Sunday, August 2, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Strain' - Gus Meets New People at a Restaurant & Fet Runs Into Trouble with the Law in 'The Silver Angel'

FX's The Strain - Episode 2.04 "The Silver Angel"

Eph and Nora finally see their lethal virus in action. Fet takes the security of Red Hook into his own hands. Dutch and Setrakian set off for Staten Island to question Fitzwilliam.

"The Silver Angel" opens in a very stylized way - with an old black-and-white movie featuring a Mexican wrestler battling vampires. It's very deliberately campy. It's easy to see why it would be the kind of movie to have some kind of cult success. And yet, it is still completely ridiculous. The show buys into the ridiculousness though. It makes sure that everything happens for a reason in the most outrageous way possible. It's so completely different from anything that the show has done before. It's unlikely that any more of those films would be screened for the audience. That's because of time constraints. But it was a lot of fun viewing that opening sequence to the episode.

And yet, that great opener has to have a purpose. It establishes a new character named Angel. He was the lead hero in the film. He's the one watching it in the basement of his new job. He now works as a dishwasher at an Indian restaurant in Harlem. It definitely flows in with the show's theme of a changing world. Angel's life now is drastically different than the world of fame he came from. That ties in well with the changes the other characters are dealing with. And yet, it doesn't give a strong indication of why Angel will be an important character for the show at this particular point in its run. He's a sternly protective dishwasher. That's it. All he does is his job. He has no connection to the vampire apocalypse. He is simply a man yearning for the good old days. But that makes it an awkward character introduction. There's no rationalization for why the audience should care about him at all. He only interacts with Gus, a character the show has rarely known how to use well and then maintain it. His only purpose is in eventually being recognized by Gus for who he used to be. That's nothing. How is that going to be important? How is the star of a deliberately campy movie going to be of any use in the ongoing chaos of the city? It makes no sense whatsoever which ultimately takes the appeal out of the opening sequence by the time the episode has concluded.

The characters are changing though. It's just a much slower process than what should be happening. Pacing has never been this show's strongest attribute. But the characters have changed. Eph and Nora are still scientists. But they are also expert vampire hunters who have just created a biological weapon that is effective in killing them. That's a significant victory even though Eph is much too quick to celebrate. Fet started as a man who operated outside of normal society. He enjoyed understanding rats more than trying to understand people. Now he's a part of a team. But he's also more willing to actually blow up a subway station in order to protect the greater good. He has become a hero in his own eyes. He even flaunts that confidence when he baits the cops. It only leads to the show's next big plot contrivance - which is Fet being arrested for blowing up the tunnel. It felt like something the show thought it needed to do. It was a plot beat for the sole sake of giving Fet something to do. It didn't come out of any nature character motivation. He's fully supportive of what the Councilwoman has done on Staten Island. She chose the neighborhood they are in to be the next vampire free zone. He thinks he is helping her with this grand mission. But the execution and delivery of it felt too wonky to make any actual sense at all.

Setrakian hasn't changed all that much. He is still a cranky old man who would rather go about things by himself without any backup. That has almost gotten him killed a handful of times. And yet, he is open to hearing the suggestions of the other people on the team. He thinks it's a good idea to pay Fitzwilliam a visit after Dutch points out that he could be a potential ally. But he also doesn't share with her his true intent of using him to get information regarding the special book. So much importance has been placed on finding the book this season. If it doesn't radically change this war with the Master, it will be such a huge letdown. It's a story already grasping for air. How many trips into the past is the audience going to get where he follows a lead only to come up with nothing? This one did have value because it showed that Eldritch wasn't always bad. He just saw the appeal and hopefulness of what the Master could do for him as something better than what Setrakian could offer. It was a story beat not told all that subtly. Notice how when the flashbacks start, young Eldritch wheels into the room with what looks like a black eye in order for the audience to remember that he used to be a very sick man. That makes Eichhorst's offscreen appeal even more easy to understand even though it's very transparent - and mistrustful of the audience's intelligence.

For all the changes happening to the characters though, the narrative still doesn't have enough urgency to it. Kelly and the feelers are moving at a glacially slow pace. The Master forced the vampires infected with Eph and Nora's virus to kill themselves - which did make for a cool image. Setrakian and Dutch are able to travel to Staten Island like it's no big deal. And lastly, Fet's arrest will only be a new plot contrivance to elongate the story and keep things from moving quickly. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Silver Angel" was written by Chuck Hogan and directed by J. Miles Dale.
  • If the episode wasn't blatant enough with its need to show how much the world and the characters have changed, it also had a really forced flashback to a time where Eph, Kelly and Zach were all happy. It was a really awkward moment that didn't help the audience understand what's going on with Zach. In fact, all it did was give Kelly a location to actually find Zach.
  • How in the world did the feelers find Zach's scent at the batting cages before they found Eph and Nora's secret lab? He spent much more time at the lab - and even more so at the home base they have this year. As threatening as they appear to be, the feelers are making significantly slow process for no good reason whatsoever than to draw out this conflict.
  • Gus never needed to go back to his mother's apartment ever again. That was such a horrible story last season. At least he was able to have a meaningful chat with the Master though. But how much guilt will Gus realistically be able to have over being the one who actually carried the plague into the city?
  • The show obviously thought it would have been too weird if Setrakian mentioned Fitzwilliam's father without having previously shown in the flashbacks that the two actually did meet. It wasn't a long enough exchange for him to get to know the man though.
  • Also, if the flashbacks insist that the special book has been destroyed, why is everyone so desperate to find it in the present? Again, it's just really weird pacing that only wants to add to the overall mystery and nothing more.
  • Not one of the city's financial managers thought it was a bad idea to have that meeting at night? Are people still that blind and ignorant of the apocalypse happening around them?