Sunday, October 30, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Strain' - The Master Reveals Himself for a Final Confrontation with the Team in 'The Fall'

FX's The Strain - Episode 3.10 "The Fall"

Humanity teeters on the edge of destruction. The Master finally reveals himself, initiating the end game of a battle in which there can be only one winner. Eph, Fet, Setrakian and Dutch must overcome their personal differences in a last-ditch effort to vanquish the strain.

Oh, Zach! Did you really just end the world? Seriously, that's the moment that "The Fall" essentially revolves around in the end. Zach is upset with his dad enough to detonate a nuclear bomb that essentially destroys New York City and signals the final stage of the Master's plan. That moment comes completely out of nowhere with no real understanding of why it happens at all. The creative team felt they needed to end the season with things looking more hopeless and apocalyptic than ever before. But the actions that led to all of that are just so hollow. Action and suspense have always been the elements The Strain is the best at. This season had plenty of that. This was easily the best year of the show so far. It was concise with what it wanted to be and had no room for trivial subplots that would last too long. Of course, there are still some very questionable moments where the characters act stupidly in order to service the plot. It's just surprising that the finale revolves around one of those moments just to set the stage for a devastating final season next year. It's weird and doesn't really work. But more importantly, it lessons the victories the team had earlier in the finale.

The emotional balance on The Strain has always been off. It has never really been able to properly analyze what the audience will think of any given moment. Romance has been a key part of this story and the characters' lives. And yet, every single romantic entanglement has felt forced and awkward. Nothing in that regard happened naturally. And yet, "The Fall" wastes precious time focusing on the love triangle between Eph, Dutch and Fet. That really wasn't an important story throughout the season. But here, it is because there needs to be tension amongst the group as they prepare for this battle with the Master. Dutch and Fet apologize to each other for how poorly they handled their breakup. They wish they could have dealt with things differently. And yet, they never worked as a couple last season. It was a great creative decision to break them apart this season. Dutch had a strong purpose and then was thrusted into a weird romance with Eph. And now, Fet hates Eph because he betrayed the team in the past. However, there's no real reason to question his loyalty now. Fet was more than fine taking equipment from Eph when it was time to blow up the nest below Central Park. It puts the emphasis on the love triangle as the source of conflict. But that just doesn't have enough importance - nor should it - for it to have this kind of an impact on the season finale.

The same can also be said of the drama within the Goodweather family. Kelly was sidelined as a character this season. She and Zach largely just stayed in that one room in very brief scenes talking about the wait until the Master revealed himself. And now that the Master has done that, it seems Zach has taken a turn to the dark side. All because his mom validated his decision to let his pet feeler kill a man who wanted to take him out of the city. But again, this family drama hasn't been all that important this season. The search for Zach has been a core motivator for Eph. He put himself in harm's way whenever someone got a lead on Zach's location. It was just a few episodes ago that Zach left a note telling his dad that he was still alive. So, it makes very little sense that Zach suddenly hates his father enough to blow up the entire city. He knows exactly what will happen once he hits the button. The show makes sure the audience knows that about him. He does it because Eph kills Kelly when she attacks. But again, too much of it feels motivated by plot and not character. Eph is injured in the big battle with the Master. So, he stays behind not knowing that his family is also in the Stoneheart building. Kelly attacks when she sees Eph and he kills her before she can turn him. She's more dangerous and reckless without the Master's voice in her head. But the show didn't do enough to show the audience why Kelly's death would mean so much to Zach. He has always been a frustrating character. And now, he has finally moved into being one of the worst on all of television. This was such a bad and confounding decision. The purpose was completely for him and Eichhorst to walk away while destruction rains down on the city.

The nuclear blast frees the Master after the team finally captured him in the silver and lead-laced box. His capture was a moment the show has been building to for a long time. It's a major victory for the team. The city only continues to plummet further and further into chaos. The police and Justine are gone. The strigoi have taken over the city. The rest of the world is falling as well. They needed to capture the Master now. It was a last ditch effort to save the world from complete destruction. This needed to happen now. Thanks to Palmer, the team knows exactly where the Master is going to be. It's just frustrating that the team decides to take their time getting to Stoneheart. Palmer knows the severity of the situation. He knows he needs to get his message to Setrakian before the Master shows up to retrieve the bomb. And yet, the Master arrives quickly thereafter while Setrakian and his team wait until the next morning. Yes, daylight is a powerful force to have on their side. There's just no other reason for them to wait. It's odd timing wise. It doesn't totally add up. It just leads to a moment where Setrakian and Eph are talking to Palmer not knowing that he is the new host for the Master. The show built up a mystery in that regard. After the beheading of the Bolivar body, the Master has existed in secrecy. He appeared as a voice but never in a physical body. Here, the audience gets to see the full transition to Palmer in every gory detail. It's a way to keep Jonathan Hyde on the show even though Palmer's character arc has largely run its course. It should be interesting to see what he brings to the role as the Master. But that's a tease for the future because he escapes in the end.

It is a victory that Eph and Dutch's device cripples the Master enough for the rest of the team to trap him in the box. It's a moment worth celebrating but they can't until the Master is at the bottom of the ocean. So again, urgency pays a factor into the severity of the plot. This is something Setrakian and Quinlan must do quickly. This needs to be the end of this war. The strigoi will remain but without the Master's voice they will be easier to defeat. The tides can turn back for humanity. They can still emerge victorious in this war. And then, all hope just disappears with the explosion of the nuclear bomb. It's a visual that shows that this really will be a destructive apocalypse for the world. There is no coming back now. The Master escapes and the entire team has to retreat underground. They had a victory but it was short lived. That's a pattern for this show. They need to make progress to seem capable as hunters of the Master. But that progress has to be brief otherwise it risks ruining the whole point of the show. So, this is a destructive and momentous finale. The beats that get to that final image aren't always worth it though. This is the beginning of the final chapter of the series. One where any of the main characters can die. The show has been brutal in that regard quite a bit over the last few episodes. Things will only get bleaker for the main characters. Humanity will never be the same. It's entirely because of a moody kid named Zach.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Fall" was written by Carlton Cuse & Chuck Hogan and directed by Carlton Cuse.
  • Kelly's death really wasn't that surprising considering Natalie Brown is a regular character on Syfy's new drama Channel Zero. Of course, that could have been misleading since that show is a season-long anthology. But Kelly's death did occur with a sword through the throat.
  • Setrakian, Fet and Dutch saw the nuclear blast coming towards them. They knew they needed to seek shelter immediately or get caught up in the blast. And yet, none of them thought to protect the box containing the Master either. They left that to Quinlan who was incapable of defending it.
  • The Lumen really wasn't as game-changing in this war as all of the hype of the second season made it out to be. It told Setrakian how to capture the Master in this box but that was about it. What an amazing let down.
  • Gus is the only main character still alive who wasn't seen at all in the finale. He was leaving town with Angel last week. Angel and Justine were killed in an explosion but Gus survived. So, did he continue with his plans to leave the city? Or did he come back for some reason. The mystery likely means he'll pop up in some unexpected place next season.
  • Setrakian wanted Eph in the room with him when he confronted the Master. Fet suggests it's because Setrakian wanted the weakest link with him. But the audience knows it's because Eph has a greater emotional importance to the overall story even though it's not really earned. How else is the Master going to taunt the people in the penthouse before he reveals himself? He doesn't have anything on Fet or Dutch.
  • The show is returning next year for a fourth and final season. It's a good thing the creative team recognizes this show only has a finite amount of story. It can't go on and on. This seems like a good enough place to end things for the year. Again, the plot dictated everything which was frustrating. But the fallout should be interesting to watch.