Sunday, July 26, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Strain' - Gus Plots an Attack on Eldritch & Setrakian Shows Where He Gets His Strength From in 'Fort Defiance'

FX's The Strain - Episode 2.03 "Fort Defiance"

Gus and Vaun wage an attack on Palmer. Eph struggles to connect with Zach. Councilwoman Justine Faraldo vows to bring her extermination policies to the other boroughs.

"Fort Defiance" feels like an episode where the show just wants to address several plot concerns. Some of them are interesting. Because of David Bradley's performance, he is able to make the process of turning a vampire worm into a super-strength concoction wonderfully creepy but thrilling to watch. It's also nice to see that Coco isn't as naive as she was first made out to be. And yet, she is still too willing to just go along with whatever Eldritch has to say. And then, there are some weird moments of plotting where the show remembers that it had established something in the first season and thought they should finally address all of them at once. So that lead to Gus finally being a warrior for Vaun and his vampire special ops unit, Dutch trying to find her friend who went missing after the events of the big convenience store episode, Fitzwilliams making a trip to Staten Island, and Zach continuing to be the worst, most annoying kid in the world. So much of this episode felt weird and erratic - to the point where even the thrilling moments of genuine horror and action couldn't liven things up.

Abraham Setrakian is 94 years old. He certainly doesn't look it and is much more limber than most people his age. The math has always just been something that the audience has had to accept. Something that allows the creative team to tell a story set during the Holocaust while still keeping him an active member of the team in the present day. It has always been awkward. But now at least, they have presented a reason for why Setrakian is as strong and agile as he is. It's a twist that strongly connects to the core premise of the show. That's what allows it to be so engaging as a story. Setrakian has killed many vampires in the series so far. Him doing so again wasn't all that shocking. But his choice to then harvest some of the worms from the body and create a liquid solution out of it were mysterious while remaining horrifying. Sure, it didn't lead to any big consequences - except for him dying for a second and Nora saving his life. But it did lead to a moment where Setrakian had to open up to someone else on the team. He had to acknowledge the true depth of his life. Sure, Nora isn't the strongest character on the team to make a lasting impact. But a friendship between the two has been hinted at before and this gave that idea much more credibility.

The action of the episode largely revolves around Gus and what Vaun and his team are planning. Gus wasn't a great character in the first season. He was off on his own tangential storyline that had absolutely nothing to do with anything else on the show. He was built up as being important but there was nothing to back up such a claim. He was a character who didn't have a purpose. The season finale gave him purpose. It wasn't a moment the season preceding it had earned. But it was enough to make him a slightly more interesting character in Season 2. And now, the season is actually trying to make something out of that plot shift. It is great seeing Vaun teach Gus the most effective ways to kill the various vampires. But that wasn't the scope of their story either. The true focus was on a plan to kidnap Eldritch because of what he has to done to bring about this slowly moving apocalypse. It was a very ambitious plan. If they were successful, it would have brought a very welcome shift to the narrative. Eldritch is a great character. But he could use more urgency and chaos. The break in at his company was a strong action set piece. And yet, it was made clear that the show has no interest in taking Eldritch out of that environment anytime soon. This was just an excuse for him to show off the fancy security and technology he also has in that office. In the end, the story just gave more urgency to Gus while also putting him on his own again - which could be a horrible mistake. Why would the show make him a part of a team only to then kill off the people who gave him a reason to exist? It just seems like strange and peculiar plotting.

The introduction of Councilwoman Justine Faraldo was awkward in the previous episode. And yet, she is an interesting new character for the show to introduce right now. She's a character who actually holds some power and is capable of being proactive about this time of crisis. So much of the first season was dominated by the bureaucratic red tape that power creates. No one in a position of power wanted anything to do with this deadly outbreak. They just wanted to sweep it under the rug and act like nothing was happening. Because of the narrative's insistence that some parts of New York City were operating like nothing was happening, that trait was able to occur. But now, there's fewer reasons why the people in power are able to keep acting like nothing is happening. The Mayor isn't a fully realized character. He is just slightly more than window dressing. Justine is passionate about her mission to protect her city. That's idealistic in a way that is engaging even though she too is a new character that the audience truly doesn't know yet. And yet, there's a weird dichotomy between last week's episode and this one in regards to the Councilwoman's mission. Last week she told the people at the meeting that she has planning on taking back Staten Island one block at a time. That alluded that the island wasn't free of the plague. And now only a few days later, the entire island has been deemed a plague-free zone. So far the story has a lot of dialogue saying what she has been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time. And yet, there hasn't been enough action to see just how effective her procedures actually are. How has she been able to create such a safe zone? The audience only gets a brief glimpse of it when Fitzwilliams enters the island. But that surely isn't enough to create a place where no vampires currently live. So again, it's very weird plotting that the audience is just suppose to accept.

And yet, that story with the Councilwoman was much more engaging than what Dutch and Fet were up to. It's great that the rest of the characters are aware of the scope of their flirtation and relationship. But such a dynamic doesn't make them more interesting characters. Who actually cares about the woman who Dutch was with when she first met the rest of the team? No one. The show had established that they were more than just friends. This is the episode that is suppose to fill out more of her character's backstory. Instead it was just bogged down by emotions that have no place being on a show like this. Dutch arguing with her girlfriend's mother about their lifestyle was a waste of screentime. Not even Dutch and Fet's subsequent hookup is enough to make the character motivation interesting. Their flirtation just isn't fun anymore which really took me out of the overall story.

But at least the show is trying something with Dutch. It doesn't work all that well. But under the right circumstances, one could understand the reasoning behind it. There's just no excuse for whatever the show is doing with Zach right now. He continues to just be a dumb and annoying kid who doesn't think the world is as dangerous as it is. That's not interesting at all. It only serves to aggravate Eph - and especially the audience. It's suppose to give weight to Eph's big speech to the trapped vampire about him killing Zach and himself before allowing either of them to be turned by the Master. But that's not a good enough justification for the horribleness that is Zach. It's not Max Charles fault either. He's really just being asked to do one expression for the entire time he is on screen. There's nothing he can do with that but the show keeps wanting to hit that beat over and over again. When can Kelly and her army of feelers come and give some urgency to this corner of the show?

Some more thoughts:
  • "Fort Defiance" was written by Regina Corrado and directed by Guy Ferland.
  • Was Fitzwilliam ever an important enough character in the first season to justify his reintroduction here? It's a story that goes absolutely nowhere - except in saying that this is guy who isn't done on this show just because he has stopped working for Eldritch.
  • Just how famous was Gabriel before all of this vampire madness started? The cops in the teaser don't recognize him right away. But when they do, they also know that the building the alley is next to is his. Coco seems to know him by name without any introduction but doesn't think it's strange that a music performer is serving as a business consultant/new bodyguard.
  • Again, the character concept behind the Councilwoman is strong. And yet, I just laugh whenever someone mentions that her actual name is Justine Faraldo. That's just a too on-the-nose name to be taken seriously.
  • One of Eph and Nora's test subjects has died from their injections while the other one is ready to be taken into the field to transfer it to the rest of the vampires. This hopefully means more action will be coming to this storyline soon.