There can be no discussion of the second episode of FX’s new horror thriller, “The Strain,” that doesn’t start with a giant spoiler.
It’s the final scene of this relatively gore-lite installment, and it takes the series’ shock and ewww factor to an entirely new level. It demonstrates, as if there was any real question, just how intimate the vampires in this show get with their victims.
It’s bad enough that they feed on their own family members, sickeningly referred to as their “dear ones.” But the method is even worse. Creator and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has talked extensively in interviews about how obsessed he’s been since childhood with vampire anatomy and physiology. He and his show runner Carlton Cuse have unleashed their parasitic, unsexy version of the bloodsuckers in “The Strain” to skin-crawling effect, giving them six-foot-long stingers that whip out of their mouths and serve as their food delivery systems.
So, in essence, we all know what’s coming when the dead(ish) little girl who found her way home in Episode 1 decides the time is right to latch onto her father’s neck. Yet it’s still one of the most disturbing scenes of television in recent memory, even for an edgy cable network that’s known for pushing/shredding the envelope.
That it takes place during bath time, with the doting and clearly delusional dad failing to see any signs of trouble in his catatonic kid, just makes it more monstrous.
Don’t say you weren’t warned.
While the rest of Episode 2, dubbed “The Box,” may pale in comparison to that final attack, it still packs a punch in terms of revelations. The four survivors of Regis #753 that landed like a ghost ship at JFK have begun their transformation from living people into undead predators. Their temperatures are rising, their ears are ringing, their eyes have turned blood red.
And, by the way, none of the other characters seem to notice the blood-red eyes. How oblivious can they be? But that’s kind of a trademark of the show, so get used to it.
Maybe everyone just thinks that Goth shock-rocker Gabe, one of the survivors, is testing out a theatrical new pair of contact lenses. The gals in his four-way tryst don’t seem to mind, until, that is, Gabe chomps into someone’s carotid artery. Party foul!
The pilot of the plane, another survivor, has agreed to more tests so that our doctor heroes Ephraim Goodweather and Nora Martinez can try to figure out what killed the other 206 people onboard.
What they see under ultraviolet light are the same wiggly, white capillary worms they found when they combed through the cargo hold of the jet. This time, the invertebrate creatures are slithering around just beneath the pilot’s skin, while the poor guy’s internal organs do flip flops.
Eph, who believes this mass casualty incident came from a “virulent pathogen,” can’t resist another opportunity to talk science. “It’s like something has shanghaied his cellular machinery,” he says of the pilot. “This is crazy.”
Indeed. And so is the fact that no one has heard from the medical examiner, a severely overworked guy who was trying to single-handedly conduct 206 autopsies. Eph and Nora eventually head over to the morgue, only to discover that the place is a shambles and every body bag from Flight #753 is empty. All together now: Uh oh.
Meanwhile, the puppet master -- not to be confused with the Master, the King of All Vampires -- has started a disinformation campaign to divert attention from the real cause of those airplane “deaths.”
Eldritch Palmer has gone to great lengths and considerable expense to bring the Master to Manhattan. He’s fabulously rich and deathly ill, and he’s found a way to use the former to combat the latter. He wants The Master to make him immortal. And he’s not willing to let a nerdy gadfly like Eph, head of the Centers for Disease Control’s “Canary Project,” spoil his fun. So he’s planted documents, allegedly from an internal airline study, that blame carbon monoxide poisoning for the disaster.
It’s those fake findings, and Eph’s anger issues, that get the CDC epidemiologists booted off the case. Think they’ll go rogue? Do you even need to ask?
Since the episode is called “The Box,” let’s catch up with that 500-pound elaborately carved coffin. After first seeing it at JFK, viewers learn in this episode that it was loaded, surreptitiously and at the last minute, before the plane left from Berlin. It was never inspected or listed as cargo, and the pilot now seriously regrets not asking more questions about that mysterious dirt-filled container.
A video surveillance tape shows that the Master claimed this piece of luggage and flew away with it, proving that he doesn’t like to spend any more time at airports than any of the rest of us. Before he gathered his personal belongings, the Master killed an air-traffic worker in spectacularly gruesome fashion. Says one of the airport officials who finds the body: “Where’s his head?”
The box winds up in a van driven by a gangbanger named Gus, who is supposed to deliver it to Manhattan without looking inside, no matter what kind of growling noises he hears. He complies, shuttling The Master safely across the East River and into “the new world” where this ancient being will start to claim victims and wreak havoc.
Del Toro, who with Chuck Hogan wrote the bestselling trilogy on which this series is based, said recently that the book serves as the backbone but has an “elastic relationship” with the drama.
“We talked about milestones, that we want the milestones and the characters that are in the book to be hit,” del Toro said during a conference call with reporters, “but with that it became very malleable.”
Hence there are scenes in the show that weren’t in the first book, like the jailhouse conversation between the Master’s right-hand Nazi henchman, Herr Eichhorst, and vampire hunter-professor-pawn-shop-owner Abraham Setrakian.
These two guys go back a long way, we learn as Eichhorst uses a number to address the elderly Setrakian. After having seen the old man’s concentration camp tattoo, we know what those digits mean and can infer that Eichhorst played a key role in that past horror. It’s revealed during their tense chat that at least a few “dear ones” have died over the years because of this contentious relationship.
It’s the setup of the epic battle to come, which will team Eph, Nora, Setrakian, Gus and a few other hearty souls against a growing army of nightwalkers.