‘The Third Rail’
The Strain has been promising an almighty showdown for weeks now, drip feeding us morsels of action but holding on tight to its cards in order to keep us wondering what’s around the corner. After last week’s superb ‘Loved Ones’, the writers had the tough challenge of keeping that momentum going; luckily it seems they were more than up for the challenge, as this week’s fast paced, action-packed ‘The Third Rail’ can attest to.
There’s no character in The Strain who’s had a tougher time of it than Gus, not in terms of his individual storyline but rather the complete lack of it. Gus has been frustratingly under used since the start, however this episode gives Miguel Gomez the perfect platform to show us exactly why we should care about his character. In short, he’s badass.
After having shot his best friend and escaped from police custody last week, Gus finally makes it back to his home, but life in the Elizalde hacienda has gone from bad to worse. Gus’ family have been infected and while he has no qualms about killing his degenerate brother, the sight of his mother curled up in the closet with bleary eyes and a rattling throat is enough to break his heart.
It’s nice to see a different side to the tough Gus who’s been on the periphery since the start. Here he’s put centre-stage and it works wonders for the series. There’s something strangely admirable about Gus’ self-preservation – he does what needs to be done and is perfectly willing to break laws to protect himself, a sentiment that’s echoed in characters such as The Walking Dead’s fan favourite Daryl. His approach might not be noble or kind, but it will help him survive when others fall.
Gus leaves his mother alive and heads out onto the streets of NYC, which have fallen into anarchy. People are fighting, looting and looking out for number one, which is exactly what The Master wants. If people are at war with each other, they won’t be looking for the root of the problem or a solution for it.
Still on the hunt for Kelly, Eph and the gang decide it’s time to seek out The Master. They leave Nora’s mother under Zach’s care, who’s given strict orders to be brave and stay in Setrakian’s basement ‘fortress’. It’s a tall order for a child, and Zach predictably disobeys his father’s instructions by leaving the basement to get Mrs Martinez some cigarettes.
While Zach is battling the bedlam above ground – and narrowly missing becoming Strigoi chowder – Eph and co are traipsing through the subway tunnels looking less and less like the Strigoi hunting team they so clearly want to be. Setrakian talks the talk, but he’s physically weak and – as we later find out – teetering on the edge mentally. As for the rest, Nora looks terrified of her own shadow and Eph is distracted by Kelly’s disappearance; the only one who looks primed and ready for battle is Vasily, who’s always willing to offer up a dead-pan one liner to lighten the mood.
The group stumble upon a Strigoi nest and have to tiptoe over their sleeping bodies. It’s a bit far-fetched to think that none of these ‘deadly’ Strigoi would sense the movement or smell the human blood right next to them, but it’s still a tense and well-executed scene. Their stealthy sneaking quickly unravels when Eph hears Kelly’s voice calling his name and fails to identify that it’s a trick.
Eph follows the voice, which leads him to an army of Strigoi who surround him. The Master flies down from the ceiling and grasps Eph around the neck, telling him that he’s taken everything from Setrakian and now he’s going to do the same to Eph. He almost kills him, but Vasily detonates his nifty UV explosive device, saving Eph’s life.
The Master disappears, but Setrakian refuses to accept defeat and becomes inconsolable at the thought of having lost his chance to kill his arch-nemesis. In the end he has to be dragged away kicking and screaming, showing just how all-consuming finding The Master has become to the old man. He’s blinded by his hatred and in that moment can’t see that his crusade will kill them all if they don’t plan ahead.
This week’s episode feels like the precursor of what’s to come, the warm up before the real battle, and it makes for some incredibly tense television. The moment where Vasily gets stuck while crawling through a tight tunnel, with a supersonic Strigoi chomping at his boots, is heart-stopping stuff. These scenes really do make The Strain a series worth sticking with, even if it does lack a certain level of emotional depth. At this point in the series though, we’re too hooked to care about what’s missing from the story.