July 12, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “The Strain”


THE STRAIN:  Sunday 10PM on FX

Despite its contemporary NY setting, there’s an old-world charm to the horrors of THE STRAIN, with its silver bullets and sword-canes.  They come courtesy of series godfather and co-creator Guillermo del Toro, who loves this stuff (his own upcoming movie Crimson Peak appears to be a compendium of Victorian horror tropes), and who personally directed tonight’s Season 2 prologue sequence, a tale told to vampire hunter Abraham Setrakian as an Eastern European child, about the way a misshapen but kindly nobleman had his body taken over by the local child-drinking vampire.  The scene had an echo in the episode proper (which was directed by Gregory Hoblit, from a script by the series’ other co-creator Chuck Hogan and showrunner Carlton Cuse), as the modern-day vampire Master, damaged by Setrakian at the end of Season 1 so that he’ll soon need a replacement body, cultivated the vampirization of a school full of blind children, who were rising from his unholy soil as the episode concluded.

The Strain doesn’t have a lot on its mind besides delivering these old-time chills, and despite the super-sized 90-minute length of the season premiere, there wasn’t much in the way of plot or character development to be had.  The episode’s centerpiece was an elaborate sequence where Setrakian (played as an ornery old man by David Bradley) was taken to the lair of the other, less rabid ancient vampires, who made a deal with him that has something to do with a book of monster knowledge and the ancients’ plans for the Master.  After that deal was sealed, Petrakian and the show lingered to watch the ancients devouring a human meal with their synchronized predatory tongues.  There was a kicker at the end, too, where the vamp picked by the Master to be in charge of the new blind monsters was what was left of Kelly (Natalie Brown), estranged wife of the show’s central hero Eph Goodweather (Corey Stoll, still wearing his terrible toupee), and mother of Zach (newly recast Max Charles).

Apart from that, The Strain mostly just picked up where it had left off, with Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) and Thomas Eichhorst (Richard Sammel) fiendishly doing the Master’s bidding, while our plucky heroes tried to save the world.  Aside from Eph and Setrakian, they include Eph’s CDC colleague and on-and-off romantic interest Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro), former exterminator Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand), and hacker Dutch Velders (Ruta Gedmintas).  Their efforts in Season 2 will apparently be directed toward coming up with a viral concoction that will spread among the vampires and kill them permanently, for which purpose they’ll be testing on live(-ish) subjects.

Nobody comes to The Strain for its intellectual approach to the subject of vampirism or its deft characterizations.  It’s a show built around large-scale horror action, and to go with that visit to the ancients, the premiere provided a showdown in the narrow, dimly-lit halls of a storage facility, where plenty of bloodsuckers were shot or sliced to bits.  Those sequences are fun, and the show moves quickly between them.  The problem last season was that the empty calories piled up through the course of 10 hours, and with little substance they became repetitive and progressively less satisfying.  We’ll see whether Cuse, Hogan and del Toro will bring more inventiveness to the table this time around, but in any case The Strain seems likely to deliver the same kind of comforting monster scares to its large audience that it did in its first season.

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."