The Strain – “Night Zero”

Season One, Episode One

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Grade: B-

Based on the novels co-written by Guillermo del Toro, and with Carlton Cuse as the show-runner, The Strain seemed awfully campy. But that’s not particularly a bad thing, I just wasn’t expecting it. This is a vampire tale that eliminates the modern day vampires that we’ve become so accustomed to. In The Strain, they’re ruthless monsters that prey on humans for their blood, not handsome, sparkly men using blood lust as a metaphor for sex.

At the center of the pilot there is a virus outbreak on a commercial aircraft. We briefly see the monster in the beginning scene, but then not again until much later. It’s easy to draw comparisons with zombie stories because of the way the victims are dead, and then come back to life craving human blood. Plus the indication that this might be some kind of virus that’s spreading. If vampirism is a virus in The Strain, that could be an interesting angle to take but at this point there are plenty of questions that need to be answered.

Starting with those creepy guys Eldritch Palmer and Thomas Eichorst, who have knowledge and a plan to extract the vampire and his coffin into the city. They’re obviously powerful and connected somehow, but through the extended pilot episode we never get much from them. Then there’s the actual process of how the undead work. Their bodies have been drained of their blood, yet their organs are functional and they do come back to life after some time. When they do, they act like slow-moving zombies, but with that glimmer in their eye they seem to remember their life; proof from the end when the girl returns to her home. So what is that monster in the coffin?

The main character (and eventual hero?) of the show is Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather. He’s the head of the CDC, is great at his job but the consequence is never being around for his family. Cliche enough for you? Is it also cliche enough that the new boyfriend with his ex-wife is a complete douche? Anyway, he investigates the viral outbreak and makes some progress throughout, but ignores his most important clue that comes in the form of Professor Abraham Setrakian, a New York pawn shop owner who seems like he’s dealt with this before. Classic authority figure ignoring the crazy old man with all the answers. This won’t be the last time they interact with each other.

The pilot certainly brings you into the world of The Strain, and it’s a dark and desperate one. Like what Eph said, he wants answers as much as everyone else does. While the show is rich with tone and mood, my main complaint is that there isn’t one character who is remotely likeable. The closest character we might be able to jump on board with is Abraham, but we didn’t see much of him in the pilot and feeding his blood to a hungry heart in a jar was just too weird. There was a chance I would like Sean Astin’s character, Jim Kent, but he’s being blackmailed by Palmer and Eichorst so there’s something fishy about him.

Is this unlike any vampire story we’ve seen? Possibly, but at the same time it’s not entirely unique and free of stereotypes. There are times when the pilot felt like multiple shows rolled up in one: the virus investigation, the monster movie, the family drama, and the sci-fi evil men plotting the end of the world. Hopefully The Strain becomes more focused on a central story, but this certainly isn’t the worst show I’ve watched this year.

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