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‘Occultation’

Mercifully, the writers of The Strain have this week created an episode that’s jam-packed with scares, momentum and scenes of delightful suspense. Has the previously inconsistent series finally found its feet then? The optimist in me is inclined to say yes, though perhaps I’m still riding the high of tonight’s adrenaline fuelled feast.

There’s a different feeling right from the start of this episode, and it would be easy to mistake the beginning of Occultation’ as the intro to a big-budget sci-fi movie, as the camera sweeps over Earth and voices speak of a big lunar event on the horizon. “This could be the end of the world,” a radio presenter says after relaying the strange happenings, ignorant of just how spot-on he is. With an eclipse about to happen and the city on the brink of catastrophe, humanity is about to get a wake up call, and a violent one at that.
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Having escaped with Jim’s help at the end of last week, it’s almost a relief to see that Eph is still a wanted man. If he’s free, he’s safe. Confinement is a meal ticket for the Strigoi. Running from the FBI with nothing but a beanie as a disguise, Eph warns his estranged wife and son about the devastation that New York City is facing, telling them to pack their bags and leave. This doesn’t go down well with Kelly’s new boyfriend, who informs the FBI of Eph’s whereabouts. If we thought that Eph’s family issues had been scrapped, we were wrong. Kelly ultimately ignores Eph’s warning, meaning she’s likely to be hanging around for the duration. Snore.

The family drama and some tedious scenes of Nora dragging her mother across NYC act as the only dull parts of the episode, allowing us to focus on the heightened panic sweeping across the city. The Strigoi have pushed the rats out of the sewers and there’s a mass displacement of “biblical proportions” going on. Rat exterminator Vasily Fet knows this better than anyone, as he has another near-miss encounter with the Strigoi in his office. What proceeds is a tense scene where his newly infected colleagues attack him. The woefully underused Kevin Durand is such a treat to watch, nailing every one of his short-lived scenes – despite the occasional dodgy accent, which can be forgiven.
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Also doing a spot of Strigoi hunting is Setrakian, who’s continuing his crusade of tracking down the plane passengers. Setrakian has been kick-ass up until this point, albeit a little fragile around the edges, but this week his weaknesses really start to show. When a family of Strigoi ambushes him, he only just manages to escape the basement horde. Setrakian knows the Strigoi history but vampire hunting is a young man’s game and he’s too old and ailing for it now. David Bradley does the strong mind, frail body well, and suddenly we see why he needs Eph and Nora on his side. He’s no longer capable of going up against the Strigoi alone.

Championing the spreading strain from behind the scenes is Thomas Eichorst, who reveals his true nature to a disconcerted Gus, who’s still hanging about with his pal Felix, still steering clear of trouble, and still making us wonder what the hell he’s doing in this series. If it’s to provide some light comic relief, he’s missing the mark. Hitting his own mark of being the baddest Strigoi is town, however, is Eichorst, who’s been a constant foreboding presence since day one, much more so than the elusive Master, whose absence means he’s presumably slipped away for some R&R prior to the world going to hell. Seeing Eichorst without his facial prosthetics is no less horrifying the second time around, but seeing him bark orders at Gus and Felix is a delight.
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By marginally narrowing down the subplots and taking the strain to the streets, the series gathered some much-needed momentum. Add into that some really stylish scenes, chiefly the moment the eclipse happens and the sun sweeps over the moon, sending the city into darkness, and NYC isn’t the only thing overshadowed in this episode. All past episodes are instantly surpassed and the series feels as if it’s on the up.

As mayhem seeps onto the streets of New York, Eph manages to escape the FBI car by capitalising on a bizarre Strigoi attack in a traffic jam. His lack of sympathy towards the dying FBI agent shows his matter-of-fact attitude in the face of the apocalypse. “I warned you”, he says, before running to the one person he knows will help him, Setrakian. Nora had the same idea and the pair have a brief reunion against the backdrop of Setrakian’s underground lair.

With Setrakian, Eph and Nora reunited for the greater good, this is where the story is going to start. Strigoi hunters, assemble!

★★★★

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