Weakness and evolution are the two driving forces behind The Strain: the weakness of human biology and the evolution of the species to superior, deadly monsters. It’s that process of alienation, literally making other people alien, that gives the series its punch – or, more accurately, it’s weird, fleshy, tentacle/mouth/sucker thing.
Episode 6 marks the halfway point in Season 1 and its growth is surprisingly impressive – and its weaknesses increasingly obvious.
This week, we see Eph established without a doubt as the hero: Kelly’s new bloke, Matt, who previously seemed like a rational guy, calls the FBI when Eph turns up on their doorstep, a move that confirms him as a douche and Eph as slightly-less-of-a-douche. But where that move could ring false, Corey Stoll steps in to deliver an angry rant that wins our sympathies once and for all. Even with that Nic Cage wig on, Stoll’s really settled into his role as the flawed lead.
Equally at home now is David Bradley as Professor Setrakian, who continues to slash necks and rasp menacingly, like Van Helsing crossed with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. Miguel Gomez has also quietly developed Gus into a likeable supporting character, while Mia Maestro as Eph’s colleague, Nora, is believably panicked, justifying the screen time she is now being given, as she tries to protect her dementia-suffering mother from the plague.
That doesn’t mean this is deep human drama, though. These are stock characters, pure and simple. But given the right pacing, the quality of the cast can make this silly dialogue sing with entertaining silliness.
The two most valued players are Richard Sammel’s Eichorst and Kevin Durand’s Fet. Sammel clearly relishes the chance to smile threateningly at people in his pristine suit – a slick bit of costume design that only emphasises the weirdness every time his proboscis shoots out. Durand, meanwhile, finally gets the chance to kick vamp butt, but also moves the narrative forward by discovering the effect that sunlight has on them.
Sunlight. It’s another familiar touchstone from horrors past, which Guillermo del Toro’s imagination shakes up with fresh terror. The episode’s title, Occultation, hints at what will happen: an event that is foreshadowed by a CGI introduction. Taking us up into space and zooming down through the clouds to New York, the prologue’s a reassuring sign that FX isn’t skimping on the production budget entirely. Indeed, last week’s Holocaust flashbacks were enough to sink a stake in the heart of this beast, as the limitations of the show’s funds left things feeling just a tad too unrealistic. Kept firmly in the present, this week’s chapter skips along, but also underlines The Strain’s secret strength: scale.
Where darkness might once have given Dracula a chance to go window-shopping in the local village, here it carries major consequences; a viral outbreak given a burst of new life. As our stock characters run around in the chaos, the undead hordes pop up everywhere – not a scene occurs without one of them unleashing their weird, fleshy, tentacle/mouth/sucker things. With more and more meat bags being converted to the new cause, The Strain is evolving: into a bigger threat, into an army of aliens, and, if Season 1 can keep its weaknesses at bay, a potentially fun six more episodes.
The Strain Season 1 is available on NOW TV, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription – with the first month only £1 if you sign up before 27th September. You can also buy it on blinkbox, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Wuaki.tv and Google Play.
Where can I watch The Strain on pay-per-view VOD?