tv review – FX’s The Strain, episode 1.3

‘Gone Smooth’ was an episode that, after last week’s focus on character development, was all about horror, which it immediately made clear with its terrific opening: we saw Thomas Eichhorst in full vampire glory approach a mirror, put on prosthetics, makeup and a wig to appear human. “Soon, no more charade,” the Nazi said to himself before stepping out in his disguise and performing some chores for his master, making sure the vampire ruler could go about his plan undisturbed. For Eichhorst that involved killing a man, but also renewing Stoneheart’s connection with Sean Astin’s Jim Kent. We finally learned why Kent had cooperated with this company in the past and during the show’s pilot: because Kent’s wife is sick. Eichhorst brought up the subject of her cancer and offered to get her into new treatment trials in exchange for Kent’s cooperation, something Kent of course agreed to. While it was good to know what had possessed Astin’s CDC official to help Stoneheart, like most of the dialogue and personality traits of The Strain‘s characters, his motivation was purely functional, not original. But The Strain is not a show that is interested in covering new ground; it is a genre show that lovingly takes many tropes like this one, and puts those elements together in a way that has been proven to work. That’s why, so far, FX’s show is lacking a wow factor, but also why it’s a very effective genre exercise.

‘Gone Smooth’ was clearly having fun with this week’s events: people were turning into vampires left and right, which made for some familiar but satisfying moments, thanks in large part to some wonderful computer and practical effects work. While horror aficionados have certainly seen people grow enamored with raw meat and blood during their transformation into a monster before, The Strain still used these genre staples very well to gross out viewers and build tension, and the epidemic angle really added to that sense of danger. In fiction there has always been a diversity to the way vampires increase their population, but this take on it has to be one of the best yet: treating vampirism as the result of an aggressive parasite, conjures up associations with very real diseases and concerns, which suddenly grounds a horror invention in reality. Much in the same vain, the decay of those infected is depicted in a gruesome fashion, but the show also knows when to leave the realm of “reality” to deliver wonderfully over-the-top moments and twisted fun. The defining moment of ‘Gone Smooth’, for example, saw shock rocker Gabriel Bolivar… go smooth after we were shown some more realistic versions of bodily decay. Because of what happened and because of the way the scene was directed and actor Jack Kesy played Bolivar’s almost apathetic reaction, it was both horrific and hilarious at the same time. It’s a perfect example of how to get the balance between drama, horror and comedy right.

While Eph’s scenes this week, especially those regarding the custody case, weren’t all that impressive, our heroes’ final scene was great: Eph, Nora and Kent stumbled upon Captain Redfern in the gloomy hospital basement and he went full vampire on them. Eventually Eph managed to bash the creature’s head in, and this trio’s experience will likely send them running to Setrakian next week. While Nora did try to talk to old man Abraham during ‘Gone Smooth’ he said to her that she wasn’t ready. Now, after having seen a vampire, she probably is, and her colleagues are too. But these characters aren’t the only ones noticing something’s very wrong: Kevin Durand’s Vasiliy Fet did not see a vampire, but he saw hundreds of rats flee the New York City sewers, which, judging from his facial expression, is indeed quite an alarming occurrence. It seems almost certain that Fet will meet up with Eph, Setrakian and company, and hopefully that will happen sooner than later: Durand’s performance as Fet makes the character both extremely cool and charismatic, and that’s why you instantly root for him, something that can’t be said for Eph, Nora, Kent or even the alluring but bitter Setrakian.

‘Gone Smooth’ was another solid outing and one in which there was a lot to like for horror fans. The personal drama is still quite clunky, but at least it’s all functional. 8/10

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