Sunday, July 12, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Strain' - Eph and Setrakian Search for New Weapons to Battle the Master in 'BK, NY'

FX's The Strain - Episode 2.01 "BK, NY"

Eph and Nora work on a biological weapon to kill the strigoi, and Setrakian risks the lives of the entire group to find information about a closely guarded secret text. The Master begins the next phase of his own plan by creating a terrifying new breed of creature and placing them under Kelly's control.

The first season of FX's The Strain was very erratic. It did a number of things well - mostly anything that played with the rising vampire apocalypse and its horrifying imagery. A number of actors brought some great things out of their characters, especially David Bradley, Kevin Durand, Jonathan Hyde and Richard Sammel. And then, the season faltered epically because it wanted to focus on a custody battle for a strongly annoying kid, a gang war involving a minor character with no nuance and the inability to present a consistent version of the chaos. At one moment, New York City is falling into destruction where the main team is barely able to get out alive. Then the action cuts to a different part of the city where it's business as usual. The mystery of the Master was what made the main threat to civilization so powerful and tense at the beginning. But the mystery of the face of this evil was much more compelling than actually seeing the creature. The show does a phenomenal job at creating its creatures. But with the Master, he looked increasingly silly the longer the camera actually stayed on his face. It was a weird predicament for the show to be in as it basically lost all sense of relevancy and tension by the end of the first year.

But now, the show is back for Season 2. The hope is that the creative team learned from the mistakes of the first season and are able to implement new and better ideas for the new season. That doesn't seem to be the case though. The season gets off to a very strong start with a prologue directed by Guillermo del Toro - who helmed the pilot. That 8-minute sequence told its own self-contained story but was able to make it effective and terrifying almost effortlessly. As a young Setrakian listens to his grandmother's story, the audience is able to see firsthand the events as they are being told. They offer some valuable insight into the beginning of the Master's reign. It was such a strong way to get the season started. The image of the Master transfering all of his vampire parasites into the body of the other man is going to be stuck in my mind for awhile. That's what horror should strive to be. Creating images that terrify the audience.

After that brilliant opening scene though, the show gets back to telling its story in the weirdest possible way. The state of New York City and how the city at large is reacting to the vampire uprising is still so erratic. Whenever Eph, Fet or Setrakian go out into the city, they encounter the creatures and have to fight for their lives in order to continue surviving. Across town though, Eldritch is able to hold a press conference despite the fact that both the internet and phones are down. How was his company able to organize such an event? How was it able to be broadcast in Times Square? Why does everyone in that room not feel scared for their lives? He alludes to the chaos and rough time the city is going through. But it's never understood how the rest of the community views what is happening to the city. That's a major problem. The show wants to build up tension. But it only wants to do so in isolated bursts. That was never effective in Season 1 and will only continue to get worse in Season 2.

Eldritch and Eichhorst are two great characters. And yet, they spend the majority of this premiere alluding to the next part of their grand plan for bringing about the destruction of the city. It's all very cryptic and not all that great. They still have to go through the pleasantries of officially purchasing the building they need for their plan. That leads to Eldritch hiring the broker to work for him personally. It's a story that makes very little sense. Did the audience really need that much of an explanation as to how the vampires have control of the building that Eichhorst later took the blind people and Kelly to? No, it wasn't necessary at all. It was just something for the two of them to do. It was an effective moment in the end with Eichhorst and the Master giving Kelly more power and control that way they can use her to get to Eph and Setrakian. That seems like a very strong strategy. But the building up to that moment where the audience sees the new vampires bursting out of the soil for the first time took away from the story more than it added. It's nice to see the human side of this monstrosity. The Master and Eldritch manipulated the blind school in order to get what they needed. But again, the humans seemed very foolish in the moment so it was very hard to empathize with them before they were turned.

It seems that both sides of this war are being more creative in their strategies. It was an effective and tragic twist last season when Kelly was taken by the Master and Eph came to the realization that he couldn't do anything to save her. But that doesn't justify his sudden fall into alcoholism or Zach's rebellion. And that will only get worse because of how prominent Kelly will continue to be in this war. And yet, Eph is capable of some good thinking. He and Nora are finally able to put their heads together and begin thinking about some biological weapon that they can use to attack the vampires. Sunlight only got them so far last season. Everyone on the team seems much more effective at beheadings and kill shots this season - as evidenced in the final sequence of the premiere. But that isn't good enough to win. It's not enough to kill the Master. They have to come up with something better. Now, they may have that opportunity. It's tragic knowing that the moment the people staying in the storage unit are discovered that they will soon be infected by the forthcoming vampire attack. That seemed inevitable as did Eph's realization that he and Nora can use them to better understand how the disease effects the body so quickly.

Additionally, Setrakian is off on his own journey for the beginning portion of the premiere. He is still very foolish in thinking that he can track the Master all by himself. He's unable to take down several members of the vampire special ops team when they arrive. Taking him to the other ancient members of this supernatural race is a strong way to bring several corners of the show together. Gus was an isolated character last season with no purpose. He doesn't suddenly have some just because he interacted with Setrakian for a few moments. But the atmosphere of what the ancients want and how Setrakian can help them is enough to keep that story interesting - even if Setrakian refuses to share any of that information with anyone else from the main team. It's frustrating in the moment. But the mystery and allure of the creature design and imagery is probably enough to keep watching.

Some more thoughts:
  • "BK, NY" was written by Carlton Cuse & Chuck Hogan and directed by Gregory Hoblit.
  • The show recast the role of Zach Goodweather this season. That felt like a good sign that the creative team realized that Ben Hyland wasn't that great in the role last season and that a change needed to be made. But now, Max Charles seems just as annoying and unnecessary as Hyland. It makes one think that it's a writing and directing problem more than it is an actor one.
  • Ruta Gedmintas has also been upped to the regular cast this season as Dutch. She was a fine addition to the team last season. Her dynamic with Fet was something special. But now, it seems the show is trying too hard with her being forced to interact with Eph.
  • Even though he's not seen at all in the premiere, Gabriel Bolivar will continue to be an important character on the show as he's a crucial piece to the Master's big plan. And yet, it's still a character who makes no sense at all.
  • The Master also mentions that his body is dying because of being out in the sunlight. Couple that with the epic prologue and it seems pretty clear that sometime during this season he will once again make that transition to a new and better body. The question is: Which character will fall victim to such a horrifying sight?