The Strain

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The Strain Review: Love Infection

by at .  Updated at . Comments

Having read Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's books, I was a fan before The Strain was announced as a TV show.

As casting came together and I learned that Del Toro/Hogan wrote the pilot and would be involved, I knew FX had a hit on its hands.

That said, The Strain Season 1 Episode 1 far exceeded even my expectations. This is a cinematic experience, with vibrant hyper-real colors, a brilliant score and an outstanding cast.

Since I'm obviously a fan, you will notice I won't generally "critique" the episodes. I'd much rather theorize, ask questions and engage with other fans. It's my hope you guys hit the comments so we can share a weekly discussion about The Strain here at TV Fanatic.

Let's jump right in, shall we?

A Plane Disaster

As Regis Air flight 753 approaches JFK, not only do we meet a few of the survivors, but we get a peek at our big bad. This monster gives new meaning to the term "big bad," doesn't he? He's absolutely enormous, those poor passengers never stood a chance.

So... who are our survivors? We have Gabriel Bolivar, a world famous rock star. The fact that he has thousands of adoring fans makes him an ideal candidate for spreading the infection.

There's Joan Luss, an attorney, who may come in handy later on. Ansel Barbour is a father and husband in denial about his condition. Finally, the pilot, Capt. Redfern who is the first person to reanimate and scare the hell out of Nora.

The little girl is Emma Arnot (Isabelle Nélisse also plays a creepy little girl in Mama), and she's not a survivor like the others but she is up and walking around. That's got to count for something no?

(Quick mention about the theme music and score. Yep, that is Ramin Djawadi, who not only worked on del Toro's Pacific Rim and the upcoming Dracula Untold but is responsible for the memorable music on Game of Thrones. The music here sets the perfect tone.)

Once the tower figures out this plane is completely dead on the runway, every agency and their mother is called in. The most important being the CDC, led by epidemiologist Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll from House of Cards).

While The Walking Dead bored many fans to death last season attempting to flesh out its characters, The Strain does that from the get–go. By introducing Eph's family and his marital issues, we quickly understand he's a work comes first kind of guy. Though it's also clear he loves his son Zack (Ben Hyland also played Stoll's son on the first season of House of Cards).

Personally, I think Stoll is super likeable in this role and definitely a strong lead to carry the series.

I think it's safe to say Eph has flunked his marriage and though Kelly (the lovely Natalie Brown from Being Human and Bitten) still seems to love him, she's ready to move on. Will they get joint custody of Zack?

At JFK Airport we meet Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro of Alias and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 & 2) and we learn their relationship started way after Eph and Kelly's separation. This was not an affair folks, our hero is one of the good guys. He's just married to his work, so I guess it helps Nora's into germs too. Ha!

Homeland Security wants to board the plane assuming this is a terrorist threat, but Eph explains a virus exists only to find a carrier and reproduce. If there is a contagion aboard, this can lead to an all out plague. Needless to say, they back off and let the CDC do their thing.

Inside the aircraft all the passengers are dead, 206 souls (there were 4 survivors, remember). The creepy little girl appears to be looking up. Do you think she saw the creature before she died?

The UV lights reveal biological patterns and the colors on this show are absolutely amazing by the way. Nora explains the patterns are probably linked to the ammonia in the cabin. What's the deal with the ammonia you think? Eph spots the cargo hatch is open, while Nora gets up close and personal with Capt. Redfern. The survivors I mentioned above start coming to and are soon quarantined.

Meanwhile, we're also introduced to Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley, Filch in the Harry Potter films and Walder Frey of the infamous Red Wedding in Game of Thrones). Bradley's manic energy here is very different from his previous roles. Didn't think of him as Filch or Frey once.

When a couple of thugs try to rob his Pawn Shop, the old man proves he's a total badass. Setrakian learns of the flight from Berlin on TV, and he instantly knows what's going on. It's a shame Eph didn't pay more attention to him right? I guess he did come across a bit loony. And what about that heart...

He's back. I don't know if I have the strength to do it all over again.

Setrakian

When Setrakian feeds the thing a few drops of blood and says "enjoy dear," we know there's a story there. Who do you think the heart belongs to?

Next up, we meet Thomas Eichhorst (Richard Sammel). By the end of the episode we understand this person (or is he something else?) knows Setrakian. The Stoneheart Group is behind all of this. They arranged to have the 9 foot cabinet shipped from Berlin to New York.

The old man, Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde), is not long for this world. Apparently, the old man has struck a deal (and crossed a line as he said) in an effort to live forever. Do you think he knows exactly what's he's involved in? If so, pretty damn selfish of him eh? Eichhorst informs Palmer that the cargo arrived safely.

Speaking of the cabinet (or coffin) with the detailed hand carved skeletons, it's fairly obvious with a latch on the inside that something big is on the loose. The airport manager hears a humming and approaches in typical horror movie fashion by himself. Did the creature call out to him?

I loved the way The Master moves, he's fast and that stinger shot out in an instant. It was cool to see the little worms drinking the man's blood once the stinger attached itself. If there was any doubt we're dealing with vampires, this scene pretty much clears that up.

The effect of sucking the man dry like a juice box was killer. However, I wonder why The Master crushed his skull Game of Thones-style? Did the man not fit into the bigger picture? Isn't the plan to spread The Strain far and wide?

Gus Elizalde (Miguel Gomez) wasn't a character I was crazy about in the books, but I enjoy the way Gomez portrays him on the show. He had worked for Eichhorst in the past and was trying to go legit. However, this deal was too good to pass up. By delivering this cargo, his brother's criminal record would be wiped and his mother's immigration status fixed. Besides he was clueless about what he was transporting.

Eph's friend Jim Kent (Sean Astin) on the other hand, should have known better. Was he aware the coffin was in that van? Or did he simply see the Stoneheart Group's logo and allow the van to pass? Is Samwise Gamgee a villain and in league with The Master? Or is there more to his story?

Speaking of Eph, dealing with the passengers family during that press conference circus was a total nightmare. At least he was honest, explaining the passengers are dead and only 4 survived but they don't know why. The dead little girl's father slapping him was uncalled for. He was doing his best.

Tell me the chief medical examiner didn't smell like a goner when Eph asks him to work alone to avoid leaks to the press. The small incision found on the victims necks is apparently the cause of death but how exactly did The Master manage that? The corpses white blood and seeing the worms slithering beneath the skin under the UV light was a great effect. The bodies are going through a metamorphosis, shedding organs they don't need and making room for the giant stinger. How freaky was it watching those corpses reanimate behind the medical examiner. Poor guy.

It's going to be great watching the survivors change over the course of the next few episodes right? I like that we get to see their stories as well.

Inside the plane's cargo compartment Eph and Nora discover the worms. At least they know this thing isn't airborne. Jim lies and tells Eph there's no sign of the coffin. When Jim asks about the worms, Eph calls them "something new." Do you think Jim realized at this point what a terrible thing he's done?

At the Stoneheart building, Eichhorst tells Palmer everything's going according to plan...

Love is going to guide them all back. To their homes. To their loved ones.

Eichhorst

How frakkin' creepy is that? These creatures appear to be zombies, however they are not mindless monsters. They have some form of consciousness and will be seeking out their loved ones to spread the disease. Insane right? Del Toro is one twisted dude and I, for one, love him for it.

When Emma, the dead little girl, returns home we see her eyes blink like Eichhorst's did. Will the creatures evolve until they resemble a human being again? Or is Eichhorst a special case as he is the Master's chief lieutenant?

Well that's it for me, now it's your chance to hit the comments and share your thoughts on "Night Zero." Let's start up a discussion, answer some of my questions but if you've read the books don't share spoilers. I ask that you please stick to this episode, thanks ;-)

What did you think of The Strain premiere? Are you in for the season?

 

Review

Editor Rating: 4.8 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.1 / 5.0 (44 Votes)

Henry A. Otero is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.

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Warmhoney333

Chris Larrondo is a wimp, lol! Bring on the gore! First episode was good. Hope it keeps getting better.

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Hanko9
@ WARMHONEY333

Why because the heart freaked him out? Haha... It not only gets better and crazier but way more gory. You're going to love it Laurie!

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Payton mcmullen jr

Oh my goodness. The Strain was of the charts great. I love it. Now I want to go out and read the books.

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Hanko9
@ Payton McMullen Jr

Excellent right? From what I hear Season 1 is based on the first book. That one was a quick read and real page turner. Honestly, I struggled with Book 2 and once I heard the show was coming I decided to stop. I want to experience the show without knowing the ending. Anyway, I definitely recommend the first book. You will love it.

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@ Henry A. Otero

According to that call, each season will cover a book in the series. Never did get a transcript. Off to email!

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Hanko9
@ Carissa Pavlica

But that means the show would only last 3 seasons. Ratings for the pilot were great, if it becomes popular like AHS they will want at least 5 seasons.

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Modwild
@ Henry A. Otero

Five max, if I remember correctly. I emailed for a transcript but still didn't get a response. Argh.

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Hanko9
@ Carissa Pavlica

Ok that's a little better. Guess books 2 & 3 can be stretched out over 2 seasons each.

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Competently done. Enough mystery to evoke interest in a second episode. I don't think the dialogue was as poor as some suggested. It is pulp, but pretty well done at that. I assume the eclipse factors into the plot (as evidenced by the eclipse poster in the airport and the show's credits.) Hate those damn worms.

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Hanko9
@ Steve Bridges

I absolutely agree with you Steve. The dialogue works just fine for the type of show The Strain is. Folks love to criticize but don't understand how difficult it is to balance all these elements to make a show work. Yep the eclipse is part of this season's plot. Thanks so much for your feedback!

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Amy jackey

I liked it.

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Some stuff drove me crazy like how they were messing with the box and cargo without suits on. If they weren't sure what was the cause, I think they would be more careful.
I also wondered why he crushed his head too. Maybe just to freak me out. LOL! It was good but I am still not 100% sold on it. I need a few more to be sure. Your review was awesome as always For some reason it would not let me sign in with my g+ even though I was signed in.

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Hanko9
@ Wendy Michele

This is a new comment system for TV Fanatic. You might have to sign in to Disqus and update your social networks. Wendy I know your taste in TV and you will be sold on The Strain soon. Episode 3 is actually my favorite of the 4 FX sent to the press. Thanks as always for your kind words and for commenting! You rock!

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Modwild
@ Wendy Michele

Have you signed directly into Disqus lately? I ask because someone used my Google email to create their own account and I was unable to sign in with G+ until I deleted the mess they made.

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My husband and I both read the books, and thought the show was great last night. Some diversions, but that's ok. We both had some confusion about Everett's fate though. We don't remember that happening, but of course it's been a good long while since we've read the first volume. Thanks!

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Hanko9
@ stloria

Wait Everett's fate? Nothing has happened to the character yet. He's alive and well in Episode 2.

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@ Henry A. Otero

Oh my gosh. You're right. I just looked up a bunch of reviews, and that was just a random airport employee. Thank you... I was wondering where the story strayed. I'll have a discussion when I get home. ;) Sorry for the confusion and thank you for clearing it up!

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Hanko9
@ stloria

No no worries at all. The man killed by the Master was Bishop. The JFK air traffic control manager.

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@ Henry A. Otero

Ok. Thanks :D

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I can't stop itching lol!

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Chris larrondo
@ nyckec

The damn heart made me feel a little squeamish when the blood was introduced and it went crazy.

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Hanko9
@ Chris Larrondo

Really? The heart was pretty cool, didn't make me squeamish. I think the blood worms freak me out more for some reason.

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Loved it!! It looked so good in the previews that I already knew I'd enjoy it. I've never read the book but this episode really made me wish I had. I also thought the score was awesome. Very ominous.
I honestly wasn't expecting to be as scared as I was at times. That part with the airport manager had me thinking, oh no! and I just wanted to hide (but I'm a big scardy cat). All in all I really liked it and can't wait for more. This show keeps you so interested and wanting to know what's coming next.

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Hanko9
@ Christina

The book definitely gives you more character background but from what I hear, that's coming to the TV series. There's quite a few more scares coming up. I guarantee it!

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Chris larrondo

Nice review. I wish they moved the show up to the 9pm time slot I would certainly move True Blood to dvr viewing if this was on at 9, Anyway I really liked Eph and his genuine love he shows for his kid. Clearly his marriage is over but he is holding on to that one last shred of hope. I certainly do not think that Jim is a bad guy it just seems like he was put in an impossible position with now chance to do the right thing. He will redeem himself soon enough. Gus was a character that played the role perfectly because he had me nervous when they were conversing. He just doesn't know how bad Eichorst really is. That coffin made it out of the airport a little to easily. I also think that The Master used the worms to spread the infection so I am not really sure that the people on the plane actually saw what was coming. I wonder if we will find out why the one window shade on the plane was open. A bald Stoll is what we should have instead of the fake hairpiece.

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Hanko9
@ Chris Larrondo

Earlier would rock, though I am not watching True Blood live this season. The Strain gets even more graphic coming up, so I totally understand the 10pm slot. FX must realize that's late for Sunday since folks work the next day. They're probably expecting a nice +3 DVR boost. I agree about Eph, and don't mind the hair so much. Stoll is a great lead. Yeah Jim definitely screwed up and we find out exactly why. Gus was freaking me out too. He's trying to be all tough guy with Eichhorst. That guy could snap him like a twig. Gomez does a good job. True they lost track of the coffin rather easily. I guess we have to suspend disbelief here and there and just buy into it. They sure did make a fuss over that one open window. Don't remember what's going on with that. Hope they clear it up.

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Chris larrondo
@ Henry A. Otero

Exactly as long as I like a show I can certainly suspend disbelief even with works of science fiction a little attention to detail goes a long way. Wasn't a deal breaker at all as you know I really enjoyed it and look forward to where this takes us.

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The show was great (except for Stoll's ludicrous wig) until the final vampire pile-on. That made me laugh out loud. Actually I'm kind of glad it did. Ending on a note of humor kept the nightmares away.

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Hanko9
@ allie701

You know I thought the hair would be more of an issue but it actually makes him look younger. Besides for viewers not familiar with Corey Stoll, they probably can't tell the difference anyway.

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The Strain Season 1 Episode 1 Quotes

He's back. I don't know if I have the strength to do it all over again.

Setrakian

Love is going to guide them all back. To their homes. To their loved ones.

Eichhorst