UK VOD TV review: The Strain Episode 4
Ivan Radford | On 08, Oct 2014Reading time: 3 mins
Episode 4 of The Strain begins with the best worst opening of the series so far. After encountering a scientific first – a live specimen of a dangerous new infection – and taking the only logical response – bashing its head in with a fire extinguisher – the team suddenly stop and seem to realise just how ridiculous the whole programme is.
“What happened here?” asks Eph, after putting down the extinguisher. “Should we be burning the body?” replies Nora. “What are you saying?” adds Sean Astin’s Samwise-alike sidekick, Jim. “Are we burning corpses now?”
For five minutes, the whole cast seem unable to talk in anything other than questions, as if they’ve all been replaced by an ensemble of extremely inquisitive Australians. And so, when they do decide to cut him open – “We cut him open?” exclaims Nora, right on cue – it’s only fitting that Jim should completely flip out. Because as laughable as it is, who wouldn’t?
The autopsy once more puts the critters front and centre of The Strain’s simple strategy: freak everyone out as much as possible. And the script, from Breaking Bad veteran Gennifer Hutchison, relishes the chance to dish out the internal intricacies of Guillermo del Toro’s imagination. Making the familiar unfamiliar is not easy when dealing with genre tropes, but The Strain manages it unnervingly well: when the team open up the ex-human’s chest and reveal just how much has changed, the sheer amount of biological detail is enough to make you queasy. (One word: cartilage.)
The show takes the same approach to the rest of the cliches it rolls out – something that Episode 5 seems designed to showcase. We have no sign of our rat-catcher or rock star Gabriel Bolivar this week, but we do catch up with Ansel Barbour, who tries to cover up his slowly-transforming body from his wife. While other survivors, such as Mr. Arnot’s bath-dwelling daughter, Emma, have gone on a killing bender – or, in Bolivar’s case, dropped his member in the toilet – Ansel finds himself hiding in the shed.
His wife’s return home, and subsequent traipse across their snowy garden, is primed for some striking red-on-white gore, but the sequence – directed with drip-drip tension by all-round legend Peter Weller – takes a surprising turn away from the obvious. To say that the couple’s relationship is heartwarming might not strictly be true, but it reinforces one of the truths that The Strain’s peculiar brand schlock does hit upon: people react in different ways to weird crap.
For David Bradley’s Setrakian, the response is simple: slash, kill, burn. For Eph, Setrakian’s strategy is the logical next step after their repeated attacks. Others like Nora or Jim, though, hesitate and ask questions. It’s Not for Everyone, the episode’s title reminds us. The show may not appeal to all audience members, but for those it is for, the sheer variety in each of The Strain’s slowly-developing strands is enough to keep you on the edge of your seat.
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.