Sunday, September 13, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Strain' - Eph Targets Eichhorst, Setrakian Locates the Lumen & Eichhorst Gets a New Victim in 'The Assassin'

FX's The Strain - Episode 2.10 "The Assassin"

Eph and Dutch work together to thwart the Master's greatest ally. Justine runs into trouble with the Mayor while Setrakian tracks down the real owner of the Lumen.

Last week's episode of The Strain wasn't as successful as it wanted to be. But it also had a meaningful turning point for the narrative. Justine has proclaimed that the moment where the citizens of Red Hook joined together to fight the vampires as a moment the tides turned in this war. It was a good moment too. The depiction of New York City has always been wonky on this show. And yet, that moment worked so well. But it was just one neighborhood of the city. It would be so easy to return to the way things used to be. Unsurprisingly, that's exactly what happens in "The Assassin." The urgency is largely gone and the characters continue to act as plot constructs instead of humans. It's just so frustrating given the show is still capable of producing great and horrifying moments.

The most puzzling thing in this episode is the fact that Justine went from the victory in Red Hook to complying to orders to making even more harsh proclamations. After the rousing success in battle, why in the world does she decide to listen to what the Mayor wants done in the city? Actually, why is she even trying to expand the safe zones given how easily they were just breached? She had the smart idea to just expand further inland from Red Hook. She knows they need a strong base of operations. She can't be dividing her resources between two safe zones that are far away from each other. Plus, the neighborhoods are so drastically different. The people of the Upper East Side aren't going to be on the street fighting the vampires to protect their homes and their livelihoods. So why is Justine trying to make this happen? It's a disservice to the character. She has been written inconsistently over the course of the season. But here, everything she does is for plot necessity. Eldritch needs a reason to go out to a public event in order to be targeted by Eph and Dutch. That's something this hour needs to make happen. It just comes at the expense of so many characters.

It's also very weird that the team splits up to fulfill their two different ongoing stories - only to have both of them reach anti-climatic resolutions. There was no way Eph and Dutch were going to be successful in killing Eldritch. Their attempt to do so needed to create meaningful consequences for them. In fact, they could have learned a lot of information if they just kept their listening station of Eldritch's office operational. Instead they had to rush into action because they are so blinded by killing the man who has caused both of them so much pain. It's understandable why both of them feel that way. This apocalypse has changed both of them in different ways. And yet, when the two are together talking, all they seem to focus on is the lame love triangle between Dutch, Nikki and Fet. Not once does anyone question whether or not this is a good plan or something they are capable of living with afterwards. Yes, Eldritch is no longer human. But that doesn't mean there won't be any consequences - especially when the assassination attempt is at a public event.

Eph and Dutch just seem really dumb after Eph fires the rifle. The last episode proved that he's still not the best shot when it comes to this new weapon. Why did anyone have confidence that he would be able to hit Eldritch from such a distance? The outcome was very predictable and expected. Eph hits Coco with the bullet instead of Eldritch while he and Dutch land in a prison cell - a place Eldritch can get easy access to. This story does do interesting character work with Eldritch. He remains a vastly more captivating character than either Eph or Dutch. The only thing of true interest that emerges from Eph is that he is conveniently able to get out of this situation because vampires attack and Fet and Nora get there just in the nick of time. That happens a lot on this show. It puts the characters against the wall with action and then finds the lamest way to get them out of it. And then, the police officer is more than happy to let Eph go afterwards - and tell them where Dutch was taken! It's very frustrating. But it did have a payoff with the episode closing on Dutch being chained to the floor in Eichhorst's special room. That's so much more compelling to watch than her struggles with love. Who knows if she'll survive? If she does, that action will bring her better definition as a character. If not, she won't be someone who's mourning is earned but it does establish stakes for the remainder of the season.

Additionally, Coco is finally faced with a compelling character moment. So much of her appearance has been about Eldritch. She isn't a character. She is solely defined by her relationship with Eldritch. That has created a passion for Eldritch over the season that is different than his evil plan to be the Master's partner and take over the world. He's hopelessly in love with this woman. That's why it was so predictable that she would be put in harm's way because of her proximity to Eldritch and not knowing who he truly is. She has fallen for him. But she's fallen for the philanthropist trying to help the city in its time of need not the man who brought the destruction to the city in the first place. She's horrified when she awakes from her surgery and the Master has healed her and turned her into the same creature as Eldritch. It's a beautiful moment for Eldritch. He is getting his greatest love back. But to her, it's a situation that is confusing to her. She didn't choose to be given immortality from the Master. Eldritch did that for her. So now, she is faced with what to do next given everything that Eldritch really is and has done. That may not be so pretty.

The stuff with Eldritch and Coco finally came to a head because it still has story that can be told. The same cannot be said for Setrakian's pursuit of the Lumen which has been dragged out so much this season. He started on this quest very early in the year - if my memory serves right it was the premiere episode where he learned it was still out there. He still doesn't have it. So much about it has been said. But it's become clear that it won't bring any meaningful change to the narrative until the season finale. After all the build up, it better be worth it too. The need to keep it as a sustained story throughout the year has been a dreadful choice. It seems like the only thing Setrakian has done all year. It also makes him look less impressive and smart as a result because he still hasn't found it. He does track down the owner. But once again, it's a story filled with distractions. Apparently, four people in the city have that name and he has to visit all of them in order to find the book. If that's not a stalling tactic, then I don't know what is. When he finally finds the right one and discovers the book, he's only able to read a few pages before he is knocked unconscious by someone else. That could create a perilous situation for him next week. But it comes at the expense of the storytelling in this episode. Setrakian is so blinded by the search for this book that it's keeping him from being a multi-dimensional character. That's one of the most disappointing things about this season. Setrakian was always an interesting character and performance in Season 1. This year his story keeps going around in circles.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Assassin" was written by Liz Phang and directed by Phil Abraham.
  • Everyone basically knew about Eph's plan to kill Eldritch except Nora. The two of them are suppose to be a relationship the audience cares about. And yet, it's baffling just how uninteresting the two of them are - both separately and together.
  • Apparently, Dutch still has connections with people who can actually bring some tech resources together. She put together that listening device very quickly. So why did it take her so long to think about using those skills and resources?
  • Eldritch and Eph do have an interesting conversation where Eph tries to plant a seed of doubt in Eldritch's mind about his evil mission. And yet, Eldritch returns home where the Master promptly heals Coco thus restoring his faith in the cause.
  • When Coco wakes up, she is seemingly in denial that the creature standing in front of her is actually the creatures terrorizing the city. She still thinks it's just Gabriel. Sure, he's more terrifying before but she doesn't immediately think anything is wrong until the rest of the scene plays out.
  • The Mayor really has taken a turn for the despicable. He's a part of the problem with this show and the people in power wanting to be so resistant to the apocalypse happening around them. They believe they can still issue court orders and hire lawyers to deal with their problems.