Monday, July 28, 2014

The Strain – S01, E03 – Gone Smooth

Before I start this, I just want to say - there's some changes coming this way soon.

...Dammit! Stop with the rejoicing and throwing dirt on me!

Anyway, I'll be posting the official announcement in another day or so once I've worked out the details, but there will be a change to how some things are done here in the weeks to come. I'll keep you guys posted, don't worry - I can be a jerk, but I have my limits!

Now then...

This episode might take the prize for the most wonderfully disturbing title of the season, due to how it relates to one particular scene near the end.

The bulk of the episode (thankfully) is focused on the slowly growing outbreak. Setrakian is finally back on the streets, Vasiliy is starting to get involved in the larger plot, and Eph's family drama still remains that part of the episode where one is tempted to go get a snack.

I'm just gonna rip the band-aid off that last part here. One part because you guys know it's coming, and one part cause honestly, the rest of this episode is pretty solid, so lets get this out of the way now. I KNOW I'm not alone in this, because it seems to be the one thing most reviewers of this show have agreed on so far: Ephraim Goodweather's family drama is easily the weakest aspect the show has going for it on a weekly basis. I honestly feel bad for Corey Stoll when he reads these lines. He's actually not bad when he's doing the CDC scenes, even if his character is still kind of a cliché – but the family drama is just the wrong mix of melodramatic and stock protagonist problems. I wasn't a big fan of it in the books, and I'm still not that big on it here – especially after Stoll had the unfortunate honor of having to roll out that horrible chestnut “I love my son and I would do anything for him!” I think that moment perfectly encapsulated my problems with this subplot: It's generic, not well-executed, and honestly, in a show that's finding its stride in all of its other plotlines, it's the one limping leg.

Sorry. In the future, I'll keep my venting on Eph's family to a minimum.

"Thank God that's over with. Now back to my job dealing with life-threatening diseases where people actually like me!"

Now, regarding this week's title – this week we see the show really starting to embrace what it's been doing best for the past few episodes: horror. Admittedly, this week doesn't quite have the show-stopper moments on the level of the pilot's coroner scene or the bathtub kill last week, but it makes up for it with smaller moments. Two of this week's highlights provide a nice morbid bookend regarding the title: First, we finally get to see the Stoneheart Group's Eichorst as he really is – having been turned ages ago, he is now a flash of what lies ahead for those who've been 'graced' by the Master's gifts. We first see him approach, almost unrecognizable – bald, pale, his ears and nose long since worn away over time. I almost forgot it was Eichorst at first – which is the point. As the scene- eerily set to opera- plays out, we watch the creature calmly and methodically get ready for the day: prosthetic ears and nose, a wig, false teeth, contact lenses, a fake covering for the neck, and a fair amount of make-up later, and the gaunt monstrosity has now regained his disguise of the Master's ruthless German envoy. This is then played out in reverse for many other characters throughout the episode, culminating in one infamous moment (that I really wondered if FX was going to even address) where goth rocker Gabriel Bolivar finds out just how smooth the title really suggests things will go. FX has gotten away with quite a bit on their shows over the years (just ask Kurt Sutter, for better or worse) but having a character's penis shrivel up and fall off is a whole other area. To their credit, the scene is actually fairly well handled within the confines of network-safe material. We've already seen signs of Bolivar's transforming – losing hair, pale skin, bloody eyes, and he really doesn't seem that phased. It hits its sick peak as he stands over the toilet urinating – as he finishes we hear a very pronounced splash. Now, I can't speak for people coming into this scene totally new, but as soon as I heard that, my response was “...was that what I think it was?” To their credit, the play the suspense out a bit more before the reveal – as Bolivar flushes, we see something briefly circling down before it vanishes, but again, no confirmation – until he turns to the camera, his groin now completely smoothed over like a life-size Ken doll. It's not gory, but still a fairly effective little touch of body horror.

Until I hear an official statement otherwise, I will continue to believe the showrunners gave serious thought to setting this scene to the song Goodbye Horses

"Understatement" is the strength of a lot of said horror this week. Besides those moments, we see more signs of transformation in those that have been infected. After Emma's reveal last week, that bloodthirsty little moppet has gone to ground, while fellow survivors each turn in their own ways. Stubborn father Ansel (Nikolai Witschl) continues to insist he's fine, even after he finds himself sucking back the run-off blood from a raw steak in his refrigerator. Captain Redfern, opting to go in to be examined proper, crashes hard and fast before culminating in one of the other highlights of the episode: he is the first to turn full blood-sucker, his tongue/stinger out in full fury for a quick scene. He doesn't make a kill, but the show makes up for it in his demise – a quick kill, but still an effectively unpleasant headsmash.


With the plague storyline gaining more momentum, this week finally started showing signs of the other plot threads starting to come together. In Fet's case, this is a bit of a slower lead-in: we get more of his day to day work as an exterminator, but he's also becoming aware that the increase in the local rat population he's been dealing with is decidedly not normal. It's a throwback to Stoker's Dracula, but it makes for a nice touch to get him involved here. It says something that watching Fet at his job killing rats is more interesting than the family drama. Granted, this is also because Kevin Durand has already made the character likable pretty early on, but the writing definitely helps.

"Yes, your honor. I gave the order to carry out The Red Wedding.
and you know something?
Seeing all of those YouTube reactions to it, I'd do it again in a heartbeat!"

Meanwhile, Setrakian is officially out of jail and back on the hunt. Once again, David Bradley gets this week's acting MVP award, if only for the two-faced act he pulls in court. After how we've seen him with other characters – clear spoken and resolute, he lapsed into a feigned 'doddering old man' cadence particularly well here. The fact he then slips right back out of it as soon as he's out of the courthouse just making it an even more apparent, and well handled, move on Bradley's part.

The one other thing I will give this episode – after two weeks of being talking heads, Jim Kent and Nora Martinez are finally starting to become characters instead of Eph's gophers. In Nora's case, we see her actively stepping up and investigating the Setrakian lead, which – from next week's trailers – will be a big step in the episodes to come. Kent, meanwhile, has finally tipped his hand on why he's been dealing with the Stoneheart Group. To his credit, while his reasoning is an old trope in itself, the show tries to make the most of it – and Astin does play the mixed morality of it in this episode well. With this, we're now up to seven characters who are more interesting than our lead, bringing--

"...I might have made a huge mistake."

Okay, I'll ease up on him next time.

With Gone Smooth, I think it's safe to say the show's getting more secure footing. The bulk of this week focused on doing the two things this show really needed right now – playing to their strengths and setting up for future episodes. The numerous loose stories we started with are slowly coming together, and the show is feeling more on point as a result. It's still not perfect, and some of its faults are gonna be with us for a while, but the show in general is becoming a lot more sure of itself – which should at least make the strong parts work more effectively to cover for the weak.

Warts and all, I'm satisfied with where we're going so far.

That's it for this week's installment. Next Monday I'll be back with It's Not For Everyone, where, from the previews, it looks like we're gonna start getting our fix of proper vampire killing.

Till then.

"...Next stop - ComicCon!"

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