Sunday, July 13, 2014

REVIEW: 'The Strain' - A Plane Lands at JFK, the CDC Investigates & Abraham Setrakian Issues a Warning in 'Night Zero'

FX's The Strain - Episode 1.01 "Night Zero"

When a plane lands in New York City with everyone on board dead, Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, head of the CDC's Canary Project, and his team are called upon to investigate. Harlem pawnbroker Abraham Setrakian races to the airport, convinced that what looks at first like a mysterious viral outbreak might be the beginning of something infinitely more sinister.

Overall, this is a very competent start for a new series. It knows exactly what it wants to be as a series and you will either just like it or you won't. It's not exactly high caliber prestige - if you're looking for that Sundays at 10 I would definitely suggest either HBO's The Leftovers or Showtime's Masters of Sex. And yet, it's moody and creepy when it wants to be and does deliver in both of those aspects. The Strain wants to unnerve and surprise you and it does succeed at that.

It's notable just how early we see the feared creature in the pilot before the title sequence comes across the screen. It gives us a very clear idea of what type of eery force the main characters will be dealing with. And these vampires are far from romantic leads. They are disgusting and vicious. It's brutal the first time we see the main one feasting on human's blood for the very first time. If that weren't enough, then it has to completely smash the guy's skull in multiple times and we are just left with the bloody mess in the aftermath. That is by far the most uncompromising moment of the premiere. And our heroes aren't even aware of what they are truly up against! They don't discover that guy's body. They are more worried about what the heck caused all of this in the first place. They discover the parasites but things take yet another tragic turn. The victims from the plane start waking up and are hungry for blood. It's scary watching them all turn on the medical examiner - particularly the one with a completely open chest cavity.

But let's talk about characters. The bad guys get to be mysterious and brooding. They have a plan and just have to be esteemed, cool and vague about what's to come. But then, there's Jim Kent and Gus Elizalde whom we get to see the humanity as they are unwittingly pulled into aiding the bad guys. That's very effective. However, the female characters need a ton of work. There's just two of them - Dr. Nora Martinez and Kelly Goodweather - and both are solely defined through their relationship with leading man Eph. He is a compelling lead because he's played by Corey Stoll but not that compelling that I want to watch him balance two woman and a custody battle while fighting vampires. That just seems like such an odd decision to make. Eph is skeptical of the whole vampirism of it all. Abraham Setrakian really does come across like a crazy old man the first time he interacts with the CDC. He turns out to be right but it's not until later that the doctors realize the depth of what's happening. They might take him more seriously the next time they talk. However, he's in a holding cell and Thomas Eichorst is on his way to pay his old friend a visit. It's an exciting way to start the series... but also a very precarious one.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Night Zero" was written by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan and directed by Guillermo del Toro.
  • I really love the ticking clock stylization. It's very 24-esque and yet things definitely don't play out in real time here. The events of "Night Zero" occur over just a few hours.
  • I'm intrigued to see what's next for the coffin not that it's being driven into the heart of the city.
  • Apparently it's in Ben Hyland's contract that he is the only kid actor who can play Corey Stoll's son in anything he does. First, House of Cards and now this.
  • Captain Doyle Redfern, rocker Gabriel Bolivan, lawyer Joan Luss and everyman Ansel Barbour are the four survivor's from the plane. It should be very interesting to see how these four differ from the passengers who were pronounced dead - but have reawakened.
  • Eph Goodweather - the latest leading man who gets As at work but is flunking in his personal life. So original!