October 31, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “The Strain”


FX’s THE STRAIN is doing something that The Walking Dead and its cohorts in the undead genre won’t:  telling a (more or less) coherent story from beginning to end, and exiting when it’s over.  During this third season, it was announced that next year, despite ratings that are still more than acceptable (if far from Walking Dead status), the show will conclude its run.  Therefore, instead of repeating variations on the same arc over and over, the series has been able to make forward progress on its story.

Tonight’s season finale, written by series co-creator Chuck Hogan and fellow showrunner Carlton Cuse, and directed by Cuse, didn’t lack for climactic plot developments–some of which, in the way of The Strain, made more sense than others.  It was an effective gambit to have our five remaining heroes–one-time CDC official Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll), vampire expert Setrakian (David Bradley), exterminator Fet (Kevin Durand), hacker and now de facto female lead Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas), and half-human Quinlan (Rupert Penry-Jones)–walk into a trap when they thought they were about to capture The Master (whose voice is provided by Robin Atkin Downes) in the office of frenemy Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde), only to find that Palmer had himself become inhabited by The Master.  That successfully brought together several of the season’s plot elements, from The Master’s ability to switch bodies to the coffin that could imprison The Master to Palmer’s backstory, and led to a solid battle scene.

Unfortunately, too much of what followed was laid on the shoulders of one of The Strain‘s weak points, Eph’s son Zach (Max Charles).  A lot of time was spent with Zach this season, as we followed his life being kept by his vampire mother Kelly (Natalie Brown), who could barely restrain herself from eating him, and his developing a fondness for one of the show’s freakish blind child-creatures given to him as a bodyguard/pet.  It was clear that we were supposed to be charting Zach’s journey to the dark side after he ordered the pet to kill an innocent human, and that journey culminated in Zach reacting to Eph killing Kelly (who had attempted to devour him) by detonating The Master’s atomic bomb, conveniently left by The Master’s number two Eichhorst (Richard Sammel) in Zach’s reach.  Zach simply wasn’t a strong enough character for this to feel like any more than a contrivance, and even more contrived was the fact that all our heroes walked away from the nuclear explosion without so much as a scratch, simply by ducking and covering a la a 1950s public service documentary.  The bomb served the purpose of freeing The Master from his coffin, and creating eternal night over New York so that the vampires could roam at will, but it was a clumsy way of getting there.

The Strain has always been uneven.  The Zach/Kelly storyline didn’t work, but Dutch’s promotion to romantic lead after last season’s death of Mia Maestro’s character was effective (even if the triangle between Eph, Dutch and Fet was tiresome).  The show ran into its budget limitations and lack of NY locations when it tried to stage a giant attack in Central Park (it actually shoots in Toronto, and those who attend the Toronto Film Festival had a chuckle tonight when one of the festival venues turned up to play the part of Palmer’s office building).  The time spent with off-shoot characters Gus (Miguel Gomez) and Angel (Joaquin Costo) didn’t add up to much–the same went for the brief attempts to address city politics through Councilwoman Justine Feraldo (Samantha Mathis)–while the introduction of Quinlan added dimension to the saga.

FX has shows that are justifiably more acclaimed than The Strain, but the series fits the network’s brand with its commitment to mythology, narrative and–within the genre and available budget–a certain amount of class.  That class extends to knowing when it’s time to close up shop, and next season, with a potential apocalypse on the table, should be something to see.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."