UK VOD TV review: The Strain Episode 2
Ivan Radford | On 24, Sep 2014
“Daddy, I’m hungry.”
That’s the sound of The Strain going back to basics. After the opening episode’s rush of bonkers ideas and freaky creature design, Episode 2 is a calmer, leaner, scarier affair.
That’s not to say it isn’t silly. It is. This is still a show about an ancient vampire that infects its hosts through tiny, parasitic worms before turning them into monsters with a giant tentacles where fangs should be. A show where nobody uses the word vampire or notices a giant coffin carved with ornate symbols disappearing from a locked down airport. A show in which a sinister organisation – Heartstone – teams up with a sinister bad guy in exchange for the promise of its ageing leader’s immortality. A show where Corey Stoll wears a wig that looks like it was designed for Nicolas Cage.
But The Strain’s strength lies in teasing out the creepiness from each of these crazy details. Last week’s attack on a clueless mortician, soundtracked ironically to Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, showed the series could do class as well as trash. This week continues to prove it.
Having transported the coffin across the water into downtown, Gus swiftly exits from the dodgy car park to go home to his mum. After being threatened in the last episode, it would be easy for his immigrant home life to feel cliched and shallow, but Miguel Gómez’s hot-headed thug soon clashes with his brother over a clock stolen from Setrakian’s pawn shop – giving his back story just enough substance for us to grab onto.
Eph is given similarly signposted scenes to explain his motivations, from a confession-fuelled AA meeting to encounters with his ex-wife’s new fella. But Corey Stoll, a veteran at playing a screw-up after House of Cards, steps into the leading man spotlight with ease, monologuing and making snide comments with a sympathetic, downbeat air.
He and the other CDC team members continue to trace the missing coffin from the airplane, using everything from UV lights to tweezers to examine the bloody remains of corpses. And it’s here that The Strain starts to establish its credentials: never skimping on the red stuff, the series stays in touch with its gory, B-movie roots, despite upending many of them with its radically reimagined monsters.
We gradually see more of their wonderful form, particularly their stages of transformation – an inevitable threat that hangs over the four survivors from the plane. When the corrupt authorities overrule Eph and set them free, then, we know something bad will happen. Jack Kesy as sham-goth rock star Gabriel Bolivar has the most fun with our expectations, his fake-haired body immediately instigating a blood-lust session of sex with excited fans, leaving us to imagine the horrors that might unfold. Best of all, though, is young girl Emma, whom we saw return to her father’s home at the end of the pilot – a Midwich Cuckoo dressed in bright red.
It’s a surprisingly tradition set of motifs and David Semel directs them with efficiency.
That grounding in old-fashioned fear means that when we return to David Bradley’s veteran vamp hunter, we’re ready to swallow anything. Eichorn, one of Stoneheart’s top dogs, visits Setrakian in his holding cell, a conversation that reveals a back story as barmy as you’d hope – but one that is constantly accompanied by a menacing stare and half-cocked grin. “Do you still have her heart?” teases Eichorn. Bradley grimaces. And you know you’re on board for the whole 11 episodes.
Tighter and more serious than the opening hour, chapter two is a surprisingly restrained beast; a visit back to the neck-puncturing days of old, but not quite as you remember them. If del Toro’s pilot was laughably enjoyable, this is genuinely unsettling to watch. Even the dialogue seems to be less hammy. Gone are the bright red and yellow contrasts, replaced by a muted blue palette; a cooler, creepier piece of television. The Strain, Episode 2 reminds us, is scary. Silly, but scary.
The Strain Season 1 is available on NOW, 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.