

#2: “The Box”

When last we left our intrepid CDC experts, they had the gears of New York City working in support of a quarantine. Now, a millionaire vampire who wants the plague free has just convinced the government the 200 dead bodies found in a passenger jet just yesterday are due to an airplane malfunction. This means the four highly contagious survivors are now roaming New York City. Time to get your game on, New York CDC chief Eph Goodweather (you don’t ever use your middle name, do you?)

Any other problems? An Air Transport Control officer’s head brutally bashed in? Cordon it off! Only Eph (Corey Stoll) is allowed! NTSB is taking over the investigation unless Eph can prove this is a plague? What about that box of little wormy things you shoved in everyone’s face last episode? That could freak a couple NTSB folks out. Where did they go? Of course, you could show the National Transportation Safety Board those 200 dead bodies, too, couldn’t you? They’re all the evidence you need to show there’s a pathogen, and the city ME’s office has had eight or so hours to work with them by now. Maybe let’s put the Medical Examiner on with the NTSB, clear this whole mess up.

Or none of those things. None of those things is good too, Eph. We could go track down the surviving pilot, who’s alone at a bar instead of…say, if this were really an NTSB issue…surrounded by 80 lawyers for the airline parsing his every word.

We could also run fun behavioral tests on the wormy things that don’t prove anything, and – despite how absolutely sure you are that the city’s in imminent danger – you could take a break to drive out to your ex-wife’s in Queens to have a heart-to-heart with your son about tomorrow’s custody hearing. I mean, it’s not like your son’s in mortal danger if a disease breaks out, or like the judge would move the hearing if you worked for the CDC and were in an active hot zone. By the way, the distance you’re standing from your son right now…would you say that’s about the same distance you were standing from the four infected passengers this morning when nobody was wearing any protection whatsoever?

But right after that, it’s back to preventing a pandemic with a seeming 98.1% mortality rate from breaking out in one of the world’s most populous cities, right? Well, no. You see, Eph has an AA meeting, and as he explains, keeping your commitments is a big part of AA. Doing his job preventing virulent plagues in New York for the CDC is, apparently, not on that same A-list of commitments. It’s all about prioritizing, I guess. At least I can see why this man’s nickname is Eph now, because he’s an Ephing Moron. I hope his wife gets the kid.

Strain 2 where is the coroner

As for the coroner, who should’ve been the first visit anybody made to settle this whole NTSB/CDC/”is it a plague or isn’t it” thing, he died at the end of last episode. By the end of THIS episode, he’s been dead for 17 hours, about the same time the 200 dead bodies – some of them naked and cut open – got up and walked out of the city coroner’s office, which happens to be on a busy New York Street. Nobody’s noticed. Bystanders probably just assumed it was a flashmob: “Look, honey! That guy’s trailing his intestines. Improv Everywhere’s getting so edgy these days.”

When Eph and Martinez (Mia Maestro) finally remember, “Oh yeah, we have 200 dead bodies that can prove anything we say,” and go to the coroner’s office that evening, they seem to be the very first people who’ve touched the place or noticed everyone’s missing or dead. It just must be one of those special New York City days when no one at all had to call the coroner’s office for anything whatsoever.

“But wait!” you say. Yeah, you’re a thing in this now. Don’t you feel lucky?

“Yes?” I turn my head quizzically, with the hint of a smile on the corners of my lips. My eyes twinkle playfully in the low light as I swirl my snifter of brandy and inhale its oaky aroma.

You look away shyly, taken off guard, but still you must ask: “Surely, the coroner’s office is neck-deep in all that media from the last episode, demanding to know what happened and why the 200 bodies aren’t being released, right? RIGHT?!?”

You would think. That nobody has noticed the coroner or 200 bodies missing for 17 hours is odd, even for our fickle news media. I’m willing to let it slide, though – perhaps this all takes place that day Justin Bieber got arrested.

“What about that old vampire hunter?” you ask. “He seemed interesting.”

He did, didn’t he? He has a single, early scene – he talks to a vampire from behind glass at the city lockup. You see, he’s been arrested for having a cane with a sword in it. Which I guess is a crime worthy of getting you locked up for three days without any kind of phone call or bail hearing. (Come on. It’s the NYPD. He’s white and wasn’t arrested at a protest. They can’t stay mad at each other for a whole 3 days.) Anyway, it’s by far the best scene in the thing – a clever give-and-take between two mortal (or immortal) enemies. If this show were just that scene and nothing else, I’d be endorsing it whole-heartedly.

Instead, you’ll be glad to know that the most interesting character in the whole show – you know, the one who’s ACTUALLY a VAMPIRE HUNTER and keeps his lover’s beating heart alive in a jar in his basement and who monologues about cutting up bloodsuckers and dumping them in the North Sea – is only in one scene. A city health inspector we’ve never met before gets three scenes. He must be really important, right? Yep, he shuts down a restaurant that has nothing to do with anything except that one of the airplane survivors eats at it. Compelling TV, that. However will they get their Michelin star back? Not to mention the Yelp reviews.

Does the rat he finds at the eatery have the little wormy things? Have the customers eaten the worms? Because that would be interesting and relevant and scary. So no, none of those things happen. If it’s interesting and relevant and scary you’re looking for, you came to the wrong show. Let me reiterate – these scenes have zero to do with anything else. (And come on. It’s New York City. The rats are your drinking buddies at the bar, and that’s not even a metaphor. If they shut down every restaurant with a rat in it, forget the vampire pandemic – the city would starve to death in a week.)

You’ll also be glad to know that some rich dude who looks like an elderly-Henry Winkler stand-in makes a deal with the vampire overlord. Has something to do with his liver going and having days to live. The vampire gets some dialogue. It’s in English. What’s he say? Damned if I know, cause it makes Bane and Batman’s wheeze-vs.-grunt conversations from the last Dark Knight seem crystal clear.

In the end, we know nothing more about The Strain than we did starting out. Unless you wanted to know about Eph’s divorce. Then we know a lot more, and that’s what The Strain advertised on, after all: learn more about Eph Goodweather’s painfully uninteresting divorce. Who will he tell about it next week, and how will they get out of it?

The Strain‘s mystery does have some hooks into me, though, because I can’t help but give voice to the one crucial question this episode’s begging me to ask: When is someone going to get back to that dead Air Transport Control officer in the basement? He’s starting to smell by now, Eph.

Miss Part One of my Strain recaps? Read it here.

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2 thoughts on ““The Strain” Keeps on Straining”

  1. It’s weird, because you’d think that a recovering alcoholic who had a legitimately high-stress job that forced him to keep missing his AA meetings would be a pretty rich vein of drama to mine.

    Similarly a guy who wants custody of his kid, but that custody is constantly in jeopardy because he keeps having to have to reschedule custody hearings in order to prevent global pandemics.

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    1. I’d kill for these characters to have the internal consistency to struggle with these kinds of arguments. If this was what the show was about, it’d be fine. Self-sacrifice and metaphorical sin-eating are my Conradian cups of tea, and are often Guillermo Del Toro’s, too.

      But none of that struggle or pathos is there – his alcoholism and custody hearing come across as props because the CDC element of it all is so completely blasé.

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