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Can't Talk | July 2, 2020

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First Impressions: The Strain

First Impressions: The Strain

Like anyone else who peruses the horror section of the bookstore, I’d heard of The Strain. I didn’t know anything about the book other than it was written by Guillermo del Toro and I’ve never been a huge fan of his until the recent release of Pacific Rim. When I heard that The Strain was being released as a TV series, it was time to investigate.

The Strain is a new horror series based on Guillermo del Toro’s book trilogy. I haven’t read the books, but I hear that it’s some sort of pulp fiction masterpiece. Del Toro wrote the books after he was unsuccessful at pitching The Strain as a TV series. In 2011 a comic book adaptation was produced by Dark Horse Comics.

The first season consists of 13 episodes, 5 of which have aired and it has already been renewed for a second season. That must mean it’s good, right? Or at least a lot of people are watching.

I was a little hesitant when it came to starting the first episode. I love horror books but when it comes to movies and TV series, I’m a big wuss. This weekend I finally succumbed to my curiousity. Mild spoilers ahead.

The episode began with an airplane. Nothing good ever happens with airplanes. The plane, originating from Berlin, was about to land at John F. Kennedy International Airport before the flight attendants noticed something was causing a ruckus in the cargo hold.

Control finds the plane dead on the tarmac. The lights are off, the doors are still sealed, all the window visors are closed (except one!)  and there is no communication. Enter all security and emergency response teams ever. The head of the CDC, a workaholic going through separation with his wife, is called to the scene. The CDC get first access to the plane and onboard they find all passengers and staff are dead. UV light reveals some sort of biological trail all over the plane and originating from the cargo hold. But wait, 4 of the presumed dead are actually survivors.

The survivors are quarantined and questioned, but they can’t remember what happened. Why are these four people alive and everyone else dead? They don’t know. The CDC doesn’t know. We don’t know. But some high-society, possible non-human, German folk seem to know. After an inventory of the cargo it is discovered that one item was not on the cargo list, an item the CDC guy refers to as a cabinet. The cabinet is basically a giant wooden coffin filled with soil and embellished with carvings of, what I can only describe as, death with a scythe. Not ominous at all. They take some soil samples.

In another part of town, there’s a hard looking old man who runs a pawn shop. Some thieves bring him some goods because they hear he pays well for silver. When they try to rip him off, he shows those punks what’s what with skilled reflexes and a sharp blade. On hearing of the airplane on the news, he retreats through a secret doorway to his super secret lair where he feeds a parasitic heart-in-a-jar some blood and verbalizes how he isn’t sure if he has the strength to go through it all again.

Still with me? Okay good. The CDC still doesn’t know what’s going on, which they announce to the press and families of the passengers. The old man manages to get the attention of one of members of the CDC team, he’s got some information about the plane they might want to hear.

Even though the old man seems to know quite a bit about the situation, the head CDC guy doesn’t have time for a loony old man. On further examination of the cargo hold, unidentified worms are found. Soon the “cabinet” goes missing, people start to die, the shady German guys enjoy one last evening before society begins to collapse, and the bodies in the morgue being examined reanimate.

What in the hell is going on? I don’t know.I realise that this is some sort of weird biological take on vampirism and that I have to keep watching (or read the book) to find out, but it isn’t a pleasurable compulsion.

I’m frustrated with the blatant ignorance characters seem to react with, not just in this series but most others. I’m frustrated with some of the predictability and the unoriginality of the circumstances. I’m frustrated with this take on vampirism. Why did those 4 people not die? Are they also infected? Are they infected but have intelligence? How did an infected/dead/vampire-zombie child reanimate and find her way across New York, all the way home to her dad? Are they more intelligent than zombies? Why does the retired vampire hunter guy keep a specimen in his secret lair and feed it? Isn’t that a bit risky? WHY DID THEY MAKE A BIG DEAL ABOUT THAT ONE WINDOW ON THE PLANE BEING OPEN?! Ahem.

These are the questions I ask that I must find answers to.

As for the scare factor, the show had a few creepy moments but it seemed to flow into them. Nothing was ever suddenly frightening. You knew the plane was going to be a bad situation. You knew the morgue was going to get ugly.  You knew that the dad was going to see his little girl again…


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  1. I have a “three episode rule” when it comes to new shows that look interesting. I figure, very rarely are pilot episodes very good; second episodes can still be getting their legs under them; but by the third episode a show should have it’s rhythm and I should be ready to settle in to a good season of entertainment.

    The thing is, I gave “The Strain” not three, but four episodes, and I keep finding myself more *wanting* to like it than actually liking it. I think this one has to be a thumbs-down for me, which is a shame because I really love Guillermo del Toro.

    • Melissa Kay

      The “three episode rule” is a very good one. By the third episode you should generally have a good sense of whether it’s worth it to keep going.

      The way you describe your *wanting* to like it is exactly how I feel. It has all the ideas and things that I like in my media and yet…

      I don’t know if I’d be able to stop after the four episodes, especially knowing it got enough viewership to be renewed for a second season already. I might have to do a follow up post!

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