Sunday, September 6, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Strain' - Eichhorst Plots an Assault on Red Hook as Justine Has to Rally the Community in 'The Battle for Red Hook'

FX's The Strain - Episode 2.09 "The Battle for Red Hook"

Justine takes drastic measures to counter a surprise invasion. Nora and Fet perform a useful mission. Eph and Setrakian face off against an old foe.

The Strain has always wanted to maintain some level of humanity and domesticity in its narrative. So many people chose to look the other way and pretend that this apocalypse isn't happening or that the police will handle the situation for them. This has always been a frustrating quality of the show. The procedure of regular life has frequently gotten in the way of handling the attacks by the vampires. The Master has been able to build his army as big as he has because of the people's willingness not to act. That is the whole point of the story. Sometimes that hasn't been dramatized in the best way. This season has given the community at large a better structure to revolve around. Congresswoman Justine has created these safe zones in order to combat this plague. That's a very meaningful story to the season. But it hasn't stopped regular people from getting in the way of the heroes making any kind of meaningful progress.

"The Battle for Red Hook" tries to change that by threatening to destroy the happiness and safety that comes from living in Red Hook. Kelly and the feelers infiltrated the safe zone in the last episode. The vampires are smart and know how to exploit the human condition to their advantage. Eichhorst is able to organize a full-on assault on Red Hook through very little effort on his own part. All he has to do is pay off someone who owns a boat to take a number of the vampires across the water. The thing that made Red Hook the perfect place to start clearing out the vampires is the thing that makes it the most vulnerable. Justine and her squad of policemen know how to better fight against the vampires because of the tactics the heroes have taught them. But they can only do so much when it's just them verses hundreds of vampires.

This show has always handled action set pieces well. It's one of its genuine strengths. When the action is high, it makes it less notable that the character work is still such a huge mess. The character stories like to repeat the same thing over and over again. It's frustrating but that largely goes away in an episode like this where the urgency and tension are high. This is a crucial turning point for the season but not in a typical way. There isn't some big surprising death - like Jim's around this point last season. A death isn't used in order to energize the narrative as it heads into its climatic final beats of the year. This attack on Red Hook unites the citizens of the community. They come together in order to vanquish this foe. Sure, Nora and Fet do a ton of the work by getting the power back on and frying all the creatures. But it is important that the citizens of New York are now ready to fight. This war is escalating more and more each day. There is no more time to waiver. It is time to fight in order to ensure a better future.

That's the core purpose of this hour. Without that, it would literally just be another meaningless face off between the heroes and Eichhorst and Kelly that ultimately doesn't mean anything. The two separate attacks that the heroes fight are largely derivative of what has happened before. Kelly strikes while Nora, Fet and Zach are turning the power back on. Zach no longer sees her as his mom - which is a story point long in the making but trouble in execution. He calls out for Nora when Kelly pops up on the other side of the glass. Fet and Kelly fight before Kelly is sent scurrying away when a bunch of cops show up with a hail of bullets. Eichhorst and Kelly's miraculous ability to escape even the most dire of situations is a device used several times this season. The same thing happens again when Eph, Setrakian and Eichhorst face off. They share some words, Eichhorst taunts Eph throughout some kind of factory, only for a hail of bullets to come and Eichhorst runs away. It's a narrative device used too much on the show so far.

This attack was a victory for the community of Red Hook. They are united in this cause. They understand that they can no longer live the way that they have been and hope the authorities will help. When the time came for it, they managed to make a difference themselves. That is a powerful story. Sure, it's just one neighborhood of New York City that comes to that realization. All the other places of interest the show covers will probably be the same as they've always been. But this also makes it so there's a crowd of people fighting for what's right in the face of adversity. The army of Red Hook may be outnumbered by the Master and his army. Plenty of extras will die long before someone like Eph, Nora, Fet, Dutch or Justine does. But hopefully that creates a narrative situation where action and community is the prime focus of the show instead of a ragtag group of survivors facing an uphill battle and only failing at every possible moment because the bad guys are so much smarter than they are.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Battle for Red Hook" was written by Regina Corrado and directed by Kevin Dowling.
  • The Fet-Dutch-Nikki love triangle continues to be horrible. Dutch was such an important member of the team before her girl crush returned. At least she is recapturing some of that fighting spirit now. It's a good thing too because the moments where she was trying to relive a domestic life with Nikki were absolutely dreadful.
  • Justine is a quick learner when it comes to firing a rifle whereas Eph continues to be a lousy shot. He had so many chances to hit Eichhorst and missed every single time. Some of them could be contributed to Eichhorst's vampire speed. But not all of them.
  • The Mayor is becoming more and more part of the problem that allowed the city to fall like this. He wants to tell Justine what to do. But as soon as the action comes he runs away to enjoy the comfort of power in a society where that's becoming weaker by the day.
  • It's interesting that Kelly didn't bring any of the feelers into Red Hook with her for this attack. How many of them are left, by the way? The audience only saw one in this episode.
  • The vampire worms were hovering near Fet's hand during his big confrontation with Kelly. Did any of them make their way to him? Should the audience worry that he may soon wind up the latest victim of this epidemic?
  • There's still absolutely no progress on Setrakian finding the Lumen or Eph making the bioweapon more effective. They talk about both briefly. But neither contribute anything to this big battle.
  • "The Battle for Red Hook" also debuts a new opening title sequence. It's cool to look at and much better than the previous three second title. But it is just so strange for it to debut during the ninth episode of the second season.