If you’ve stuck with The Strain this far – and bravo if you have – it has to be because you’ve enjoyed the camp horror and cat-and-mouse adventure that’s played out over the last 13 episodes; this isn’t a series to watch simply because the TV listings are sparse.
The series had a shaky and inconsistent beginning, as the writers juggled their many characters and struggled to connect the various sub-plots that would eventually unite to form the bigger picture. Having dropped all the trivial characters – Mrs Martinez, Felix, Kelly’s best friend whose name never did stick – the finale allows us to focus on the key players and their mission to kill The Master. It was never going to be smooth sailing; in fact it was never going to be successful at all, but they did come closer than ever to vanquishing the creature.
From the start of the episode where a sprightly looking Eldritch Palmer riffles through Setrakian’s basement, to the final scene of the gang fleeing a burning New York City, there’s never any doubt about how stylish and well-executed The Strain is. Penned by Carlton Cuse and Chuck Hogan, the finale gives us a taste of the show-down we’ve been waiting for but doesn’t go the whole hog – clearly leaving a full-on battle for next season or beyond.
We learn early on that contrary to what we were led to believe last week, Eldritch Palmer hasn’t been gifted eternal life after all. The Master did cure Palmer of his illness, but he’s not ready to turn his human acolyte into one of his own just yet. Nothing can hide the smug satisfaction plastered over Thomas Eichorst’s face when he informs Palmer that he must play the dutiful waiting game a little longer; thus raising the question – does The Master actually have any intention of giving Palmer immortality?
Palmer’s mood goes from bad to worse when his right-hand man Fitzwilliam finally tells him enough is enough. Fitzwilliam has been quietly carrying Palmer through his illness but he knows that he inadvertently made a deal with the devil. This is a character that needs to be developed and hopefully next season will see him join forces with Eph and co, to fight against his former employer and the evil he’s aiding.
Much of the episode is split between Setrakian’s band of weary vampire hunters as they prepare for the fight of their lives, and Gus’ plight to escape his captors. The script is at an all time best here, with the writers having saved some of their wittiest lines for the season finale. Most of the deadpan humour is reserved for Kevin Durand, whose dodgy Ukrainian accent only adds to his spot-on comic timing, while the sarcasm is given in spades to Gus, who seems to spend his life trading quips with adversaries.
Gus has come a long way in the last few episodes and his solo storyline is perhaps the most interesting in terms of further developing the series. His captor is the mysterious Strigoi, otherwise known as Mr. Quinlan, who saved the Luss children mid-season. As suspected, it would seem that he is part of some elusive Strigoi resistance, rallying against The Master who broke a truce amongst an ancient group of vampires. The Ancients need a human warrior on their side in order to eliminate The Master and they’ve picked Gus as their champ. Gus is chomping at the bit to avenge his mother and Felix, so he’s more than willing to join the bizarre resistance in the name of revenge. With the way things are going, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Gus carrying next season instead of Eph or Setrakian. He’s certainly the most fiery out of the three.
Armed with all manner of weapon, Setrakian and co. seek out The Master at Gabe Boliver’s theatre. The ‘battle’ commences with Nora, Dutch and Vasily fending off the Strigoi army, while Setrakian and Eph – who has Zach attached to his leg – seek out The Master. It’s an edgy and tense sequence that sees Setrakian finally get his moment with his arch-enemy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exactly go to plan – we knew it wouldn’t. Having been knocked onto the roof in broad daylight, The Master escapes and whilst the sun burns him, it doesn’t kill him. Setrakian had pinned all his hopes on frazzling his enemy like an ant under a magnifying glass, to no avail.
As The Master screeches and scrambles down the side of a building, there’s a nifty scene where his army of Strigoi – including Eichorst and Gabe Boliver – retreat in reverse, almost as if they were being rewound in slow motion. If The Master has that much power over his followers, it’s going to take more than a little sunlight to bring him down.
Towards the end of the episode the deflated group go back to Eph’s house to retrieve Zach’s inhaler, only to briefly encounter Kelly who’s still searching for them. The moment of realisation for Eph and Zach, as they realise that Kelly’s no longer human, is the ultimate kick in the gut after failing to stop The Master. There’s nothing left for them in New York any more; there’s no going back, only moving forward and letting go of the past.
And so the finale ends as the pilot began, with a voice-over from David Bradley’s Setrakian as the makeshift gang of vampire hunters let go of the lives they knew, in search of a future that doesn’t involve the obliteration of humanity. It might be the end of season one, but the story of the strain is only just starting.