'The Strain' recap: The Master, crispy around the edges, still lives

'The Strain' recap: The Master, crispy around the edges, still lives
A scene from the season finale of "The Strain." (Michael Gibson / FX)

It's the epic confrontation that every fan of FX's hit thriller, "The Strain," has been waiting for all season: the show's two oft-at-odds heroes unite and battle it out against the common foe. Professor Abraham Setrakian and Dr. Ephraim Goodweather finally have the Master trapped, rocked back on his monstrous heels and ready to taste the forged silver of their vampire-annihilating swords.

They smash out windows, letting sun stream in from all directions. The Master, screeching and sizzling, tries to escape but manages only to throw himself through glass and land outside in broad daylight. Setrakian shouts some strigoi-ending phrases, and the Master explodes in a cloud of evil dust.



Oh come now. Nobody thought it would end there, like that, all (relatively) clean and tidy and stuff. Whatever would become of season 2?

So the Master does take a beating, but he does not die, which sets up another go-round of this summer guilty pleasure that pits a ragtag band of vamp hunters against an ancient and powerful bloodsucker bent on world domination.

It also gives the team behind the cable series a chance to redo the god-awful prosthetics and makeup on the king of all vamps. He's seriously messed up from the season-ending fight and, as fans of "The Strain" bestselling book trilogy already know, he'll need a different body to inhabit. Fingers crossed that it doesn't look like another mashup of the Joker and Bat Boy because, man, that mug has been tough to take seriously.

This show, in general, has proven to be an over-the-top roller-coaster ride, and the season finale, "The Master," is no exception. Even the thumbnail description is packed with wackiness:

-- Street thug Gus meets the Ancients and learns of their undead turf war with the Master. (Major foreshadowing, y'all!)

-- Thomas Eichhorst gets that smug, superior look wiped right off his face, courtesy of multiple gunshots.

-- Eldritch Palmer tests his newfound strength by tossing a U.S. Cabinet member off a rooftop.

-- Former goth shock rocker Gabriel Bolivar's stinger goes the way of his private parts.

-- Fitzwilliam goes rogue.

-- No martial law in Manhattan, just Master law.

-- "Fire in the hole, vermin!"

Some viewers may find fault with this episode, especially the talky parts between Gus and vigilante vamp Quinlan, while the oddly suspended Ancients sleep/snore nearby. Sure, it's weird. Whatever. Stop being so picky. At least they look appropriately freaky and frightening, if not that threatening while they're "at rest."

And then there's the Setrakian voiceover narration at the end, which ridiculously mentions "a small world," while the Scooby gang hightails it and tries to mentally regroup against the fiery New York skyline. Yeah, that's a bit much, even for a superfan. Try to stifle a big eye-roll.


And Zach Goodweather. Oh, Zach. He's a kid, so he's supposed to be annoying. And readers know just how important he is later (though it remains to be seen if the series will follow the literary path). But all that, "Where's my mom?" and "When are we going home?" and the fake asthma attack so he can retrieve a photo album from suburban Chez Goodweather? Unforgivable! That boy needs a good slap.

Speaking of crying all the time, Nora is just north of hysterics, babbling on and on about people disappearing in Argentina. Grab an automatic weapon and get hold of yourself, sweetheart!

There are plenty more positives to point to, though, going back to the central premise of the show: Vampirism is a contagion, epidemiological in origin, and those who are infected are in no way sexy or glamorous or Alexander Skarsgardian. They're nightmarish predators who gravitate first to their nearest and dearest to slake their thirst. That concept, and its myriad executions, is as terrifying and fresh now as it was at the premiere.

Eldritch Palmer, meanwhile, keeps getting screwed. All his money, lies and betrayals were supposed to buy him immortality, but he learns that he has his health (today) instead of a new superhuman life (forever). Eichhorst keeps feeding him some line about serving at the right hand of the Master … eventually. And that poor old dog just keeps buying it. Sad, horrible man who steals pickled vampire hearts.

Manly exterminator Vasiliy Fet and pouty hacker chick Dutch prove to be a deadly tag team in combat. Dutch deftly wounds Eichhorst – face, torso, face, torso – and Fet proves so valuable that he's likely to be around for as long as the series lasts. He brought dynamite, for crying out loud.

The fight-alongside-the-epic-fight scene is noteworthy, too, because of how it ends. The hive mind signals a retreat when the Master flees, and the battered vampires retreat en masse by walking slowly backward, looking like a DVR rewind. Kooky!

Kevin Durand, the Canadian actor who plays Fet, considers his character an optimist who refuses to let the fall of civilization get him down, he said during a recent conference call with reporters.

"I think he truly has hope in his heart, and he really believes that he is going to get through it," Durand said. "He's starting to understand that he's going to be instrumental in that."

Despite the seemingly insurmountable odds, Durand thinks the audience should have hope, too. "You can't be watching this show for five seasons thinking they're all doomed," he said. "There has to be some chance that they could make it."

One glimmer? The gang finds out that Dutch and Eph made some waves with their takeover of the Emergency Alert System and Eph's video snippets of the autopsy of Regis Flight 753's infected pilot. People did see and hear it, which could stir many pots.

Gus, meanwhile, is all about revenge against the Master and Eichhorst because they blackmailed him and caused him to lose his beloved madre. Fitzwilliam wants to get on the right side of morality. And the renegades are in one piece. All great starting points for next season.