UK TV review: The Strain Episode 12 (Last Rites)
Ivan Radford | On 03, Dec 2014Reading time: 5 mins
12 episodes in and has The Strain found its pulse yet? That this is even a question that needs asking in a 13-episode season is a sign of how uneven Guillermo del Toro’s story has been on screen.
Nonetheless, the penultimate chapter shows some signs that the series is picking up a beat – mostly because the plot strands are finally coming together.
The biggest of them all is cor-blimey-Mary-Poppins British hacker Dutch Velder, aka. The Woman Who Turned Off The Internet. Out of the blue, she returns to Setrakian’s pawn shop to say that she has a plan to save the day. “We don’t need another plan,” says Eph, whose Nic Cage hair remains in place. “We need a win.”
The same is true of the show itself: it’s bumbled along like a newly bitten vampire for a dozen weeks, moving in fits and bursts as adrenaline kicks in. What it needs is a flash of brilliance to wipe out all those failed ideas.
Last Rites isn’t that – although, at times, it’s close.
While Dutch does her thing, Gus’ story line finally reaches a relevant point too, as his timeline intersects with Mr. Quinlan, aka. The Bad-Ass Vampire With The SWAT Team. Much like Dutch, though, he’s been in and out of the programme like a yo yo doing the Hokey Cokey. The promise of more answers involving Mr. Quinlan’s, well, everything, is tantalising stuff, but you wonder why that subject hasn’t been tackled three episodes ago. The same problem applies to Gabriel Bolivar (remember him?), aka. The Rock Star Whose Penis Fell Off. He was given oodles of bloody screen time at the start of the series, then faded away post penile detachment, like a decommissioned Thunderbird 2 after dropping its final payload.
As a result, when these old faces pop up, it’s less elation we fell and more confusion; the show’s structure is enjoyable enough to watch, yet just messy enough to dampen the excitement that should be coursing through our veins by this point, one hour away from the climax of the whole thing.
The narratives we have followed throughout, on the other hand, do deliver satisfying pay-offs. Palmer, the most frustrating thing in the show thanks to his tendency to dump exposition while whining, gets the meeting with The Master that he always wanted. Even the flashbacks involving a young Setrakian – now they have moved away from the unconvincing sets of the Holocaust – are effective, as he hunts for The Master’s nest in Romania.
One scene where he barters with a local villager for a horse, though, is a typical symptom of the series’ inconsistent pacing; a pause that achieves little beyond letting us observe how silly Setrakian looks in the hat and beard David Bradley’s older professor wears in the present day.
Compared to The Master himself, though, Setrakian’s get up is an impeccable piece of design. It’s unfortunate that, as we arrive at the show’s conclusion, it is necessary for us to see more and more of del Toro’s big bad – and doubly so that he looks like Sesame Street made a sequel to The Descent.
As it all boils down to an experimental TV broadcast to reach the outside world, it’s curious to see just how far The Strain has departed from the original book. Nora’s mother, for example, the senile Mrs. Martinez, is central to a riveting train sequence in the trilogy’s second book, but Carlton Cuse, David Weddle and Bradley Thompson’s script moves us firmly onto a different track. It’s a shame because these kind of moments on the page are crucial to opening up the scale of the plague to something much wider and, as a result, scarier. For all its flashbacks to 1960s Eastern Europe, though, The Strain on the screen feels much smaller. Even when we see shipping containers full of the strigoi being shot down, the consequences feel tiny.
While that means we have intimate moments between characters – the always-watchable Eichorst taunting Setrakian, or Dutch and Fet flirting in the world’s most unlikely relationship – it also means that we are lacking that jeopardy required for a cliffhanger. Where is Eph’s wife, Kelly, who will inevitably be coming after Zach? Why does Mr. Quinlan want Gus on his team? And what exactly will Eldritch Palmer have to do with anything from now on?
You get the sense that the show is still moving its pieces into position, climbing up a gradual hill rather than driving towards a cliff edge. While the novels took a similar approach, leaping into the bigger picture for parts two and three, part one was never lacking in tension – or terror. The series has nailed the fear of the one-on-one encounters with del Toro’s freaky monsters, but in the end game of the season, we need substance to back up those scares. As Setrakian and Sesame Street get ready to square off, a moving insight into the origins of Setrakian’s heart in a jar is just enough to give us a tingle of suspense, if not a gripping cliffhanger. 12 episodes in and, like Fet’s chat-up lines, The Strain’s pulse remains surprisingly weak.
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.