Tuesday, August 12, 2014

TV Makes You Stupid: The Strain S1E05: "Runaways"

             Directed by Robocop himself! 

             This episode we get our very first flashback--such scenes are common in the books, and often the most fascinating parts. Here, we flashback to WWII, where a young Abraham Setrakian arrives at a concentration camp. It’s nice to see that tradition carry over here, as the scenes provide a nice scope to the series as a whole. It is in the horror of the camps that young Setrakian first encounters his strigoi (Romanian for vampire, Setrakian helpfully explains to Eph in an awkward bit of exposition): there’s the Master, who we’ve really only seen as a billowy, CG cloak thus far, and also a younger (possibly still human?) Eichorst. It’s interesting: at this point in the book, much more is revealed about the Master and its history, which Setrakian’s bubi tells him folk tales of as a child. Del Toro and Hogan excel at that sort of folkloric tradition, coming up with scary tales that feel like they could be hundreds of years old. The TV version has yet to capture that feel, but since they’re delving into history this outing, there seems to be hope… although the camp flashbacks ultimately lead to not much of anything other than a handful of spooky scenes.

           In that regard, The Strain continues to stand head and shoulders above the competition: there is nothing currently creepier on television right now, and nothing that certainly looks as pretty as this (this week directed by none other than Peter Weller, surprisingly enough). But, oh, there are problems. The show is seemingly destined to fall sway under the overhanging pall of cliché for the rest of its run--I had hoped that the earlier, hackneyed moments were just the show-runners rushing through all the obvious beats to get to the good stuff on down the line, but it’s looking more and more with each week that that is sadly not the case. Every time The Strain is presented with an opportunity to develop an interesting idea, it inevitably takes the easy, cheap way out of every situation.      

            We can be thankful for one turn, at least: we’re finally done with the Barbours, as Eph and Setrakian continue the hunt for strigoi, where they discover Anne Marie has hung herself in shame, with Ansel and the neighbor she fed him still locked up in the shed. While Eph makes a recording for proof, Setrakian whips out the old sword-cane and beheads the both of them. I’ll be honest: I could watch John Bradley behead people all day. Having Stoll and Bradley play off of each other is an incredibly smart turn for the show, and does give me some hope that things might right themselves once all of our main players’ storylines converge, but then the show goes and separates the two once again at the end for some rather flimsy reasoning, so who knows.

            The stuff dealing with the plane survivors has been my least favorite of the show, but that might have been nullified a bit had the show put just as much focus on Leslie Hope’s snotty attorney. Hope is a far more fascinating screen presence than any of the other survivors, and why she wasn’t as a big a part of the show as the dull Barbour stuff eludes me. For the other half of the survivor stories, we also catch up with Smoothcrotch McMissing Penis, aka Gabriel Bolivar, who doesn’t offend me too terribly much this week, considering he’s reduced to little more than a mindless monster. The scene where he feeds on the “specialist” was especially nice and creepy, but this particular thread suffers from another annoying little tick the showrunners have started shoehorning in, that of inserting small, “quirky” characters who come in and service a very specific function, without really being made a full part of the world the show is setting up. This week it’s the lollipop-sucking hitman Jack Noon, who it looks like will at least have a valid reason for not showing up later on in the series, but still doesn’t change the fact that this is a rather lazy trope the writers keep falling back on for the show in general.   

            Other than that, we also catch up this week with Kevin Durand’s Vasily Fet, who’s taken notice of the rats’ erratic behavior in the city, and who is also beset by a horde of vamps in the sewers in a nice scene that is very reminiscent of Blade II. Mia Maestro also gets some time to herself this week, as we learn a bit more about Nora and her Alzheimer’s-suffering mother. Honestly, while she’s a main character in the books, Nora doesn’t become truly interesting until the third installment, so hopefully the showrunners can give her something of more substance - although, considering it’s taken them five episodes just to get a scene of Nora that’s not dependent on either Eph or the outbreak, it doesn’t look hopeful.
            But, this week sees the first major strigoi attack in a very public place, so it seems that the slow-burn the show’s been playing at has finally reached its zenith, and from here on out it’s world-ending time. Fingers crossed that this show can still become something of substance, but each consecutive episode casts a pall over that particular hope.

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