If there was one word that summed up the debut season of The Strain, it would be contradiction. That’s not to say that the show was a complete failure, but rather it suffered from one too many inconstancies.
First and foremost, the series never seemed to settle on just which audience it wanted to cater for. The controversial marketing campaign, featuring posters showing a wormlike parasite crawling into a victim’s eye, pitched the show as a bloody gore fest, a true contender to The Walking Dead’s fleshy throne. The pilot continued this, with a scene featuring the Master pummelling a victim’s head to a pulp in one swift punch. But after this, the action seemed a little tame against the growing tension.
Half of this might be down to budget constraints. Showing an increasingly devastated New York City all the time would’ve cost a fortune. But when the destruction was revealed, it seemed toned down; the people were never quite scared enough, and there was always a sceptic who, for some reason, didn’t get the severity of the situation. Here are human beings getting devoured by feral, creepy vampires, and people are just going about their daily business as calm as anything. We were supposed to feel the tension of the situation, yet there was never anything to show this.
The move away from just straight up horror would’ve been fine, had the drama that replaced it been compelling. Sadly, this wasn’t the case. Coupled with shaky dialogue, which never helps the cause, The Strain was stuffed from characters making terrible decisions. To name but two examples, how about leaving a young child alone in a vampire apocalypse, or perhaps jeopardising that one chance to kill your near-immortal enemy because it wasn’t dramatic enough.
The show felt driven by where the writers wanted it to go, rather than what actually made sense. Occasionally, this produced some good moments. The flashback scenes featuring Setrakian and Eichorst were handled carefully, given their setting in a concentration camp, and helped to sow seeds of the age-old ‘understanding’ between the two enemies. And the scenes detailing Kelly’s transformation felt quite touching, as she simultaneously fought her urges to find Zach, knowing to do so would give in to the overriding Strigoi mind-set and put him in danger.
The mythology of the world Guillermo del Toro created, while never fully realised, has a lot to it, and maybe some elements that didn’t quite work out this season will come to fruition next year. Take the Vampire SWAT team. When first teased at the end of an early episode, they seemed like a breath of fresh air. Yet, after barely appearing later on, with a haphazard reveal near the end, they feel like a key element going forward into the second season.
In amongst questionable performances, Corey Stoll did a decent job in the lead, bringing humanity to Eph that was badly needed for that particular character. The situations he found himself in might not have always made sense, but what he did with them was admirable enough. And Richard Sammel’s portrayal of Eichorst was at times stunning, genuinely conveying the wisdom and arrogance of the age-old character.
Overall, The Strain was just a bit too hit-and-miss, but there’s more than enough in the plot to make season two a much better affair.
The Strain is out on DVD now.