Sunday, September 20, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Strain' - Dutch Fights to Stay Alive But Eichhorst Has Other Plans for Her in 'Dead End'

FX's The Strain - Episode 2.11 "Dead End"

Dutch fights for her life against Eichhorst as Fet, Nora and Eph frantically search the city for her. Setrakian confronts an old acquaintance on his search for the Occido Lumen. Gus helps the Guptas escape across the border to safety.

Last week's episode of The Strain ended on the really chilling image of Dutch being chained in Eichhorst's soundproof room of horror. It was a direct consequence of the actions of the heroes. They attempted to do something good through questionable motives and ended up paying the cost. Eph lost Dutch because of his pursuit of Eldritch Palmer. And now, she has to deal with the ramifications of those actions at the whim of Eichhorst - who loves playing and teasing his food before the big meal. Despite all that interesting storytelling work, The Strain really isn't a series well-equipped to handle a big story about the emotional and physical toil of female victimization. The show doesn't seem to know that about itself though. So Dutch's torture throughout this episode is sensationalized horror utilized for the most dramatic effect. It doesn't really do anything for her character. She goes through this whole experience. And yet, the only emotional beats the show hits are fear, a will to survive, and emotional devastation. It's the bare minimum the show could do with the experience which isn't great given the moments the actual story tries to do.

This is a horrifying experience for Dutch to be in. She's not worrying about who to love or who to fight alongside. This is her personal battle where she needs to find the strength to get out of this circumstance alive. It should be a huge character defining moment for a character who has very little nuance to her. She has to claw her way back to the outside world and away from this vampire who loves playfully teasing and dominating her. But the way that Eichhorst tortures her is so broad and generic. It's very derivative of every kind of kidnapped and tortured female-male power play. He tortures her physically. He sucks the blood out of a man right in front of her so she knows exactly what's coming for her in the end. He exerts his power in forcing her to eat the pineapple he has prepared for her. This is Eichhorst's game. He knows he is far more powerful than her. He is taking his time to enjoy the pending feast. He knows how humans react in this type of situation. Dutch isn't the first person he has chained up in this room. And yet, the show doesn't do a good enough job differentiating itself in these scenes. Eichhorst isn't the typical male predator toiling with his victim's emotions before killing her. He is a vampire hellbent on controlling the world. This kind of torture is allowing his human side out a little bit. But that then creates an even more problematic moment that the show cannot handle well.

Dutch is resourceful. She is willing to fight back and embrace the pain if it means she can get the pepper spray from the cops' uniform. Eichhorst tries to use that moment to exert his power once more. And yet, that is presented in an overly sexually way that is way too pedestrian and creepy in a way that isn't thought provoking. He forces her to pull down her pants so that he can hurt her from a sexual perspective. But that is so disingenuous to the character. The vampires aren't sexual beings. The only reason he would be doing this is to hurt Dutch in her most vulnerable state. But the way the action is depicted creates such an icky feeling. The show is doing this to create memorable imagery. But it's memorable for all the wrong reasons. Sexual assault is something shows should only depict if they have the means to analyze the repercussions of those actions. This year has featured many shows using rape as a plot point for its characters. Some do it well while the majority do not. The Strain can't use it as a storytelling device because it comes across as nothing more than a plot point. Something to make this experience more hallowing than it was previously. And yet, that was already apparent. It was completely unnecessary and unnecessary sexual assaults are the worst kind to be featured on TV shows.

That moment happens because Dutch's torture needed to be a prominent feature of the episode. It needed to be given ample screen time because the urgency was real and apparent for so many of the characters. The action still cuts to a number of other stories being told in this universe. But they are largely things happening as setup for the finale. Gus and Angel saying goodbye to the Guptas so that they can fight alongside Quinlan isn't exciting or interesting because none of those characters are anything more than broad caricatures. Setrakian has the Luman within his grasp but can't escape his locks until after the owner flees the scene. All of these moments happen because other characters exist on this show. They need to happen in order to make the final conflict of the year hit as hard as it wants to. They are still just stalling techniques so the show doesn't have to spend too much time on Dutch and Eichhorst. The only way the main story could have been worse was if it took up the entirely of the episode. The show was right to break up the action - even though that also meant critically destroying a lot of the momentum just in order to advance the plot and characters forward.

In the end, Fet, Eph and Nora are able to rescue Dutch before Eichhorst is able to feed on her. They had to fight just as hard to rescue her as she did to escape. However, that entire sequence felt very predictable - both in the way that it was shot and the way the show got out of it. The tension was high because it was apparent that Dutch was running down a staircase to nowhere. If she wasn't, Eichhorst would have been moving a whole lot faster. The moment where she realizes all hope is lost is a good moment for her. But she still refuses to go quietly once Eichhorst returns to drag her back up the stairs. And yet, it's up to Fet to save the damsel in distress. He conveniently still has dynamite with which to blow up the wall and race up the stairs to send Eichhorst running away. Dutch leaps into his arms. But it's not an emotionally rewarding or rousing success. Their romance has no real emotional depth to it while Eichhorst is once again able to flee the situation virtually unharmed. That has been such a tiring practice by the show throughout its many battles. There needs to be conflict between the good guys and the bad guys. And yet, they all end the same way and with practically no consequences for anyone involved.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Dead End" was written by Carlton Cuse & Regina Corrado and directed by Phil Abraham.
  • On top of everything else, this episode also featured more flashbacks to Nazi Germany - this time told from Eichhorst's perspective. They show how he went from a man with no direction or charm to a violent man with purpose under the Nazi reign. They show how good Richard Sammel is but not much more than that. Like did the audience really need to know that Eichhorst once loved a woman in order to better understand him? No, that has no bearing on the character he is in the present.
  • Since when did the national guard show up in New York City? I thought Justine and her safe zones and the incompetent police were the only legal entities controlling the city. If the National Guard is there, how in the world are so many people still acting like it's business as usual?
  • Not holding out much hope of the Guptas being alive when Gus and Angel find them again. They exist solely to give those two men someone to care about so it can elicit an emotional response once they are killed. It's just a very bad story.
  • Alonso is a certainly a character who has been seen previously. But he's not important enough to think that the final sequence with the Lumen entering his possession is anything worth getting excited about.