It’s never easy to give up on a patient, but it’s time for us to admit that The Strain may be too far gone to save. There are several signs in this week’s episode that the show may be giving up the will to live. In one scene, during a vampire attack, we finally glimpse one of the plane survivors who were almost the shows central characters for the first half of the season, before disappearing completely. Reduced to a mindless zombie like all the rest, distinguishable only by his Marilyn Manson fright-wig, he barely registers more than the other extras in the scene, and none of the human characters recognise him before he vanishes again.
The flashbacks of holocaust survivor turned vampire hunter, Abraham Setrakian, remain predictable and unnecessary – although at least his story has moved on a few decades, so we no longer have to add “gratuitously exploitative of holocaust imagery”. The most striking feature of these scenes is the astonishingly bad “age” makeup applied to young actor Jim Watson, in order to indicate that he’s slightly older than in the previous round of flashbacks. To make sure nobody was in any doubt that the actor is playing a younger version of the Setrakian character, Watson is now required to wear a baldcap and receding-hairline-wig – complete with prosthetically wrinkled forehead – neither of which are very convincing. The real tragedy is that, having given him an artificial frowny-face, they then felt they had to go one step further, and replace his eyebrows with what looks like the ghostly, phantasmagorical echo of two caterpillars. Like Romeo and Juliet, these star-cross’d lovers chose to die for and with one another – on his face.
The fact that this particular pair of fake eyebrows was not only applied to Watson’s face, but made it past every check and balance from the makeup studio to the business end of a camera is truly shocking, and represents the attitude which has sadly come to characterise The Strain – nobody behind the camera gives that much of a shit. It’s a shame, because the actors are mostly doing good work in the middle of it all – particularly Kevin Durand, whose exterminator-come-gladiator is consistently charming. However, most of the roles as written in the scripts, at best, give the actors nothing to work with – at worst, they hamstring them. Feel for Mia Maestro, who is required to drag herself on-screen every week in the “part” of Nora – a character who started out as a one-dimensional mashup of the ‘other woman’ and eye-candy stereotypes, and has only gotten flatter and less involved from there. There is a very telling moment this week in which Ephraim – our supposed hero – is required to give an emergency broadcast, alerting the people of New York to the vampire invasion. This is necessary because, as previous episodes have established, the people of New York are proving remarkably oblivious to the hordes of insane, flesh-eating zombies with six-foot, poisonous tongues roaming the city every single night.
While preparing for his Extremely Important Man task, Ephraim is interrupted by Nora’s mother who suggests that her daughter could help, revealing that she was “first in her class at public speaking…she won every debate at school”. Our hero simply brushes this off with the hilarious line “She still does!” (am I right, fellas? Huh? THE WIMMIN, right?!). The issue is never brought up again but, considering that Nora is also a high-ranking CDC official – and, as Ephraim himself points out, that he has recently been smeared to the whole world as a potential murderer – why the Hell shouldn’t it be? It’s just the latest in a long line of tone-deaf moments in which the show, expecting the well-established cliches it relies on to do all the work, unwittingly makes its supposed leading man unlikeable – even if Corey Stoll keeps him watchable.
With just one episode left in this first season, The Strain is in pretty bad shape on every level that counts. Here’s hoping they can pull off a last-minute recovery, before the disease takes hold completely.