October 6, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “The Strain”


There’s a reason why B-movies aren’t 13 hours long, and that was demonstrated by THE STRAIN, a well-crafted horror thriller that nevertheless succumbed to monotony before its first season (it’s already been renewed for another) came to an end tonight.

Although The Strain is based on a series of graphic novels by the filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and novelist Chuck Hogan (who wrote the original novel on which The Town was based), it’s not constructed with the kind of scale and character development that Stephen King brings to his epics like The Stand or The Dark Tower.  Instead, it’s just a huge version of an an old-fashioned horror programmer.  Its villains are technically vampires, but in many ways they act more like movie zombies, from their shambling walk to the need to destroy their brains in order to kill them, which made the series something like The Walking Dead without the existentialism–not necessarily a bad thing, but after a while you did miss there being even a hint of thoughtfulness.  Instead, in almost every episode, one or more mortals would be in a dark, silent space, when suddenly–Wham!–one of the vamps would appear, the story’s signature 6-foot-long sucking apparatus shooting out of the monster’s mouth, and it would either take its victim or be decapitated in some way.  To fill out the running time, there were hours devoted in great part to the backstory of the story’s Obi-Wan, Holocaust survivor and now pawnbroker/vampire hunter Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley), and his relationship with SS officer Thomas Eichhorst (Richard Sammel), now The Master vampire’s number 2.  Bradley and the Christoph Waltz-like Sammel were The Strain‘s stand-outs, but the story of their past together (where Setrakian was played by a different actor) slowed the forward momentum of the narrative, especially since there was very little that was surprising about their saga.

Momentum was a big problem for The Strain, which couldn’t really get anywhere because its story had to be able to continue into future seasons.  So it took several hours for the characters to realize that New York was, in fact, being infested by vampires, and then for the heroes to assemble as a group.  Along the way, they’d go to one not-quite-deserted place after another and be attacked, or hole up at a gas station or Setrakian’s pawnshop, or go on a hunt in the sewers, but they could never accomplish much.  Although there were some very good actors involved, including Corey Stoll (in a very bad hair-piece) as the maverick CDC officer who gradually came to accept that the virus he was tracking had supernatural effects, Mia Maestro as his colleague and girlfriend, Kevin Durand as an exterminator with helpful expertise, and Ruta Gedmintas as a punky internet hacker briefly hired by The Master’s minions, none of them got to provide much beyond intensity and for Durand, occasional comedy relief.

The season finale, written by showrunner Carlton Cuse and co-creator Hogan, and directed by Phil Abraham, had no closure to offer.  Our heroes tracked down The Master to an old New York theater (which the script tried to imbue with some mythic weight, but which seemed thoroughly random as a location), but sunlight, it turned out, couldn’t kill The Master, and he ran away.  The only surprise was that none of the main cast members were sacrificed along the way, so all are eligible to return next season–good news for them, if not for viewers hoping for some major finale event.

Instead, the finale provided set-up for Season 2, especially in the reveal of another band of vampires, seemingly more human-friendly (at least more talkative), who with the help of Gus (Miguel Gomez, another series regular whose character never came to much) will apparently also be on the hunt for The Master and his creatures.  Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde), an elderly billionaire who aided The Master in hopes of eternal life, although so far he’s just received renewed health, also took a more active part in the saga by throwing the US Secretary of Health and Human Services off a roof, although any attempt to line up the events of The Strain with any conception of real life is a waste of time, as apparently thousands of bloodthirsty monsters are roaming the streets of Manhattan and devouring the inhabitants, yet the government hasn’t yet recognized that there’s a crisis going on.

The Strain was fun for a while, but it would have been much more effective as an American Horror Story-type limited series that came to a climax after 13 episodes and moved on.  Since that’s not the scheme, and the ratings have been quite good (America needs its zombies, especially in Walking Dead‘s off season), there’s no reason to expect any more progress next season.  Strain may be exactly the right word for it all before the next 13 hours are done.


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."