The strongest episodes of The Strain are those that don’t take us too far away from the main characters. Even stronger are the episodes that keep the plot moving in the present day while giving us flashbacks to the past in search of something magical we call backstory. The Strain has used its flashback scenes sparingly but they’re always insightful and this week’s glimpses of the past are no exception.
After last week’s superb Creatures of the Night episode, the writers keep the momentum going, picking up exactly where we left off. Having survived the convenience store attack, Eph, Nora, Setrakian, Vasily and Dutch are all feeling lucky to be alive, which reminds Eph that he has a son amidst all this madness. Now I’ve grumbled a lot about Eph’s family, mostly because they’ve felt so irrelevant to the story, but they’re about to become very important in the grander scheme of things.
The gang go to Eph’s house in their new Mystery Machine escape van and they find Kelly’s boyfriend attacking Zac. Though his job is to save people rather than kill them, there’s clearly a smidgen of sick satisfaction for Eph as he kills the man who shacked up with his wife and turned his office into a games room. He certainly didn’t look all that cut up about beating a newly turned Matt to a pulp – and we aren’t either.
Thankfully Zac comes out of the fracas unscathed but Kelly is missing; knowing how much she adores her son, something really bad must have happened for her to disappear without a trace. Eph and Nora stick around to ‘wait’ for Kelly and dispose of Matt’s body, but the others disperse in search of safety, meaning Setrakian’s underground hideout – which Dutch likens to the bat cave.
Kelly doesn’t materialise, which gives Eph and Nora the house to themselves and a chance to rekindle their barely started romance. Their relationship has taken a back seat since the pilot and when it’s finally given some screen time, it feels forced and thrown in to spice up the episode (which, incidentally, it doesn’t). The problem with Eph and Nora, or Corey Stoll and Mia Maestro to be precise, is that they don’t have great chemistry and theirs is a relationship you want to throw in a cupboard and shut the door on. Indefinitely.
Meanwhile in pointless Gus-land, a vomit-soaked Felix is on death’s door. “I’ve never felt so sick”, he moans, and I’m pretty sure nobody’s looked quite so sick either. Gus knows that something is wrong with his buddy but it’s only when Felix goes full-on Strigoi in the police van that he realizes the full extent. Gus might be a bit of a spare part in the series but he sure knows how to stay alive, shooting Felix in the head and running off into the night.
The scenes with Gus are fun but the continuing flashbacks to Eichorst and Setrakian are more interesting, as we see how Eichorst became the Master’s undead acolyte. At the concentration camp, Setrakian comes face to face with The Master, who breaks his hands but allows him to live. Upon seeing the mangled hands, Eichorst realizes that Setrakian is no longer of value and sends him to the firing line, crushing any thoughts that the Nazi might have had a secret soft spot for the Jewish carpenter.
Despite being heartless, Eichorst is strangely charismatic in the flashback scenes. He’s not a man we should like – he’s a merciless killer – and yet, like Mads Mikkelsen’s Dr. Hannibal Lecter, you can’t help but warm to the character. This is wholly down to Richard Sammel’s performance, which makes you want to believe that Eichorst might have a shred of goodness in his heart – an ounce of humanity – despite all evidence suggesting otherwise.
An attack on the concentration camp allows Setrakian and the other prisoners to escape, with Eichorst himself having to flee to safety. He runs to The Master’s hideout in the woods where he gets drunk, again, and waits for his reward of eternal life. As Eichorst is turned from man to monster, we finally get to see The Master’s face. As predicted, it’s suitably hideous, and kudos to Guillermo Del Toro for making his monsters actually look monstrous.
With just four episodes to go, the story is slowly coming together and, aside from Gus who’s still floating around the periphery, all the plot strands are working in conjunction with one another. Let’s hope the writers can keep the momentum going as we creep ever closer to the season finale.