‘The Strain’ recap: Creepy undead kids unleashed in ‘By Any Means’
Kelly Goodweather has a new family on the FX vampire thriller “The Strain,” and these spider monkey-esque undead children will haunt your dreams.
Vasilily Fet has a newfound appreciation for swimming pools, and Abraham Setrakian has a meaningful tete-a-tete with an old nemesis.
Ephraim Goodweather and Nora Martinez just may have a scientific breakthrough on their hands, and Zach Goodweather has a bratty meltdown.
Eldritch Palmer has a girlfriend, and, oh, yeah, the mayor of New York has stress-induced canker sores. Poor thing.
The latest episode of “The Strain,” dubbed “By Any Means,” has history — flashbacks to 1965 Vienna specifically — and peeks ahead — there’s a “wondrous transformation” in the offing — in this story of a virulent contagion that’s turning the Big Apple’s human inhabitants into bloodsucking monsters.
But first, the gore. Isn’t that what all us hard-core fans really tune in for week after week? On that front, there’s a small but significant winner within this hour that may make up in impact what the episode lacks in tonnage.
Fet (Kevin Durand) and hacker-turned-soldier Dutch Veders (Ruta Gedmintas) start clearing out “munchers” from buildings around the Good Guys HQ in Brooklyn. On one stop, they rouse sleeping vampires and engage in hand-to-stinger combat with them.
There are several slow-motion killings within this scene — heads roll! — and perhaps the show’s first strigoi-cam. I can’t recall another time that we as viewers could see through the eyes of the attacking and wounded creatures, and it’s plenty affecting. It’s a solid example of what this drama can do well, if intermittently, which is to ruin my night’s sleep. Thanks for that! The sequence ends with a blast of silver-filled grenades. Sizzling ensues.
Side note on the Fet and Dutch adventure: It ended with a skinny dip and a makeout session, so apologies for the inadvertent spoiler in last week’s recap. Who can keep a clear head when a manly exterminator drops trou? Not me, folks.
On to the nitty gritty of “By Any Means,” which introduces a take-charge politician named Justine Feraldo and launches a “Freedom Center” that’s destined not to live up to its name.
Kelly and the kids: The former Mrs. Goodweather (Natalie Brown), now a full-fledged vampire, gets an assist in her relentless search for her loved ones. The Master, the king of all vamps, cares that she’s reunited with her ex-husband and son only because he wants to find and obliterate the Scooby gang. (And if the series follows the bestselling book trilogy, there are big plans for Zach).
To that end, he gives Kelly a pack of chirping, clicking animalistic kids with special powers. These “feelers” hatch out of some mystical dirt called “the loam,” and they’re completely terrifying in a “Village of the Damned”-meets-flying-monkeys kind of way.
After Kelly snaps one of their little necks — she must not have liked its opaque stare — she showers the rest with Zach-scented clothes and tells them to “Find my son.” They chatter at her and scamper away to do her bidding. It’s super creepy.
Back at the still-secret pathology lab where Eph (Corey Stoll) and Nora (Mia Maestro) are guinea pigging a couple of infected citizens, they’re wrestling with their consciences and their fast-transforming test subjects. Sure, it’s tragic that they have to experiment on alive(ish) people, but this is Vampocalypse 2015. Sacrifices must be made in the name of science.
But progress is elusive. Eph, between taking swigs of vodka and trashing petri dishes, says stuff like “The strigoi are biologically bulletproof,” and Nora gnashes her teeth and cries real tears. But then there’s an aha moment couched in epidemiological jargon. The two rouge Centers for Disease Control officials come up with something they think can “obliterate the vampires’ central nervous system.”
Could this be a cure or at least an infection to combat the infected? Heavens no, fans. It’s only season 2, and it’s likely to get much worse before it gets any better. (Hint: The books on which this series is based are called “The Strain,” “The Fall,” and “The Night Eternal,” though co-creator Guillermo del Toro and showrunner Carlton Cuse have promised plenty of departures from the source material going forward.)
There are a number of flashbacks in this hour, giving the first glimpses of the decades-old relationship between Holocaust survivor Setrakian (David Bradley) and billionaire businessman Palmer (Jonathan Hyde). As the former lectured at the University of Vienna in the 1960s, the latter recruited him to dig up occult artifacts. The young wheelchair-bound Palmer was obsessed with finding Jusef Sardu’s silver-forged sword-cane and the Occido Lumen, an ancient vamp-themed text.
Setrakian finds the sword-cane, while coming face to face with a Nazi doctor he recognizes from his concentration camp days. Since the octogenarian vampire hunter has that very sword-cane as part of his current day arsenal, it’s clear that he and Palmer never came to terms on its transfer. Their complicated relationship and details of their epic falling out will likely continue to unspool.
Palmer today, a staunch ally of the Master, is basking in the spotlight as a noble savior of the besieged city. He’s opening food distribution centers — and asking New Yorkers for their blood type when they sign up? — and speechifying about community, cooperation and grit and such. What a good liar.
But it’s important to remember that Palmer, sickly from birth and teetering near death last season, has a new lease on life via an infusion of some disgusting milky substance from the Master. But he’s not immortal, and he hasn’t become the Master’s right hand man, as promised.
Palmer did replace his own Guy Friday (Fitzwilliam) with a Gal Friday, an attractive woman named Coco Marchand (Lizzie Brochere). She’s now writing his no-nonsense public comments and putting up with his awkward crush on her. This character doesn’t exist in the books, and her presence here may serve to humanize Palmer a tad. But he’s still a sad old man with delusions about his own value. Pin that, folks. It’ll be key later.
Setrakian, fishing for clues, confronts Palmer at a newly opened “Freedom Center,” where the entrepreneur is pretending to care about local residents by giving them canned goods and collecting their vital statistics. Setrakian needs to know if the Occido Lumen is still in play and, after trading a few insults with Palmer, realizes it is. He says he’ll get his hands on it, finish off the Master and come back for Palmer. A decoy explosion — thanks, Fet! — allows for a clean getaway.
Back in Manhattan, the top CDC official and various city “leaders” wallow in their own failures to respond to the undead crisis. Where’s the National Guard anyway? Quarantines and cold sores are discussed.
But Staten Island’s tough-talking councilwoman Feraldo (Samantha Mathis) has heard enough of this dribble. She suggests a new plan for dealing with the vampires overrunning her borough, and it involves lots of killing and a massive blockade to secure the area. Think what this will do for her approval rating.
Meantime, the Master’s giant body is giving out on him, courtesy of the sunbath-infused fight with Setrakian and Co. He needs to pick a new “vessel,” but he doesn’t make his choice known. Could the reemerged Gabriel Boliver, the goth shock rocker, play a role here? Keep checking back for this season’s happenings.
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